Landmark Mental Health Bill Approved in the Houseby Jillian Lampert, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D., F.A.E.D.
If you’ve ever sat in the Gallery of the House of Representatives, you get a simultaneous sense of grandeur and individual impact. Grandeur in the enormity, the incredible art and architecture, the urgent sense of purpose that pervades the space. Individual impact in the stories of people whose lives will be saved, changed, and improved with the legislation being discussed and debated. Last Wednesday, July 6th, I had the incredible opportunity to watch, from a seat in that Gallery, the House of Representatives debate and then vote on the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act championed by Rep. Tim Murphy from Pennsylvania. The bill passed by a stunning 422-2 vote. There were tears in the eyes and on the cheeks of my colleagues gathered there and elsewhere to see this moment occur. Our collective spirits soared as the yes votes poured in. The gavel marking the finalizing of the vote and passage of the bill echoed in our hearts and minds.
Commonly referred to as the “Mental Health Reform Bill,” this bill stands to impact many and address some of the mental health service shortcomings our system, our country and our citizens grapple with daily. While there may be a lot to say about what’s good about the bill, what’s missing, where it could improve, and how we take the next steps to do even more, I want to focus on one part of the bill that is near and dear to the hearts of so many people involved in the world of eating disorder treatment, prevention, and advocacy.
The current legislative priority of the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) is passing the Anna Westin Act, a bill that impacts training and treatment for eating disorders through training grants and clarity of parity. Through powerful and persistent work, the language of the Anna Westin Act came to be contained within Rep. Murphy’s bill. So, you see, when the House voted 422-2 to help those in mental health crisis, they voted 422-2 to pass the first ever bill containing eating disorder language in the history of Congress. There has never been eating disorder language in any bill passed by Congress, so it is an historic and unprecedented time for our field.
If you’d like to bask just a tiny bit in the goodness of it all, see the one-minute video clip on the EDC homepage in which Congressman Lance (R-NJ) speaks to this historic occasion on the House floor last week. Eating disorders were the only mental health diagnosis singled out for commentary during the House debate, which is the direct result of advocacy of our field. Your voices, our voices, made a difference. Those voices carried that individual impact all the way through and across the grandeur of that room in the House on the Hill.
We celebrate that moment and simultaneously now focus on getting the Senate version of the mental health reform bill—also containing the Anna Westin Act language—passed in the Senate after they return from summer recess. When the Senate passes Mental Health Reform—always the optimists, we are—our celebration will continue!
Your voices, our voices, will then carry Anna’s legacy and the legacy of far too many who suffer as she and her family did and do, across that grand Senate chamber on the Hill, all the way to the desk of the President. We shall see and jubilantly celebrate the first law of our land that includes eating disorders by name.
Follow along on the EDC website and social media, share your voice and urging when you see an action alert encouraging you to call your Senators, and ask others to join us in this effort. Together, we can work towards a better tomorrow for people with eating disorders and those who care about them.
Let’s see one dream realized for Anna and her family and the millions that are impacted by eating disorders. Then, we’ll find the next dream and make that one happen together, too.