Sep. 05 2014

Mental healthcare reform is much needed in our country and providing better care is one of our greatest challenges, writes the Mailman School’s Lloyd Sederer, MD, in a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Fixing the Troubled Mental Health System.” There are several reasons why people often discontinue treatment or never seek services. Among them is the stigma of mental illness or a result of a bad experience in the past.

According to Dr. Sederer, a faculty member in the Department of Epidemiology, and colleagues, there are three questions that must be answered in order to improve the current mental health system: What is affordable mental health care? How should progress be assessed? What are the essential next steps?

“Providing safe and humane mental health care is a responsibility of our communities and neighborhoods and not for our jails or shelters,” writes Dr. Sederer, who is also medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health. “Federal and state governments should make it a priority to move patients from the criminal justice system to the treatment system.” He also suggests creating financial and regulatory incentives for measuring successes. Other essential steps should focus on retaining people in treatment, reducing the overuse of emergency services, and targeting resources in order to provide special attention to frequent users of these services.

Dr. Sederer believes that legislative action is desperately needed to improve our flawed mental health system. On the positive side, for the first time in 50 years, there are two bills in Congress aimed at improving the U.S. mental health care system, and while there are substantial differences between the two, efforts are currently underway to find common ground.

Read the article in JAMA.

About Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master’s and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including ICAP (formerly the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs) and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit