A person with good mental health can use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities to develop and maintain good relationships with his or her family and community, and retain a job that provides for everyday needs. In contrast, mental illnesses are biologically-based brain disorders that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and/or capacity for fulfilling daily activities.
According to a 2004 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 54 million U.S. adults have symptoms of a mental illness during the course of a year. But less than half of these adults received treatment.
NCSL & Mental Health
NCSL carries out a range of activities to help legislators find innovative and efficient strategies to meet mental health needs. On the NCSL Mental Health and Substance Abuse webpage, legislators and staff can access "Mental Health: Frequently Asked Questions," as well as archives of NCSL presentations, charts and meetings. Also available online is a comprehensive chart listing state mental health parity laws and a description of the newly enacted federal parity law's impact.
Adults and children with mental health needs rarely contact their state’s mental health department for initial help. Instead, they are more likely to first come into contact with child welfare, criminal justice or educational agencies. The lack of coordination between these agencies means that individuals may not be linked to the needed multiple services.
To address this lack of coordination, the NCSL Forum for State Health Policy Leadership has launched the "Coordinated State Leadership for Better Mental Health" project, which publishes articles, holds seminars and provides technical assistance.
Substance Use Disorders
Alcohol and other substance use disorders are chronic relapsing diseases that cause brain changes in the user. The initial choice to use alcohol or other drugs may be voluntary, but if a person becomes addicted, he or she then suffers from a biological disease, one of the symptoms of which is the need to continue using.
States and employers suffer many economic costs associated with untreated alcohol and other substance use disorders. The health consequences can be enormous, ranging from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders to trauma and death. But treatment can lead to significant cost savings for states, particularly in the criminal justice arena.
Both state and federal governments fund prevention and treatment services for substance use disorders. Parity and mandated benefits are economically advantageous for states because they create a cost shift from the public sector to the private sector. Still, the need for treatment far exceeds the capacity for such services in the United States.
NCSL & Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders
NCSL provides legislators with a variety of tools to address alcohol and substance use disorders. A substance abuse legislation database, the bi-weekly NCSL Substance Abuse Snapshot electronic newsletter and numerous issue briefs convey the latest information on this issue. NCSL also provides technical assistance and answers information requests on substance use topics. Along with various project partners, NCSL manages the programs Performance Measurement in Addiction Treatment, and Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opiate Addiction.
In addition, NCSL's Addiction Studies Program for the States is designed to give policymakers concise information on cost-effective best practices for addressing alcohol and substance use disorders. The program conducts workshops for teams consisting of legislators, their staffs, the governor's staff and agency personnel.
The goal for individuals with substance use disorders is long-term recovery from addiction, as well as improvement in the individual's health, wellness and quality of life. To achieve this, traditional drug and alcohol treatment services must work with education, housing, child care, financial planning, employment assistance, health care and legal assistance. NCSL's Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care project helps state legislators examine policy options that will help recovering addicts once again become productive members of their communities.