The Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC) released a report to Congress on Dec. 13, 2017, titled, “The Way Forward: Federal Action for a System That Works for All People Living with SMI and SED and Their Families and Caregivers.”

More than 10 million U.S. adults are living with a serious mental illness, meaning their illness impairs their ability to hold jobs or maintain relationships. These individuals have a greater risk of suicide and a life expectancy 10 years shorter than the general population, and they’re 10 times more likely to be incarcerated, Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Eric D. Hargan, JD, said at a Dec. 14, 2017, press conference.

“That’s a tragic outcome for illnesses that we know how to treat,” Hargan said.

“This is a complicated challenge,” he added. “We’re working with our colleagues at the Department of Justice because we need to make sure that people with severe mental illness receive treatment and are not put behind bars; we see this as a public health issue and not a public safety issue.”

HHS also is working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development because too many people with serious mental illness end up living on the streets, Hargan said. “The Department of Labor is a critical partner, too, because finding work is an important piece of helping people with serious mental illness lead healthy and independent lives,” he said.

The ISMICC report details the incarceration problem and other issues the nation faces in the way it handles mental illness.

“It is crucial to provide access to evidence-based mental healthcare before people experience negative outcomes,” said Elinore F. McCance-Katz, MD, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use. McCance-Katz also said in a new report that the U.S. healthcare system can do better and the federal government can marshal its resources to help.

The report provides a roadmap for improving mental health services and focuses on the following five areas:

• strengthen federal coordination to improve care;

• make it easier to receive care that is an evidence-based best practice;

• close the gap between what works and what is offered;

• increase opportunities for individuals with serious mental illness and serious emotional disturbance to be diverted from criminal and juvenile justice systems and to improve care for those involved in criminal and juvenile justice systems;

• develop financial strategies to increase availability and affordability of care.

A video of ISMICC’s report to Congress can be viewed at: The full report can be ordered at: