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Murphy challenges Congress to confront its own ‘denial’ about serious mental illness

July 25, 2014

It has been a busy week for those both for and against HR 3717, the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013.” We are featuring calls to action both for and against to stay consistent with our approach of giving all sides an opportunity to express their opinion on the CMHNetwork website. As always Network faithful, explore all sides, do your homework, and make informed decisions.

Below are Congressman Murphy’s remarks on the House floor Thursday, July 24, along with video of his speech:

For Immediate Release: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Contact: Brad Grantz, 202.225.2301

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Calling on Congress to confront its own ‘denial’ about serious mental illness, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy urged passage of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 3717) during an impassioned speech before his House of Representatives colleagues today. On Monday, researchers released a groundbreaking study showing schizophrenia is tied to 100 different genes. Dr. Murphy, who is a clinical psychologist, said the research underscores the need to approach serious mental illness as a medical condition. The text of his speech is as follows:

Congressman Tim Murphy - Remarks on the House Floor - Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 3717

  • Mr. Speaker, this week the largest-ever study of schizophrenia reported that the condition is tied to more than 100 genes.

    This discovery is more evidence that schizophrenia is a clinical condition, just like other medical conditions. Severe schizophrenia, therefore, must be treated with a medical approach using evidence-based therapies that work.

    We know fifty percent of persons with schizophrenia suffer from a neurological impairment that makes them incapable of understanding they are ill. This lack of awareness, termed Anosognosia, is the leading cause of noncompliance with psychiatric treatment. This neurological problem helps to explain why forty percent of Americans with a serious mental illness do not receive treatment, and it explains how our system fails to help those most in need.

    Anosognosia occurs most frequently when schizophrenia or bipolar disorder affects portions of the frontal lobe resulting in impaired executive function. The patient is neurologically unable to comprehend that their delusions or hallucinations are not real. This is different than denial; this is a change in the wiring of the brain.

    These individuals don’t recognize they are ill, and when they don’t meet the 200-year old definition of being an imminent danger to harm themselves or others, their friends and families are powerless to help them. Uninformed observers wrongly believe that because the patients can look at them and talk to them, they must be fully functional and aware. But they are not.

    Much like if they had Alzheimer’s Disease or were in a coma, these individuals with schizophrenia can’t voluntarily request treatment on their own. We would never deny care to a stroke victim or a senior with Alzheimer’s simply because he or she couldn’t articulate their need for treatment. Yet, in cases of serious brain disorders, we allow millions to suffer because the chaotic of patchwork of state and federal laws that says we can’t act even when we know that we must.

    Further, when a patient is discharged from a hospital with anything from a minor cut to a heart transplant, there must be a written treatment plan. And that plan is readily shared with family members who will assist with follow-up. But not so with serious mental illness. Again, we would not do this to someone with Alzheimer’s. We would not say, “I can’t treat your grandmother until she is well enough to tell me to treat her, but I can’t tell you about her treatment until she gives you permission.”

    These mentally ill men and women, who are in need of medical attention, end up sitting in jails, sleeping behind dumpsters, or sedated and chained to hospital gurneys in emergency rooms. They cycle in out and of prison, the ER, and shelters. That is the lifestyle we have relegated 3.6 million Americans to.

    We deny people the right to treatment. We deny them the right to get better. How cruel is that? And as a result, one million Americans last year attempted suicide, 40,000 people died from suicide, there are 300,000 homeless, 500,000 in jail, and 700,000 in other prisons. The mentally ill are also more likely to be robbed, physically assaulted, raped, and sexual assaulted. So while several states and counties have taken bold action to help those who have been cast aside in our current system, the federal government sits oblivious to the problem, and in some cases, actually creates barriers to treatment for those who need help the most.

    Serious mental illness is more detrimental to your long term health than being a heavy smoker and increases you risks for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It reduces your lifespan by some 25 years.

    There is also a financial toll.

    A study conducted by Duke University determined that Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) saves taxpayers $50,000 per patient. It also increases medication compliance, and decreases incarceration, hospitalization, and homelessness. The problem is that four states still prohibit the use of this medical model and most county health systems haven’t implemented it. And, studies have shown that each time an individual with a mental illness experiences a break from reality, their brain actually suffers some permanent injury.

    All of this happens at a time when we know more about the brain than we ever have. We tell families that federal laws prohibit you from knowing why your loved one is in a mental health crisis, and doctors tell the family your son is only a little dangerous right now, but please bring them back when they become truly violent and then they can be treated. How absurd.

    Can you imagine if we told someone with diabetes, your blood sugar is too low but we are going to wait until you are in diabetic shock before we give you insulin? The doctor would be fired, the hospital would be sued, and we would ensure that it never happens again. Yet, for families in a mental health crisis, this scenario plays out every single day and not a word is spoken about it.

    The reason is that people don’t understand the neurological basis of mental illness. What we need to do is have a Congress that is able to confront its own denial and change the laws that need to be changed.

    We can fix the mental health system, but not if Congress does not act.

    We must pass H.R. 3717, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, because ignoring this problem will not make it go away and where there is no help, there is no hope at all. 

  • Watch the full floor speech below:

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