Bill Aims for Nationwide Depression Network
> 11/1/2009 5:05:08 PM

A new bipartisan bill sponsored by five prominent American senators aims to establish national "centers of excellence" for the study and treatment of depression and bipolar disorder and to improve mental health services by linking psychiatrists and research facilities across the country.

The United States' two largest political parties, operating in a heavily partisan public arena, rarely find consensus on even the smallest legislative issues. The Senate must therefore be commended for cooperating on a new bill, known as "The ENHANCED Act" and sponsored by Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex), that will help to modernize mental health treatment practices in this country.

Expanding on efforts by researchers at the University of Michigan and 15 other American universities, the bill would create a closely linked network of facilities housing researchers and practitioners who can work together over long distances to compare clinical studies, pharmaceutical developments and behavioral treatment programs. The bill would ultimately create up to 30 facilities solely dedicated to the study and treatment of depression and bipolar disorder.

In addition to this nationwide network, the bill would call for more detailed diagnostic standards and universal treatment plans as well as a trove of data and research available to the public. The larger goal of this effort is to improve the efficiency of mental health services by providing diagnostic services and ongoing treatment plans to under-served populations like the rural poor while better educating the public on the nature of these disorders.

It's a win-win for the politicians involved, who all agree that healthcare costs must fall nationwide (even if they hold diametrically opposing views on exactly what our government should do to bring this change about). In a praise-filled letter that cites widespread economic concerns as a major motivator, Mental Health America notes that "depression is associated with poorer health outcomes and higher health care costs" and that suicides tend to rise during periods of extreme economic duress.

Our country continues to work its way through a period in which economic uncertainty facilitates mental illness for thousands of the neediest Americans. The legislators involved in this project deserve praise for transcending their party allegiances to act in the interest of the millions of Americans suffering through mental illness.

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