ACTION ALERT: Contact Your Reps on House Energy & Commerce Committee

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has the power to keep the Murphy Bill (H.R. 2646) from coming to the House floor for a vote, or to demand revisions to the bill.

On October 23, most Democratic committee members came out against several regressive provisions in the bill, which would return the mental health system to the failed policies of the past (see summary below). Our advocacy is having an effect and we need to keep the pressure on!

If your representative signed the letter opposing the harmful provisions in the Murphy bill, please call their offices and let them know you support their position. The signatories are:

G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Lois Capps (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA), David Loebsack (D-IA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), John P. Sarbanes (D-MD), Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Peter Welch (D-VT), and John A. Yarmuth (D-KY).

If your Congressional representative is a member the House Energy and Commerce Committee, contact them today and ask them to oppose The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646 ) (the Murphy bill.) For talking points that discuss problems with the bill, see https://realmhchange.org/comprehensive-talking-points/ and https://realmhchange.org/rights-talking-points/

The House Energy and Commerce Committee members are listed here.

Find out how to contact your representative here.

House Energy and Commerce Democrats Express Strong Support for Progressive Mental Health Reform

Almost all the Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee – the Committee considering The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646) (the Murphy bill), came out last Friday in strong support of progressive mental health policy reform and against what they identified as harmful provisions of the bill.

In a letter to the committee chair and ranking Democratic member dated October 23, 2015, the Democrats said that they “strongly oppose provisions that would restrict patient’s civil rights,” stating that “regressive reforms …that diminish patient’s rights and create a less welcoming treatment environment will result in worse quality of care.” The full text of the letter is available here.

The letter raised the following key points:

  • Opposition to provisions that would restrict privacy rights under HIPAA by allowing family members access to individuals’ records without their permission and even over their objection.
  • Opposition to provisions that would penalize states for not adopting Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (disingenuously referred to as “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” or AOT).
  • Objections to AOT, including:
    • It is disproportionately applied to people of color
    • It involves the courts and law enforcement in treatment decisions
    • it subjects people to forced treatment who are not ruled dangerous to self or others.
  • Opposition to provisions that would reward states that make it easier to commit people to inpatient units
  • Opposition to provisions that would weaken the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system.
  • Opposition to eliminating SAMHSA

Thank you for taking action and contacting your representatives on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Tell the Washington Post: There is NOT Consensus on Mental Health Legislation!

On October 18, the Washington Post published an article entitled “Advocates, lawmakers see momentum for mental-health reform in Congress” by Lena H. Sun.

While this piece acknowledges that current House and Senate mental health bills are seen as controversial, it includes some troubling quotes that will lead the public to believe that there is consensus in the mental health advocacy community that these bills should be the basis for legislation.

Please inform the Washington Post that their staff should ask people with psychiatric histories and mental health diagnoses what they think of the “reforms” contained in these bills. We cannot allow advocates who support eroding our civil liberties and privacy rights to speak on our behalf. We have a voice. Let’s use it.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

1) Learn more about the Senate companion mental health bill, a summary of which can be found here. Access the full text of the bill. Here is a comparison of the House and Senate bills.

2) Write a letter to the editor of the Washington Post.
Newspapers keep track of “pro” and “con” letters, even if not all can be published.

Talking points you can use (feel free to use your own):

  • The false link between gun violence and mental health is not a basis for legislation. Rep. Murphy’s bill in the House is based on this false connection, and the Senate version follows his lead.
  • Reform is needed, but the statement by Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America, that advocates are united in the belief that these bills should be the basis of such reform, is erroneous.
  • The author did not consult people with mental health problems, who would be most affected by any proposed reforms.
  • Like the House bill, the Senate bill is hardly an “overhaul” of the mental health system. It puts zero Medicaid dollars into community mental health services, while directing potentially billions of Medicaid dollars to psychiatric hospitals.
  • REAL reform would recognize the huge prevalence of trauma among people with mental health and substance use problems, and would seek to reduce re-traumatization in service settings.

Tips for writing letters to the editor:

  • Keep your letter under 200 words, or even shorter to increase its chances of being published.
  • Send your letter to letters@washpost.com.
  • Send your letter as soon as possible to improve chances of publication.
  • The full guidelines for submission are here.

3) Tweet to the author Lena Sun @bylenasun and let her know she needs to speak to the people who would be most directly affected by this legislation.

Sample Tweets:

.@bylenasun There is NOT total consensus in the MH community on the current MH bills, despite what “advocates” say. #realmhchange

.@bylenasun Ppl w/#mentalhealth disabilities can speak for themselves. The advocacy orgs you quoted DON’T represent us. #realmhchange

.@bylenasun Ppl w/#mentalhealth disabilities oppose both House & Senate bills. Wish someone would talk to us! #realmhchange

The Promise of Trauma-Informed Approaches

By Darby Penney

These are dangerous and trying times for those who believe that the human rights of people involved with the mental health system must be promoted and protected. The Murphy Bill – “The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” (H.R. 2646)- and its only slightly less frightening companion bill in the Senate- would undermine what little progress has been made toward rights protection in recent years. It would perpetuate and expand current rights violations like Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (disingenuously referred to as “Assisted Outpatient Treatment”), and would return the nation’s state mental health systems to the failed policy of mass institutionalization.

