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SAMHSA’s Lack of Focus on Serious Mental Illness Is Concerning

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(Aug. 9, 2012) Paolo Del Vecchio, MSW, is known for his work on “consumer participation and education, issues of discrimination and prejudice, consumer rights, wellness, recovery, trauma, access to treatment, and other issues…,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

samhsaHe was the first consumer affairs specialist hired by SAMHSA and has promoted consumer participation in “all aspects of the Center's policies and operations.” 

Del Vecchio is also known for his very public stand against mandated treatment for the very few and very ill it is designed to help, going so far as to compare court-ordered treatment to a “personal Holocaust.” This week, SAMHSA announced his appointment as director of its Center for Mental Health Services.

We have to question what types of services Del Vecchio will promote for those who are unable to voluntarily seek them.

We also question why SAMHSA remains nearly silent on severe mental illness.

While SAMHSA’s mission is to “reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities” and increase access to treatment services, its strategic plan is vague about addressing the most serious disorders. Two of those psychiatric illnesses—schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—are not even mentioned in the 41,000-word plan. And the agency's  “principles of recovery” completely omit factors essential to recovery for many who suffer from them.

Yet, these two illnesses affect 7.7 million people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3.5 million of these individuals are untreated. We think that’s far too many Americans to be blatantly ignored, especially given the devastating consequences of non-treatment.

These consequences include homelessness; jails, prisons and ERs filling with people in psychiatric crisis; and violence, including rampage murders such as we saw in Arizona last year and possibly in Colorado last month.

SAMHSA is not reducing the impact of mental illness on our communities. Turning one of its divisions over to someone who is openly opposed to the court-ordered treatment that individuals with the most severe mental illnesses often need to get on the road to recovery is worrisome.

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