What do fruit smoothies and sacred drums have in common? They help cure mental illness, claims the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) ‘National Wellness Week’. Named the “worst government agency” by the Treatment Advocacy Center, SAMHSA has a massive $3.5 billion budget, but has failed time and time again to use these resources toward adequate mental health treatment. It is imperative that taxpayer funds are well spent on this important issue, but this is currently not the case. 

SAMHSA currently employs 574 people with an average salary of $107,000, none of which are psychiatrists. As an organization developed to tackle health disparities and mental illness, psychiatrists or medical professionals should be the first hire on staff. That does not seem to be a priority for SAMHSA. Furthermore, their yearly projects include a $195,000 Awards Show and $80,000 staff musical.

A key SAMHSA initiative is National Wellness Week — a weeklong kumbaya festival in which people, according to SAMHSA’s website, “raise awareness of health disparities among people with serious mental and/or substance use disorders and the general population.”

But in reality, it appears that this initiative throws taxpayer funds at a problem with few, if any tangible outcomes. During past National Wellness Weeks, SAMHSA sponsored events such as Line Dance for Wellness, Walking Meditation Session at the Rooftop Labyrinth, and National Wellness Week Brown Bag Lunch: De-stress with Origami.

As Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD, the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University College told the Energy and Commerce Committee at a June 16, 2015 hearing, this agency is utterly failing to ensure adequate mental health to the American population:

“To say that this federal agency [SAMHSA], most directly charged with the delivery of quality mental health services to the American population, has failed miserably is an understatement. In fact I would go so far as to consider SAMSHA a proxy agency for the anti-psychiatry movement, which is to say that the agency has resisted the scientifically driven evidenced based approach to mental health care that psychiatric medicine has embraced since its scientific revolution began in the 1970’s.”

Clearly, this agency does not serve its intended purpose. But fortunately for taxpayers, reforms to this ineffectual agency are already out there. The “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” introduced by Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) overhauls the current ineffectual mental health system and curbs wasteful spending that all too often misses the mark. The problem is not lack of resources but an ineffective system more fine-tuned toward cronyism than looking after patients.