Mental Health Advocates Blast Rep. Tim Murphy’s Bill as a Costly Step Backward, to the Days When a Mental Illness Diagnosis Was a Life Sentence

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Reprinted from the Bazelon Mental Health website:

Washington — December 12, 2013 — Today, Congressman Tim Murphy introduced legislation that, if passed, would reverse some of the advances of the last 30 years in mental health services and supports. It would exchange low-cost services that have good outcomes for higher-cost yet ineffective interventions, according to the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery (NCMHR), a coalition of 32 statewide organizations and others representing individuals with mental illnesses; the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), the non-profit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities; and theBazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a national non-profit legal advocacy organization.

“This legislation would eliminate initiatives that promote recovery from serious mental illnesses through the use of evidence-based, voluntary, peer-run services and family supports,” said Daniel Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., a founder of the NCMHR. “These services have a proven track record in helping people stay out of the hospital and live successfully in the community. Because hospitalization is far more expensive and has far worse outcomes than these effective, and cost-efficient, community-based services, this bill would cost more money for worse outcomes.

“Even worse,” Dr. Fisher added, “the bill greatly promotes stigma and discrimination by its unfounded and damaging connection between mental illness and violence.”

NDRN, NCMHR and the Bazelon Center note that the bill does not represent the mainstream of national thought, practice and research. 

“This proposal targets the rights of individuals with mental illnesses and restructures federal funding to heavily encourage the use of force and coercion. It also would reduce privacy protections and rights advocacy,” said NDRN executive director Curt Decker.

“Most troubling, this legislation threatens to essentially dismantle the efforts of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to promote recovery and community inclusion for the broad variety of people in our community – and to do so at a time when SAMHSA’s efforts to ensure that effective behavioral health approaches are fully integrated into public health are essential,” said Harvey Rosenthal, a Bazelon Center trustee.

Among the problematic provisions of Rep. Murphy’s bill is the establishment of a grants program to expand involuntary outpatient commitment (IOC), under which someone with a serious mental illness is court-mandated to follow a specific treatment plan, usually requiring medication. Yet the facts show that involuntary outpatient commitment is not effective, involves high costs with minimal returns, is not likely to reduce violence, and that there are more effective alternatives. 

“Force and coercion drive people away from treatment,” said Jean Campbell, Ph.D., one of the nation’s leading mental health researchers. “In 1989, 47% of Californians with mental illnesses who participated in a consumer research project reported that they avoided treatment for fear of involuntary treatment; that increased to 55% for those who had been committed in the past.” (Dr. Campbell was one of the two researchers.[i])

Rep. Murphy’s bill is based on a false connection between mental illness and violence. Study after study shows that no such connection exists. In fact, individuals with mental illnesses are actually 11 times more likely to be victims of violence than the general public.

Rep. Murphy’s bill also attacks the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy programs, which, together with the Client Assistance Programs, are the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.

“We urge Congressional leaders to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the mental health community to help them better understand what our systems are doing to best support the health and safety of people with mental illnesses and of all Americans,” said Dr. Fisher.

Not enough members of the U.S. House of Representatives are hearing the disturbing details of Rep. Tim Murphy’s (R-PA) mental health legislation H.R. 3717. The bill is gaining co-sponsors on Capitol Hill, despite the fact that H.R. 3717 would:

The changes sought by the bill fly in the face of the federal government’s efforts to promote community integration, and would send mental health systems decades backward. In partnership with other disability groups, the Bazelon Center drafted a detailed press statement addressing Rep. Murphy’s H.R. 3717. 

What You Can Do

You can help protect Americans’ privacy rights, right to legal representation, and comprehensive community mental health care. Ask your representative to oppose the Murphy mental health bill H.R. 3717! 

Click here to find and contact your lawmaker. You can also use the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Below you will find talking points you can use when you call, write, or email your U.S. representative. 

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  1. Mary Murphy's avatar
    Mary Murphy
    | Permalink
    "Voluntary" does not work for those afflicted with the most severe and misunderstood mental illness, schizophrenia. Current privacy laws effectively cut out any help from those closest to the horrendous suffering of their loved ones, who really have no voice left at all when they are delusional, psychotic, hearing voices and suffering from halucinations. Do you really expect rational decisions from someone suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who is (real example)hiding under a travel trailer and won't come out becuase their (former supervisor)is overhead in a satelite and is telling him to hide there and not come out? It is VERY TRUE that those with total lack of insight into their illness will need to attempt suicide or feel so threatened that they harm someone before the current system will step in and even start to help. Please, for all of us who live with a beloved family member, waiting for "it" to happen so they can get help, please, please educate yourself on how horrible the current system is. Many of us have lost our loved ones forever because we could not convince "the system" that our son, daughter, etc, needed help NOW, before the inevitable DID happen.
  2. George Patrin's avatar
    George Patrin
    | Permalink
    While I agree with the concerns raised about this legislation, I am concerned the synopsis lacks emphasis on bringing mental health care back to primary care with inclusion of families in care plans utilizing integrated mental health colleagues. We continue to attack this issue in silos. Certainly the Congressman is playing into this with call for more institutionalization, moving us backwards in time to "one Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

    How did the meeting go in DC April 3rd?
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