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Passage Of Stabenow's Mental Health Bill Gains Applause

(CBS Detroit) - Community health services got a boost as Sen. Debbie Stabenow's "Excellence in Mental Health Act" -- was finally passed by the Senate – was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The legislation is expected to expand access to community mental health services, and strengthen the quality of care provided for those living with mental illness.

"This new law is a landmark step forward in the effort to expand community mental health services for people living with mental illness and reduce the stigma around mental illness," Stabenow said Wednesday. "This is an important issue that touches all of our families in some way and this is one of the most significant steps in decades to expand access to care," she added.

Statistics show one in four people in Michigan are touched by mental health issues.

"A majority are victims, not perpetrators, of crimes, but if we don't have good treatment, we can see some devastating things happen," added Stabenow, who is a professionally trained social worker.

The legislation will provide federal funding for pilot programs in eight states that will be selected to help improve mental health centers.

Stabenow has been behind a similar mental health proposal for years. It gained bipartisan support after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri signed on as co-sponsor of the bill. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the pilot program will cost $1.1 billion over 10 years.

Stabenow said it could take a few years to set up the program and that she will work with state of Michigan officials to submit a proposal to be among the eight states selected. The passage of the Excellence in Mental Health Act is perhaps the most significant piece of legislation since President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act of 1963.

Mental health advocates applauded passage of Stabenow's bill.

Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins, president and CEO of DWMHA, will hold hearings starting Monday to update the authority. (credit: CBS Detroit)

Tom Watkins, president and CEO of the Detroit-Wayne Mental Health Authority, said his organization will "advocate and stand up to push for that here" as well. The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority is one of the largest community mental health systems in the country that serves over 74,000 people.

"While there is a renewed commitment and leadership from the state, especially from Department of Community Health Director Jim Haveman and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, there is a clear need for additional resources to meet the needs of persons with serious mental illness," said Watkins.

"Sen Stabenow has provided us a pathway to secure these resources in the future,' Watkins added.

Mental health issues impact millions.

Stabenow said her father lived with bipolar disorder for a decade when she was a child before finally receiving treatment to balance out his mood swings.

Watkins added that his young brother committed suicide after a long battle with depression. "I witnessed the difference when he got the care, support and help he needed and when he didn't," Watkins said of his brother. "We need to make sure nobody goes through that pain."

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