The nomination of Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz by President Donald Trump as the first ever assistant secretary of mental health and substance abuse to help overhaul the system has exposed longstanding rifts within the field. People opposing the nomination of McCance-Katz, a promotor of hospital and drug treatment for psychiatric disorders, have argued that the ongoing mental health reforms in the country will take a hit.
Although the 60-year-old McCance-Katz, a psychiatrist who worked as the first chief medical officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has the support of several prominent groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), critics feel that medical treatment by itself is usually not sufficient for treating individuals with mental disorders.
One of those opposing the decision is Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. “I fear that in this political environment it could denigrate and unravel some of the great progress we’ve made in person-centered recovery and rehabilitation services and peer support,” said Rosenthal.
Another such criticism came from Republican Representative Tim Murphy, who is the person most responsible for creating the post. Citing his opposition, Murphy said, “While she was serving at SAMHSA, there were questionable hiring practices, no accountability for federal grants, an anti-medical approach to serious mental illness and substance abuse treatment and most importantly, the continued upward rise of suicide and substance abuse deaths.”
Murphy, who investigated federal mental health programs post the incident involving killing of 26 people at Sandy Hook School in Newton, Connecticut, by a 20-year-old man with severe mental illness, found fault with SAMHSA for not sufficiently addressing hardest-to-treat forms of mental illness. The Republican from Pennsylvania also objected to SAMHSA for using some of the assigned funds to support organizations that encouraged patients to go off their psychiatric medicines.
According to Murphy, he and his staff members have raised concerns about the nomination of McCance-Katz with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Health Tom Price. In addition to raising his concern with authorities, Murphy has also spoken publicly against the nomination of McCance-Katz on Twitter and in interviews.
Some support for nomination
While McCance-Katz’s nomination has evoked strong opposition, the decision has also been seen as a ray of hope by some. One such supporter is Democrat Senator Christopher Murphy, who co-sponsored the new mental health law. He is hopeful that McCance-Katz would promote full adoption of the new mental health law that aimed at pushing insurance companies to cover more psychiatric treatments. As per Murphy, although many people with mental illness have a disease of the brain that can be treated with medication, many of them also suffer from traumas that require other kinds of therapies as well.
McCance-Katz, whose long career has been focused on treating drug addiction, has an expertise in treating drug addiction with medications. If selected, McCance-Katz, who earlier served as the medical director of California’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, will head SAMHSA and is expected to steer more toward assertive drug treatment of the people with mental illness and less toward social supports.
Given the huge crack in the present mental health system, her nomination could help coordinate the fragmented mental health services in the country and cover huge gaps that people get pushed through; thereby, proving to be significant for those with severe mental illness across the country. Although McCance-Katz has not publicly spoken about her nomination, her previous writings indicate that she may focus on reevaluating federal funding for hotlines for people with suicide ideation and increase treatment beds for people suffering from serious mental illnesses.
Mental health crisis in US
The U.S. is in the throes of mental health crisis. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2015, there were over 43 million people aged 18 years or older in the country – representing about 18 percent of the adult population – with any mental illness (AMI) within the previous year. When left untreated, mental health illnesses can interfere with one’s daily life and impair his/her ability to work, interact with family and fulfill other major life functions. According to the NSDUH, AMI can range in impact from no or mild impairment to significantly disabling impairment. Notably, these estimates of AMI do not include substance use disorders.
With the prevalent mental health crisis throughout the nation along with the stigma surrounding the illness, many are hoping that the new nomination will help integrate health services for the mentally ill, provide them insurance facilities and help them gain access to the much-needed treatment.
Road to recovery
As a leading behavioral health care provider, Sovereign Health understands that untreated mental health problems can pose serious difficulties and affect one’s overall quality of life. At Sovereign Health of California, we offer customized treatment programs that are specifically designed to help patients in overcoming mental illness.
Offering an integrated treatment approach, Sovereign Health of California provides evidence-based therapies for all kinds of mental health disorders, addiction problems, co-occurring disorders, as well as any underlying health condition. Offering a variety of customized mental health treatment programs, our mental illness treatment centers offer individual and group psychotherapy, along with alternative therapeutic activities, including music, equine, and art therapies to help patients regain control of their lives.
For more information on our treatment programs or to locate our residential mental health facilities near you, chat online or call at our 24/7 helpline number and speak with our admission specialist.