When it comes to public policy on mental illness and substance abuse, it’s as though the Titanic is speeding ahead with the iceberg in sight. As a nation, we have two choices. We can buy more lifeboats, continue with patchwork solutions, and steel ourselves for disaster. Or we can steer clear of the iceberg. We can turn the wheel, take bold action, and change the course of history.

Congress is now considering comprehensive mental health legislation. The action on Capitol Hill should be applauded. It shows that we are moving in the right direction as far as taking disorders in the brain as seriously as we take diseases in the body.

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But if we only focus on treating the crisis -- a grant here, a program there -- we will be doing nothing more than buying more lifeboats for the Titanic.

We must not waste this moment. Advances in neuroscience and technology have created a historic opportunity for transformative change. Setting a new standard for mental health care in America is truly a case of go big or go home.  

If we want to steer clear of the iceberg, we must rally ourselves to do the things that will make a difference, not just today, but for years to come. We must have the will to think expansively, transform the system, and make sure brain health is part of every household, every school, and every doctor’s visit. The good news is that there are many ideas that hold promise – strategies that if undertaken today can change our course and make this vision a reality.

It starts now with making sure that the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, is fully implemented and strongly enforced. This groundbreaking law, which requires that insurance coverage for behavioral health be equal to coverage for other medical care, is truly the gateway to a better, more equal, more effective system. It is also the only way other good ideas for treating mental illness and addictions can take hold, because first and foremost, Americans must have access to care. 

Having the necessary infrastructure in place to care for patients is critically important as well. Fifty-five percent of counties in the U.S. do not have mental health providers. Where we can have an immediate and profound impact is in primary care, where the vast majority of Americans will seek mental health services. Research shows that collaborative care -- where primary care providers work closely with mental health professionals, often by phone or video -- is more effective in treating common conditions like depression and anxiety, and it costs less.

We must also leverage the latest, life-saving technologies. From electronic medical records to smartphone applications to wider availability of brain MRIs, new technologies are coordinating care, expanding our workforce capacity, and accelerating treatment and recovery. We are not far away from the day when we can analyze the genetic makeup of a veteran struggling with PTSD, and use an algorithm to prescribe the personalized program of medicine, brain training, nutrition, and exercise that helps her recover.

And if we are going to chart a new course, we absolutely must accelerate early intervention to ensure every child has a healthy brain, which will build resilience over a lifetime. The harsh reality is that almost half of American children have experienced serious trauma, damaging their ability to learn, and leading to symptoms of mental illness as they age. For these reasons and more, brain fitness must be at the top of our national agenda.  

The time to act is now. I am calling for change on behalf of the 96 percent of Americans who have stood up and said they believe that mental health conditions are a serious public health problem. Large majorities of Republicans, Independents and Democrats agree about the need for radical or significant change in the way we are handling mental health. If Congress is looking for the votes, you have them. There is widespread, bipartisan public support for far-reaching change.

The iceberg is in sight. Are you ready to turn the ship?

More than half a century ago, President Kennedy rallied the nation with the audacious goal of putting a man on the moon. Some 50 years later, we are in a race to inner space, on a mission to achieve the best possible mental health for every child and adult. Times have changed, but one truth has remained constant: Americans can still dream big and accomplish great things, together.

Kennedy served in the House from 1995 to 2011. He is he son of late former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the founder of The Kennedy Forum.