New Freedom Commission on Mental Health

July 22, 2003    

From the Campaign for Mental Health Reform

President’s Commission Offers Prescription for Broken Mental Health System

Bazelon Center, NAMI, NASMHPD, NMHA Call on Bush and Congress to Take Action

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health today released its long-awaited report, including recommendations to improve America’s broken mental health system. Together the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, NAMI, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and National Mental Health Association commend the Commission for its work. Our organizations call on President Bush and Congress to now take the bold steps needed to realize the Commission’s recommendations and make mental health a national priority.

"Mental health advocates today call on the nation’s leaders to capitalize on this historic opportunity to address the growing crisis in public mental health systems," said Robert Bernstein, executive director of Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. "Policymakers have a choice — they can put this report on a shelf and continue the past policies of hopelessness, or they can act on its recommendations and make recovery-focused services a priority for millions of Americans with unmet mental health needs."

The Commission found America’s mental health system to be "in shambles," resulting in millions of people with mental illnesses not receiving the care they need. The report calls for transforming fragmented public mental health services into a system focused on early intervention and recovery. Such a system would provide people with mental health needs the treatment and supports necessary to live, work, learn and participate fully in their communities.

Research shows that people with— or at risk of— mental health disorders need access to a range of advanced treatments, early interventions and supports that are both culturally appropriate and consumer- and family-centered. Without broad access to such services and supports, people with mental illnesses can face school failure, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, arrest, incarceration, increased reliance on emergency facilities, and suicide.

"We cannot wait another day, another year or another decade for real progress," said Richard Birkel, Ph.D., national executive director of NAMI. "We do not want another Presidential Commission, Surgeon General's report, state audit or newspaper expose telling us what we already know too well. Let today be the turning point. Let today begin the transformation of a broken system of care to one that provides recovery-oriented, community-based treatment and services that we know will work."

In April 2002, the president established the Commission to help eliminate inequalities in mental health care. The Commission was to conduct a comprehensive study of mental health delivery systems and recommend policies that – if implemented by federal, state and local governments – would improve the mental health system and, in turn, improve the services that millions of adults and children with mental health problems need.

"The stakes are too high for us to continue with business as usual," said Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Planning Directors. "Our organizations are joining together to demonstrate the urgency of need, to underscore the promise of effective services for millions of Americans with mental illness, and to work with federal officials to make those services available to all who need them."

The Campaign for Mental Health Reform was founded by the Bazelon Center, NAMI, NASMHPD and NMHA to serve as a focus for federal policy advocacy for the mental health community. Twelve other mental health advocacy organizations have joined the Campaign as partners. The Campaign’s goal is to work directly with federal policymakers to make access, quality and recovery in mental health services the hallmark of our nation’s mental health system.

"The Commission’s report is a prescription meant to fix a mental health ‘system’ that is on the verge of plunging from crisis to catastrophe," said Michael Faenza, president and CEO of the National Mental Health Association. "It offers a great chance for advocates, consumers and family members to work with federal leadership towards fundamental change. But without commitment, action and funding this report is worth no more than the paper it is written on."

The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is the leading national legal advocate for people with mental illnesses or mental retardation. Through precedent-setting litigation and in the public policy arena, the Bazelon Center works to advance and preserve the rights of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. For more information, visit

As The Nation’s Voice on Mental Illness, NAMI leads a national grassroots effort to transform America’s mental health care system, combat stigma, support research, and attain adequate health insurance, housing, rehabilitation, jobs and family support for millions of Americans living with mental illnesses. For more information, visit

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) serves the interests of the directors and commissioners of 55 state and territorial government mental health agencies. NASMHPD and the state agencies it represents seek to create effective, culturally-sensitive services that promote recovery and active participation in community life for those they serve. For more information, visit

The National Mental Health Association is the country’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization addressing all aspects of mental health and mental illness. NMHA works to improve the mental health of all Americans through advocacy, education, research and service. For more information, visit


Other Campaign for Mental Health Reform partners made the following statements in response to the release of the Commission’s report.

"The American Psychiatric Association (APA) commends the President and the Commission for their strong efforts to improve our nation's mental health delivery system. APA urges President Bush and Congress to provide real solutions to fix the current fragmented mental health delivery system, pass mental health parity legislation, and provide adequate funding in the public health system," said Marcia K. Goin, M.D., APA President. (703) 907-7300

"The Commission's final report constitutes a major step on the road to recovery for our nation's mental health system," stated Norman Anderson, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association. "The challenge now before us is to develop and finance a continuum of culturally appropriate mental health and family support services, ranging from prevention to acute and chronic care, across the lifespan." (202) 336-5500

"The 1999 Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health described the science underlying the identification, assessment, and treatment of mental disorders, including the disorders of childhood. 'The 20,000 family members of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) hopes that the President's Commission Report will result in financing and management strategies that delivers the science to all individuals with mental disorders and their families," according to CHADD CEO E. Clarke Ross, D.P.A. (301) 306-7070 

"Bipolar disorder is an illness significantly predisposed to substance or alcohol abuse. DBSA commends the Commission for recognizing the seriousness of the underdiagnosis of mental illness and co-occurring disorders," said Lydia Lewis, president of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. "The lack of accurate diagnosis in our mental health system is a gaping hole that must be filled." (312) 642-0049

"The Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health remains committed to insuring children with mental health needs and their families can count on immediate access to quality services and supports that are community based. It our desire that the President's New Freedom Commission's report reflect the current status of children's mental health. We look for a commitment from this administration to take action and support policy changes with necessary increased funding in order to change the way this nation serves its children with mental health needs and their families," said Barbara Huff, executive director, Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health. (703) 684-7710

"The report of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health takes a major step forward by first recognizing the shambles of our current system and second, by emphasizing the importance of building a mental health system based upon the recovery of every person with a mental illness," stated IAPSRS President Anita Pernell-Arnold. (410) 789-7054

"The National Association of County Behavioral Health Directors joins other national mental health organizations in commending the Commission’s just released report and intends to work with all to ensure that the report spurs action to improve services for people with mental illnesses." Thomas E. Bryant, MD, JD, executive director, NACBHD, 202-234-7543

"With the timing and release of the final report, we are confident that the President is dedicated to crowning his Administration's significant list of accomplishments with the priority of mental health services to all." said Charles G. Ray, president and CEO, National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. (301) 984-6200

"The Commission report offers a great opportunity for consumers to continue to lead on in infusing the light of recovery, hope, self-determination, love, and empowerment into the mental health system," said Daniel Fisher, MD, PhD, executive director of the National Empowerment Center. (978) 685-1518

"As someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, I think it's about time the serious problems we have in getting decent services are recognized at this level. I congratulate the President's Commission on its excellent work," said Joseph A. Rogers, executive director, National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse. (215) 751-1810

"We applaud the Commission’s call to improve and expand mental health care, enabling many to overcome their pain and choose life," said Jerry Weyrauch, founder, Suicide Prevention Action Network USA. (202) 294-8132

"It appears the President's New Freedom Commission has taken into account the Surgeon General's Report and emerging research by acknowledging opportunities to implement and support consumer-operated programs, such as drop-in centers, peer specialist training, outreach, businesses, employment, housing, and crisis services, etc. Consumers, staff, and the mental health system all benefit through meaningful work, successful role-modeling, and a potentially more sensitive service system," said Larry Belcher, CEO of WVMHCA/CONTAC. (304) 345-7312



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