The problems that we face in America today are many and they are grave. Mass gun violence grips our communities on a regular basis. A wave of protest against unfair policing policies and police violence directed against people of color and people with mental health and other disabilities. “Zero tolerance” policies in schools that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline. We incarcerate more people than any country in the world, generally for nonviolent offenses. Suicide rates are on the rise in America for the 10th year in a row.
These pressing social issues are deeply interconnected and are rooted in trauma, the breakdown of community support, and socioeconomic inequality. We need reform that sees the intersections and addresses the public’s health and well-being across the lifespan. But instead, we continue to scapegoat the most vulnerable members of our society for the problems we face, churning out simplistic answers to complicated social questions.
One politician, Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA), has exploited the mass shooting tragedy at Newtown, and every tragedy since, to launch a crusade against people diagnosed with “severe mental illness.” The research evidence shows that people with a psychiatric diagnosis are no more violent than the general population. They are far more likely to kill themselves, or to be killed by law enforcement, than to kill another person. Murphy’s focus on people with mental health diagnoses as violent and incompetent is not only wrong, it actually serves to increase fear, discrimination and social distancing. When mental health is treated as a public safety issue rather than a public health issue, then we have taken a disastrously wrong turn.
Congressman Murphy first introduced the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” also known as the “Murphy Bill,” in December 2013, but it never made it out of committee, because it was seen as too controversial. In June 2015, he reintroduced the bill in slightly modified form as H.R. 2646, and it is quickly gaining co-sponsors in the 114th Congress. Don’t be fooled by the “helpful” sounding name; this is dangerous legislation that represents a giant step backwards for people with psychiatric diagnoses and their families.
Rep. Murphy purports to solve the serious problem of mass incarceration of people with mental health problems and/or addictions by instead forcing them into our broken, inadequate, outmoded mental health systems. We don’t need to create a false dichotomy of jails vs. institutions. There is a third and better way: increasing access to meaningful community support. People can and do reclaim their lives and health if they have access to the right kinds of supports and services in their communities. But cities, counties, and states everywhere lack the resources to adequately support people with mental health needs and other disabilities, largely because of misguided local, state, and federal spending priorities.
Rep. Murphy has also gotten an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) for his voting record on gun control. He deftly uses “mental health” as an excuse to deflect and distract from discussion and action on sensible gun reform in this nation. Sensible gun reform would go a long way towards curbing community and domestic violence of all kinds, and would help to prevent suicide by firearm.
In summary, the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” is a sweeping bill that promises “reform,” but would actually return the nation’s state mental health systems to many of the failed policies of the past.
- Many provisions of the bill would significantly curtail the civil rights of people with psychiatric diagnoses, including an increase in forced treatment and restrictions on the federal protection and advocacy system.
- The bill is inconsistent with scientific understanding of the cause and treatment of mental health issues. It ignores the significant role of toxic stress and trauma, precludes many interventions that have been proven effective, and does not make allowances for cultural differences known to affect diagnosis, treatment and help-seeking behavior.
- The bill uses language that dismisses the possibility of recovery, and effectively promotes a return to harmful institutional services over evidence-based practices in the community.
- The bill does not approach mental health as a public health problem. It explicitly restricts funding for primary prevention programs and would prevent the federal mental health authority from working to promote wellness.
The bill ignores the progress made over the past 20 years. It promotes a narrow, professionally focused system of care, in stark contrast to current thinking in healthcare, which is moving rapidly to implement patient-centered care, shared decision-making, and self-management of chronic conditions.
For all of these reasons, the Campaign for Real Change in Mental Health Policy was formed. We are a diverse group of professionals, researchers, policymakers, citizens, family members, and people in recovery who don’t necessarily agree on all points, but who are united in our effort to stop the Murphy bill. We are also united in the belief that we can do better than what this bill proposes.
The Campaign recognizes that we don’t have to sacrifice people’s civil rights to create an effective mental health system. The Campaign also believes that to enact any “mental health reform” that does not take a comprehensive public health approach is a missed opportunity.
How to get involved:
- Participate in our Day of Action for REAL Change in Mental Health Policy!
On Wednesday, October 7 we encourage you to call, write, or use social media to contact your member of Congress and tell them that the Murphy Bill is bad for America. Everything you need to be a successful advocate on our Day of Action can be found here. Make your voice heard!
- Twitter Campaign: Tell The National Journal “Nothing About Us, Without Us!”
Also on Wednesday, October 7, from 8:30 – 10:30 AM Eastern Time, The National Journal and Janssen Pharmaceuticals are sponsoring an event in Washington, DC on mental health reform with speakers including Rep. Tim Murphy, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), and a variety of others. The sole voice missing from the discussion is that of those who would be most directly affected by the proposed policies – people with mental health diagnoses and/or disabilities!
The National Journal is encouraging people to use the hashtag #NJMentalHealth during the event. Here are some sample Tweets – or create your own. You can also use the hashtag #RealMHChange throughout the day.
Other ways to get involved:
- Watch and share the video widely on social media
- Sign the petition and share it with your networks
- Educate yourself by reading our talking points
- Share our infographic outlining the major problems with the bill
Together we can defeat this dangerous legislation, and pave the way for new, enlightened policies that will directly benefit people with mental health diagnoses and their families – in their communities, where they belong.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.