Professional News
Religious Group Vows to Reform MH System in U.S., Canada
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 6 page 5-5

The organization representing reform Judaism in the United States and Canada has decried the absence of a comprehensive system of mental health care for citizens of those countries and vowed to do something to help remedy the problem.

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations’s (UAHC) General Assembly voted at its December meeting to step into the breach and help its member congregations fill in the gaps that prevent people with mental illness from obtaining mental health services.

Leading the resolutions in the 13-point statement is a commitment to develop materials that will help personnel of synagogues, religious schools, and youth-oriented programs "recognize and deal appropriately with members and participants with mental illnesses" and to urge member congregations to participate in efforts to destigmatize mental illness.

The assembly also called on its member congregations to participate in programs to destigmatize mental illness and to ensure that mentally ill people are welcome in those synagogues.

In addition, the UAHC statement calls on the U.S. and Canadian governments to increase funding for treatment and other services that help mentally ill people "live healthy and independent lives." It urges funding in particular for research and "innovative programs" to address the needs of people with co-occurring mental and substance abuse disorders. The statement also encourages the U.S. government to adopt the Canadian policy of mandating insurance parity for mental and physical illnesses and calls on the UAHC itself, as well as its member congregations, to provide employee health insurance policies that have parity in coverage.

A major section of the UAHC assembly’s resolution spotlights the plight of the many prison inmates who have a mental illness. For example, it urges shifting nonviolent mentally ill prisoners to community-based mental health programs and limiting the use of civil commitment and mandatory treatment "to circumstances where it is used only with due-process protections."

The resolution also addresses the issue of seclusion and restraint and states that they should be restricted to situations that cannot be managed through any other type of intervention.

The mental health needs of children and teenagers are also a focus of the UAHC statement. It calls for the development of a "coordinated system of care" for mentally ill youngsters emphasizing "early recognition, prevention, and intervention, especially focusing on the prevention of suicide." It also suggests that both countries have paid inadequate attention to ensuring that schools are capable of addressing mental health needs and that the professionals who provide mental health services in child-care facilities are specifically trained to deal with children and adolescents.

Paul Appelbaum, M.D., APA’s president-elect, said he finds the ambitious initiative an encouraging "road map" for improving the lives of people with mental illness. "Grass-roots efforts of this sort are critical to the destigmatization of mental illness and to persuading Congress and state legislatures to agree to adequate funding of psychiatric treatment," he told Psychiatric News. He said he hoped that "the UAHC will not stop with this declaration, as positive as it is. I would encourage them to identify priority areas of focus and to become engaged with the political process to help make this dream a reality." ▪

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