February was quite the month for SAMHSA, firmly in the crosshairs of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), who any day now, will reintroduce his Helping All Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. On February 4th, the GAO released a report entitled “Mental Health: HHS Leadership Needed to Coordinate Federal Efforts Related to Serious Mental Illness", which identified a lack of interagency coordination at the senior management level; on February 9th, SAMHSA released a fact sheet showing the variety of efforts focused on the severely mentally ill population, and a blog post by Administrator Hyde about how SAMHSA supports individuals with serious mental illness and serious emotional disturbance. And then on February 11th, Chairman Murphy's sub-committee held a hearing with SAMHSA officials and GAO to discuss the results of the GAO report. You can read our reactions to the hearing here.
In the midst of this swirl of activity are ongoing accusations of SAMHSA shunning the SMI population, leadership not understanding the definition of SMI, mission drift, and laser-focus and somewhat dramatic scrutiny on specific activities, such as conferences, websites and coloring books.
Okay folks, everyone take a breath. Let's slow this train down before it gets completely out of hand. I encourage all of you to read the SAMHSA fact sheet and blog post to get up to speed with some ongoing SAMHSA activities related to the SMI population. The fact sheet and blog post by no means are the end all comprehensive description of what SAMHSA does, nor do I think they are intended to be. Do they speak to the interagency coordination questions raised in the GAO report? Do they address the perceived inequity in distribution of resources to the SMI population? Do they instill confidence that the leadership of SAMHSA understands the issues facing the SMI population? To all of these questions, some would say yes and some would say no. But instead of shouting each other down, let's take the fact sheet and the blog post by Administrator Hyde and use them as a starting point for conversation. There will be plenty of opportunities to both criticize and praise SAMHSA-led efforts across the spectrum of serious mental illness, but ya gotta start somewhere, so why not here?
Read up, Network faithful, and then encourage your favorite congressional representative to read up as well. And while you're at it, offer your thoughts on how the activities described in these documents fits with your understanding of what is needed, but above all, be clear on your baseline of understanding of what the purpose of SAMHSA is and the many things SAMHSA does. It may or may not be totally to your liking, but it is undeniable that there is much going on.
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
― Aldous Huxley
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President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network