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Bill Would Expand Mental Health Treatment in NJ [POLL/AUDIO]

On the heels of President Barack Obama calling for a stronger national discussion on mental illness Monday, a state lawmaker is pushing a bi-partisan bill to authorize courts in any county in New Jersey to order patients with mental illness to partake in outpatient treatment.

Obama Speaks At White House Conference On Mental Health
Obama Speaks At White House Conference On Mental Health (Win McNamee, Getty Images)

“For many who suffer from certain mental illnesses, the disease itself makes it impossible for them to recognize that they are ill,” said State Sen. Gerald Cardinale. “Therefore, informed consent to treatment becomes an impossible and frustrating problem. Often these folks are periodically in and out of institutions and eventually too many commit acts of violence against themselves or others.”

Currently, only six counties in the Garden State have taken advantage of legislation enacted in 2009 that enabled an involuntary outpatient treatment program.

“If we truly want to prevent tragedies like Newtown, part of the solution demands that we make untreated mental illness less prevalent and that we remove legal barriers to applying modern medicine to the problem,” said Cardinale. “Untreated mental illness is a serious concern as patients who don’t receive the help they need are at risk of engaging in harmful and violent behavior. This type of legislation helps address the root of much violence in our society.”

The legislation introduced by Cardinale is co-sponsored by State Sen. Nick Scutari. It provides that in any county in which the involuntary commitment to an outpatient treatment program has not been implemented, a court may, through a conditional release provision, assign a patient, who has been determined to need involuntary commitment to treatment, to an outpatient treatment provider.

Speaking at the opening session of a White House conference on mental health, Obama said his goal was to let people affected by these issues know they should not suffer in silence. He said it’s time to bring the issue “out of the shadows.” The conference was part of Obama’s response to last year’s shooting massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. While the he emphasizes that most people with mental health problems are not violent, the president says untreated mental illness can lead to larger tragedies.

“Struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating,” said Obama. “It begins to feel as if, not only are you alone, but that you shouldn’t burden others with the challenge.”

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