MARQUETTE - In a local appearance Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow urged government officials, health care providers and the general public to view mental health care through the same lens as other types of medical care.
"We need to understand that whether you are diabetic and you are monitoring your sugar and taking insulin every day or whether you are bipolar and you are monitoring your chemical imbalance in the brain and taking medication every day, it's the same thing," said Stabenow, D-Lansing. "In the sense that it's something you can diagnose and manage and get support and help for and live a successful life.
"We've spent way too long dividing kinds of diseases into those that we'll talk about, we'll get treatment for, we'll have insurance coverage for, and those that we won't."
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow talks about the importance of mental health care during an event Wednesday at Pathways in Marquette. (Journal photo by Kyle Whitney)
Speaking during an appearance at Pathways Community Mental Health in Marquette, Stabenow touted her proposed legislation, aimed at bringing more funding to community mental health centers.
The legislation would allow those centers to qualify for federal Medicaid reimbursements on the same level as federally qualified community health centers.
The goal of the Excellence in Mental Health Act is to help mental health centers meet new accountability standards and offer services like 24-hour crisis psychiatric services and integrated treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.
Stabenow said recent nationwide incidents of gun violence, coupled with the Republican desire to avoid expansion of federal gun control measures, have created a climate welcoming to an increased focused on mental health care.
The goal, she said, is to "strike while the iron is hot."
"We've had so many colleagues that have said they don't want to support background checks but 'we really ought to do something about mental health,'" she said. "This is the moment. And even though the reality is someone who needs mental health services is more likely to be a victim of crime - much more likely - than to be a perpetrator of crimes ... this is the moment."
She said that for the first time since she took office in 2000, the Senate Finance Committee has begun holding regular work groups on mental health.
"Which is very, very good, because they're talking about it," she said. "This has not even been on the radar screen for a long, long time."
Stabenow, who shared stories of her own father's battle with bipolar disorder, told the crowd it's important to share personal stories related to mental health struggles.
Stabenow said people need to bring mental illness "out of the shadows" and should be willing to discuss it. The ultimate goal, she said, is to eliminate the stigma around mental health issues.
"This is about choices, and not just personal choices. It's about policy choices," Stabenow said. "We can choose to invest in people to be productive citizens and have a stronger country, or we can choose to invest money in picking up the pieces."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.