Eight advocates defy critics and come together for honest dialogue about Assisted Outpatient Treatment

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Members of Congress and their staff invited to observe...
When: August 25, 2014
Where: Washington, DC 

There have been plenty of naysayers who have made their feelings known about our plan to hold a dialogue with advocates across the spectrum of opinion on the question of Assisted Outpatient Treatment. Assisted Outpatient Treatment is one of the lightning rod issues in HR 3717 Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act that has drawn heated debate among members of Congress and the mental health advocacy community. Not only are we holding a dialogue, we are sending invitations to members of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee and their staff to observe our dialogue.

Here is a sampling of some of the fear-based comments that have come from Network readers:

My answer to the last statement, which sums up the answer to all the others, is, "How dare we not?" 

Why are we holding this dialogue? 
Faithful readers know that the Children's Mental Health Network has been actively fostering dialogue among those with differing opinions on Assisted Outpatient Treatment over the past several months. Assisted Outpatient Treatment is one of the lightning rod issues in HR 3717 Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act that has drawn heated debate among members of Congress and the mental health advocacy community. The goal of the CMHNetwork has been to model a rational approach to dialogue on this issue that honors individual experience, but leaves room for finding common ground. To say "we are not going to budge on our stance" does no one any good. Drawing a line in the sand serves only to perpetuate the muddy landscape that is the mental health delivery system, leaving families without answers or direction to help guide them through the turbulent waters of having a child or young adult with serious mental health challenges.

A glimmer of hope 
We were excited when we read a news story in June that a bipartisan group of House lawmakers were looking for compromise mental health legislation. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) expressed hope that common ground could be found on his Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which he introduced late last year. And Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) expressed similar optimism for his bill, which was introduced six months after Murphy’s. According to news reports, the negotiations would begin during the July recess.

The glimmer becomes a faint ember
It is now close to the end of August, and we haven’t heard a peep about progress with this bipartisan effort. Making matters worse, when Congress reconvenes, the opportunity to get anything meaningful accomplished is doubtful, with as little as a two-week window according to some of our sources in DC.

Time to take charge of the pace 
It seems we have two options. We can criticize Congress for not doing their job and wring our hands. Or, we can take charge of the pace of discussion and model effective collaborative problem-solving. Doing the latter has multiple benefits. First, it gets advocacy leaders with differing perspectives in the same room listening to each other, and second, it signals congressional staff that the populace, the voters, the constituents, (whatever noun suits your fancy) are formulating a strategy to move forward. Instead of the current soundbites of "This is what Murphy is saying," or "This is what Barber is saying," maybe, just maybe we can move forward the conversation to "This is what the people are saying, and it's complicated, and controversial, but the people are determined to figure it out."

Enough with the perpetual arm wrestling, folks.

Big time props to the brave eight who have made a commitment to stick their necks out, take a page out of the humility handbook, and participate. Take a look at the list below (in alphabetical order) and if you have the time, send them a note of encouragement for putting themselves on the line:


  1. Dennis D. Embry's avatar
    Dennis D. Embry
    | Permalink
    In preparing for this meeting to which I've been invited, I would love to hear from others who won't be at the event their thoughts and ideas. There is much to reflect on about how to help our nation, our families and affected individuals.
  2. Debbie Plotnick's avatar
    Debbie Plotnick
    | Permalink
    The issue of compulsory, court-ordered treatment is and always has been of great concern/interest to Mental Health America. Many of us here at the nation's oldest advocacy organization are family members and people with lived experience with mental health conditions.

    We would very much like to offer our point of view at the forum on August 25th.

    Thank you.

    Debbie Plotnick,
    Senior Director of State Policy

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