Launching Our Murphy Bill Video: Get Ready for the “Day of Action!”

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.

We are pleased to partner with the Open Paradigm Project and to produce this short video that lays out the issues and encourages action for real and meaningful change.

How to get involved:

DayofActionLogoParticipate 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:

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.

The Murphy Bill and the War on “Mental Illness”

Larry DrainBy Larry Drain

People tell me the most popular provision of the Murphy Bill for many congressmen is the idea of increasing the use of psychiatric hospitalization.   It will probably be a budget buster if they try to do so, but the hope on many people’s minds is that a way can be found.

And it is not hard to understand the appeal.   Much of the emotional message of the Murphy Bill is “stop the murders.” On more than one occasion, the claim has been made that had the original bill been passed last year, a specific murder might not have happened and the next one may be avoided.   The message is clear. If only we had a more coercive mental health system, this would not be nearly as dangerous of a place to live. Like the war on drugs, Murphy is proposing essentially a war on “mental illness.”

The war on drugs should give us pause before we jump into anything.   We were told the best way to win the war on drugs was to lock people up. We ended up with a lot of people locked up and no less drugs. The people locked up were disproportionately poor and disproportionately black or Hispanic. Communities were destroyed in order to save them. Nothing was made better. Violence was done to our people in the name of government intervention and the problems created were far worse than any problems we thought we were solving.

Does anyone expect any different from the war on mental illness?

The plan is supposedly to remove Medicaid and Medicare restrictions on paying for psychiatric hospitalization.   There are immediate questions with simply this statement.

You must be on Medicaid or Medicare, and what if you are not?

In about 25 states, thousands and thousands of people still have no insurance.   Their states did not expand Medicaid. What happens if they “need” hospitalization? If Medicaid folks are entitled to extended hospitalization, are not the people without insurance entitled to the same services? If you are going to even begin to be “fair,” you have to do that. And if that is the case, will the burden of increased expenses not fall on states, who right now are struggling to pay the current burden? If you also figure in the increased spending for state Medicaid budgets, have you not created a bomb for state budgets? Where is the money to come from?   Does it not come from funding for community services that are already stretched to the point of breaking? And if you must decrease community services, are you not in the end just creating the very problem you thought an increase in hospitalization was supposed to solve? What war are we fighting and what are we really destroying?

What about people with private insurance? No private insurance company that I know of will even begin to pay for long-term hospitalization. They stopped drinking the kool-aid many years ago. Will you try to force them to pick up long-term services?   Will the state have to pick up the burden for what insurances won’t pick up, or will you, in effect, develop one system for the poor, the people of color, the homeless, the unemployed, and the hurting, and another for those who have money or at least a job that gives them insurance? Will our psychiatric hospitals become the dumping grounds for the poor and disadvantaged? Have we learned nothing from our war on drugs?

Is not the end result of this to save people by destroying them?  Am I the only one who can see this coming?

But it goes far past even this:

I do not know of one study or one set of data that shows that long-term psychiatric hospitalization is one of the evidence-based practices Rep. Murphy loves to talk about. We have years of horror in this country that says otherwise.

What is the evidence that people who have had long-term psychiatric hospitalization actually needed it? (And what defines “needing it” and who decides?) I have a friend who survived 24 years in a Florida hospital. He still has no idea why he “needed it,” but what he saw and what he lived was not something for the good of anyone. Bluntly, how many lives have been ruined, wasted or destroyed in treating people for their “mental illness?”

How likely is it that people with “mental illness” will be driven underground? If community resources become less and less, and people understand that failure with community resources may lead to being hospitalized for long periods of time, how many people who could use help, who need help, will simply try to hide their needs for their own safety?

What about the people who now experience trauma associated with hospitalization as one of their mental health issues?   Is their experience not at all instructive?

There is a large and growing body of evidence that says that trauma and injury has a lot to do with any mental health issues someone struggles with and that the best treatment is trauma informed.  Hospitalization is not trauma informed care.

Even if you decide to allow Medicaid and Medicare payments for long-term treatment, it is not enough.   Those payments do not even bring states even with the actual cost to them. It does not cover capital improvements to facilities etc. Nor does it cover increased staff and training and benefits. For Tennessee, for example, it just give them the legal ability to go deeper into the hole than they already are.

Removing the IMD exclusion would cap treatment, as I understand it, at about 30 days. Have we not opened Pandora’s Box, though? What do you tell Rep. Murphy or Dr. Torrey when they tell you 30 days is just not enough time and they need more time? Once the cat is out of the bag, how do you put in back in?

And finally is there anyone who really believes that homelessness, breaking the law, unemployment, or poor health are in any way the result of a deficiency in psychiatric hospitalization? Can you explain how? I don’t mean to hurt feelings, but that seems so simplistic.

The biggest problem with all this is not even all these things (and there are others I didn’t talk about). The biggest problem is that it is a lie. It promises real solutions to real people who badly need help and when all is said and done and we are pointing fingers at who is to blame. I don’t think it will be the people who have started this war on mental illness. It will be the victims.

Larry Drain is the author of Hopeworks Community, a blog concerned with mental health, advocacy, recovery, health care reform and other social justice issues. He is active in mental health advocacy and health care reform in Tennessee and on a national level. Most importantly, he has been married to Linda for 34 years.