Mental health advocates react to President’s Plan to invest $500 million

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — President Barack Obama’s executive action on gun control includes $500 million in funding to expand mental health treatment and put federal mental health records into the background check system.

People within the mental health industry had mixed reactions to announcement.

Thomas Leahy, president of Beacon Tree, says his daughter, who suffered from mental illness, is now a successful adult. He started the non profit Beacon Tree with his wife to help families struggling with mental illness. Some mental health advocates are concerned about the president lumping mental health with gun control.

“If we had not been able to intervene for our one daughter and get her the help she needed long term, she would not be with us today,” Leahy said. “The majority of mentally ill people are not violent.

Kathy Harkey with the National Alliance on Mental Illness added that, “a lot of the gun violence is not people with mental illness.”

But they are grateful for the much needed money. Leahy says $4 billion in funding for mental health has been cut from state budgets in the past few years.

“The $500 million is definitely needed,” agreed Harkey.

Harkey says the private sector and the state have helped improve some issues since the suicide of Senator Creigh Deeds’ son Gus two years ago including more in patient beds, more time to find a bed, and better notification. But Harkey says a lack of funding has made it harder to provide basic services like therapy, counseling and medication, often leading to waiting lists.

“All this time goes by and the person is getting sicker and sicker and sicker,” said Harkey.

Harkey says more funding will get people treated sooner.

“If we can identify people early on, give them appropriate therapy, treatment, whatever they need to deal with their issues, lead productive lives, that’s how you fix the problem,” said Leahy.

In October, Virginia was awarded a nearly $1 million dollar federal grant to strengthen and improve community behavioral health clinics.

Officials say the grant will help the state move from an inconsistent system to more consistent services that provide patients with more access.

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