Reactions To My Choice Of Most Impactful In 2015, Plus Unhappy SAMHSA Workers


My decision Monday to name the Treatment Advocacy Center as the most impactful mental health organization during 2015 sparked a slew of emails. These two were representative of the range of reactions.

Con: ISIS and every mass-gun-murderer had a huge impact on the lives of thousands of people in 2015, too.  “Huge impact” does not necessarily mean ‘good, meaningful or beneficial”, though, does it?  

Pro: Why do civil rights advocates not see that when people are too sick to help themselves it can be the humane choice to get them treatment…Five years ago, (our son) was hospitalized against his will. He was livid.  Today, now in recovery and stable, he believes that move saved his life.

One cause I believe both sides would support is a better system that engaged individuals early on in their illnesses.

One emailer asked what national organization was the least impactful?

A better description might be: What mental health organization in 2015 had the worst year? And that’s easy to answer.

It’s the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a component of the Department of Health and Human Services, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. Its own employees feel the same way, according to a survey released earlier this month by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service organization.

Each year, it asks 433,300 civil servants about their job satisfaction, how well their agencies are managed, and other questions to determine the best and worst places to work in the federal government. SAMHSA was ranked in the subbasement — 317 out of 320 federal workplaces.

What were the three agencies that ranked worse than SAMHSA, which oversees the federal government’s $3.5 billion spending on mental health?

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hit 318, next came the U.S. Secret Service, and at the very bottom was the Intelligence and Analysis Agency inside the Department of Homeland Security. All four of those bottom feeders came under public attack for being mismanaged during 2015, which might explain why their employees reported being the least happy.

Led by Rep. Tim Murphy (R.-Pa.), House Republicans have been trying to dismantle SAMHSA, which they accuse of ignoring serious mental illnesses in favor of feel good, wasteful programs for the worried well. Its director Pamela Hyde, announced in August that she was leaving after six years. She was badly bloodied during a hostile congressional hearing and in the media after she proclaimed that she would rank SAMHSA’s performance as an agency as being a 10 out of 10.

With a presidential election looming, its unlikely any interim director will have a chance to build up morale, leaving SAMHSA’s 533 employees to fend for themselves until a new president chooses a successor, assuming SAMHSA is still around as we know it.

Little wonder SAMHSA employees are feeling glum.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.