It’s time to reform our mental health system

Published 8:47 am Thursday, January 7, 2016

By Sen. John Cornyn

President Obama’s eagerness to go it alone and bypass the electorate to implement new policy has unfortunately become a hallmark of his presidency. And it has come at great cost. In addition to abandoning the democratic process, this paper reported recently that President Obama’s regulations have an almost $200 billion price tag.

In his last year in office, he doesn’t appear to be taking a break. During the first week of his final year in the White House, President Obama announced that more unilateral actions were coming, this time in the form of unlawful gun control measures that show he has little respect for our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. But importantly, they also won’t solve the problem they purport to fix.

Since the president’s announcement, multiple media outlets have reported that had his measures been implemented, they would not have prevented many of the recent incidents of mass violence that have occurred across the country. The American people agree. Earlier this month, more than 70 percent of Americans said they believed increased access to mental health treatment and screening would prevent violence.

If President Obama is serious about making our communities safer and protecting civil rights, he should work with a Congress eager to voice the concerns of those who elected us. Together, we can advance substantive legislation to address mental health, a common thread found in many violent tragedies.

Last year, I introduced the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act with this in mind.

The goal of this legislation is to help those suffering from mental illness find treatment, support and a path to recovery. Too often we hear stories of families facing a series of bad options: stand by as they watch the condition of a mentally ill loved one continue to deteriorate, or have them involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. The Mental Health and Safe Communities Act increases the availability of a better option by encouraging state and local governments to empower the families of the mentally ill.

Under my legislation, family members could petition a judge for an order requiring their loved one to undergo treatment at home or in the community, free of stigma or forced detention. In other words, this bill would help families by giving them more options and greater flexibility to find treatment solutions for those they love.

But this bill is also designed to help entire communities — families, schools and law enforcement — spot the warning signs of mental illness and get treatment for offenders who may pose a public safety risk. It would also equip our nation’s law enforcement officials with the tools they need to quickly and effectively de-escalate mental health crises, preventing harm to the mentally ill and other acts of violence before they occur.

A diverse coalition of advocates have endorsed my approach, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Associations of Social Workers and the National Rifle Association.

Time and time again we are confronted with mental health crises that go untreated and turn into tragic headlines. We can’t responsibly stand by any longer and watch this pattern repeat itself. But we don’t need to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to do that.

My legislation would not just reform our mental health and criminal justice system — it would actually increase public safety and prevent tragedies involving individuals with mental illness. Now, we need President Obama to commit to working with the elected representatives of the American people, and to stop legislating by executive edict.


Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees.