Mental health legislation must move forward


Gov. Rick Snyder is taking a leadership role on mental health that must be mirrored on the federal level. Following the immutable images and tragedy of the shooting of 20 youngsters and their protectors in Newton, Conn., last December, Snyder first refused to sign legislation that would have opened Michigan school campuses to fewer gun regulations.

In February, he established the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission and made Lt. Gov. Brian Calley its chairman. Further, Snyder created the Mental Health Diversion Council to reduce the number of inmates with mental illness, addictions or developmental disabilities in the prison population, estimated in previous years to be well more than half of those who are incarcerated.

Calley was in Grand Rapids last week to introduce and provide companion remarks to Economic Club of Grand Rapids guest speaker Patrick Kennedy, who has championed mental health parity and mental health support for all Americans. The Business Journal has supported such action the past 20 years. Kennedy noted Fortune 100 companies believe in supporting mental health care, including the insurance in their employee benefits packages. He told the Business Journal the most successful corporations want to maintain the good mental health of their employees “because business wants brain capital — ideas, intellectual property, employees who can be productive in this global business environment.”

Calley suggested that the Michigan mental health initiative would be as successful as an initiative by Gov. John Engler in the late 1980s to ensure Michigan children have dental care, noting that only six Michigan counties now lack such a provision for childhood health. But he failed to mention that Engler closed well more than half of all state psychiatric hospitals, leaving an estimated 500,000 without care — more than half of whom do not receive necessary care, can’t afford it and do not receive public assistance to help them get that care.

Continued federal legislative debate on gun control is important, but the shooters are the issue. Current U.S. Senate legislation — impressively backed by high-profile bipartisan leadership — must move forward. Provisions of that bill may be added as an amendment to the gun control legislation moving to April Senate debate. Those provisions are too important to be lost in a gun fight.

Interestingly, Kennedy, who served in the U.S. House, remarked that his attempts toward mental health parity were rarely supported by Bible Belt legislators, some of whom told him their constituents believe addictions and mental illness to be character flaws, not disease. It defies reason.

There is no debate about the “wellness” of an individual who takes even one life, let alone those of 20 children for whom Americans and world citizens continue to grieve. The Senate bill must move forward on its indisputable merits.

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