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Victories Have Been Many

June 03, 1997|JULIE MARQUIS

Though mental health advocates say their movement has a long way to go, it has seen significant progress in recent years in the realms of research, clinical treatment and public policy:

* In September 1996, Congress passed a bill prohibiting discriminatory lifetime and annual caps in insurance coverage. Though limited in scope, the bill helped inspire introduction of insurance "parity" bills in 34 states. The bills ranged in scope from limited to broad-based coverage of mental disease.

* This spring, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidelines clarifying that mental illness must be accommodated as a disability in the workplace.

* California and other states are considering legislation that would broaden poor patients' access to the latest generation of psychiatric drugs. In the past, patients would have to experience one or two failures on older medications that often were less effective and carried serious effects.

* There have been more advances in research and treatment of mental illness in the last five years than in the last 100 years, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Breakthrough drugs have produced dramatic improvements in some patients.

* There have been increasing innovations in community-based treatment. Here, there is much room for improvement, advocates say, but most mental patients still are better off than in the days when they were essentially incarcerated.

Source: Mary Rappaport, director of communications, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

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