No Coordination of Services for People with Serious Mental Illness: Government Report

There is no coordination among the 112 federal programs, run by eight government agencies, which support people with serious mental illnesses, according to a new government report.

People with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder often need more than one type of assistance, including psychiatric care, housing and employment. The new report, by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), notes no one is coordinating efforts to ensure patients get what they need.

There are many areas in which programs overlap, USA Today reports. For example, there are 47 programs to address homelessness.

This week the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, met to ask questions about the report. “This GAO report is a much-needed wakeup call,” Murphy said in a news release. “The federal government’s approach to addressing mental illness is a convoluted and disjointed mess. Shame on us if we don’t take action and work on fixing the system-wide failures identified in this report so that we can focus resources on helping those in desperate need of medical services for treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and chronic depression.”

According to the report, 30 of the 112 programs are specifically targeted to help people with serious mental illness, but fewer than half of those programs have been evaluated in the last five years. This means there is no way to know if they are effective in helping the people they are designed to assist, the report notes.

The GAO concluded the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the agency required to promote coordination on mental health, “has shown little leadership in coordinating federal efforts on behalf of those with serious mental illness.” SAMHSA is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which did not concur with the GAO’s findings.