Author Tim Kelly Spurring Mental Health Care Reforms

The news abounds with stories about flaws and idiosyncrasies of our mental health care system, mostly due to the spotlight that shrinking budgets puts on them. From mentally-ill prisoners starving to death to the touching tale of the therapist who tried to kill herself, it’s clear that budget cuts can seriously affect the mentally ill and those who care for them.

But, with new challenges come new opportunities. Healing the Broken Mind: Transforming America’s Failed Mental Health System by Timothy A. Kelly (2009) not only makes the case for use of clinical outcome measures to create more efficient care, but shows how the resultant data will improve quality of care and quality of life for those seeking help. Kelly argues that the time has come for a sweeping transformation of mental health care so that recovery becomes the norm. The book provides a realistic road map for getting there – addressing both policy and clinical concerns in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner.

Kelly himself thinks that making some hard choices about mental health care may be a good thing. “As the nation struggles to overcome deficits and pull out of a stagnant economy, expensive medical services are potentially on the chopping block – including mental health care,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Third party payers – federal, state and private insurers – are asking which services are most effective and which, if any, are not. The only way to answer such questions is to track the actual outcomes of clinical care. This means the time has come for mental health service providers to begin collecting outcome data so as to support the value of their particular treatment approach. Those who can demonstrate effectiveness will have a much easier time of maintaining funding than those who cannot.”

His advice is already leading to action. A mental health care group in Montana is using Kelly’s model to make better decision about treating its patients:

After receiving a grant from the Mountain Plains Equity Group, NAMI Montana has spent the last year trying to bring a comprehensive, real-time outcomes measurement program to analyze Montana’s state-funded mental illness treatment system. The program was inspired by system transformation guidelines set out in Healing the Broken Mind: Transforming America’s Failed Mental Health System by Dr. Timothy Kelly. We are happy to announce that mental health centers around the state are slowly beginning to buy into the program.

“Perhaps the current fiscal crisis can spur sweeping reforms that are long overdue in mental health services,” says Kelly. “If so, then the agony of budget cuts may at least lead to something positive in the long run – better care.”