These possibilities frighten me. For more than 25 years, I’ve worked in a range of positions in the system – as a state mental health official, a historian and writer, and a researcher and trainer – and, in my free time, as an activist in the human rights movement for people with psychiatric histories. Over that time, I’ve seen coercion and cooptation increase. I’ve seen people’s rights trampled in both inpatient and outpatient settings. I’ve seen years of work that resulted in tiny improvements wiped out in the blink of an eye. I’ve often been discouraged and I’ve often felt like my years of work have been largely in vain.

But recently, one development has kept hope alive for me: the slow but growing realization within the field that the vast majority of people with psychiatric diagnoses are trauma survivors, and the recognition that many of the system’s common practices traumatize and re-traumatize the people the system is supposed to serve. While the research has been clear on this for at least the last 30 years, this new awareness has led to conversations across the country about the need for trauma-informed approaches within the mental health system, and a broadening of the field’s awareness of how widespread these problems are.

This emergent awareness of trauma and these conversations about change are just the first small steps toward a needed overhaul of a system that has historically valued control over compassion, authority over understanding, and the convenience of providers over the human needs of people. The scope of the issue is enormous and the magnitude of the changes needed to create a truly trauma-informed system is staggering.

To begin this process, people who run the system- policymakers, administrators, managers, researchers, direct service staff – and people who use services (voluntarily or not) need to be educated about the extent to which trauma is at the root of most psychiatric diagnoses. People with diagnoses have the right to this information to help them make sense of their own struggles, and people who administer and deliver services need this information in order to understand that the people they have seen as “diseased” are in fact people who have been deeply hurt by violence in many forms. It starts, as Sandra Bloom, founder of the Sanctuary program points out, by asking about what happened to people, rather than what is “wrong” with people.

This basic awareness needs to be followed by a commitment to explore the values and principles of trauma-informed approaches; to take inventory of the many ways in which the current service system does not comport with these values; and to a commitment to the hard work of ridding the system of all practices that routinely re-traumatize people. This means an end to coercion in all its forms: restraint, seclusion, inpatient and outpatient commitment, forced drugging, forced shock, and requiring adherence to treatment in order to get housing and other generic services. This is a long, complicated undertaking that will unsettle many powerful interests, but it is necessary to achieve the goal of a trauma-informed system.

Those of us with trauma histories who have been through the mental health system can help move this agenda forward by learning about and practicing trauma-informed peer support. In 2012, my colleagues Andrea Blanch, Cathy Cave, Beth Filson and I developed a guidebook with the goal of providing people with the understanding, tools, and resources needed to engage in culturally responsive, trauma-informed peer support relationships with trauma survivors. The guide is called Engaging Women in Trauma-Informed Peer Support: A Guidebook, but most of the information, aside from a gender-specific chapter, is applicable to all people. It can be downloaded here.

Darby Penney is a long-time activist in the human rights movement for people with psychiatric histories. She is the author, with Peter Stastny, of The Lives the Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic.

A Short Course in Action

By Larry Drain

The Day of Action for the Murphy Bill is Wednesday October 7.  I am most certainly not an expert but here are some hints that I have found helpful in the advocacy work I have done.

1.  Make sure you ask your representative to do something.   Don’t just say you are against the bill.   Ask for something.   Ask them to not sponsor,  to vote no in committee,  to oppose on the floor etc.   Ask for something you want from him or her.

2.  Tell them who you are.   Mention you are a constituent.   If you vote say so.

3.  Tell them why you are against the bill.   If possible phrase it in terms of how it affects you, your family,  your community.   Make it as personal a comment as possible.

4.  One possible objection is that it won’t work or may even make things worse.   No Congressman wants to be tagged as supporting something ineffective or counterproductive.   How will it affect the mental health system in your state?  What problems will it make worse? How does it affect costs? Other services?

5.  Another objection is the moral one.   Make your objection clear and concise.   If possible phrase it in values that resonate with the legislator.   Know where they are coming from.

6.  If you tweet make only one point.   If you have more to say make another tweet.

7.  Make email concise.   A couple of paragraphs tops.   Don’t sound hysterical but do sound concerned.   Again make sure he knows what you expect from him.   If you don’t ask they won’t take you serious.

8.  If you phone you will speak to staff.   Ask to speak to health staff if possible.   Again be coherent and to the point.   Who you are… Why the bill is important to you.. What you want…

9.   Act.   They count the totals of how many contact them.   Quantity makes a difference.

10.  Ask at least 3 other people to make a contact.   Ask each of them to ask 3 others and each of the others to ask 3 and so on.  Numbers mount quickly.

11.  Your voice makes a difference.. but only if you use it.

Again just a few suggestions.   Hope they help….
https://realmhchange.org/dayofaction/

Larry Drain is author of Hopeworks Community, a blog about mental health, advocacy and social justice. He is a long time advocate in Tennessee.