Six members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, including Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to request information on the current and past efforts by federal agencies, particular those of HHS, to assess and improve upon the mental health system in response to recent tragedies. Last month, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO) announced that they would look into a range of federal programs and resources targeting mental health research and care. In addition, they plan to draw feedback from the nation’s leading experts on mental health and illness as part of the ongoing national dialogue on violence, guns, and mental illness.
The letter is part of the panel’s ongoing efforts to gain a better understanding of societal factors contributing to and potential causes of outbreaks of violence. Acknowledging that a national discussion on mental health that addresses the negative perceptions of mental illness as an important first step, the letter highlights some key facts about mental illness: mainly that individuals with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than perpetrators. The letter also reviews some of the steps that were taken immediately following the tragic events at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University to prevent future tragedies. In order to determine the effectiveness of those efforts and others, the Committee has requested that HHS follow up on a number of recommendations submitted by the Committee.