The U.S. House of Representatives voted almost unanimously this week in favor of HR 2646 or “The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” which takes a reactionary approach to reforming federal mental health care oversight and delivery in the states.
I see the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as a sometimes difficult and nonresponsive health bureaucracy. However, this is mainly because mental health care is the red-headed stepchild of politicians.
The subject of caring for dangerous persons – let alone those who are in emotional distress or pain and not dangerous – is addressed only when Congress is cutting or denying funding – or, as is the case now, in response to brutal mass killings like the latest in Orlando.
While professing that he is addressing the need for some changes in the federal bureaucracy, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and his allied advocacy groups are attacking the whole recovery movement, which SAMHSA has supported for both mental health care and for addiction care.
Murphy attacks directly the use of peer support services or peer advice to SAMHSA officials. Murphy would not allow any of us with lived experience or mental challenges to contribute in the writing of his bill.
There was no transparency, as the bill sponsor and his House committee privately crafted the bill with the help of Dr. E. Fuller Torrey’s Treatment Advocacy Center. Murphy continues to totally dismiss as of no value the lived experiences and the knowledge gained through experiencing mental health treatment.
Unfortunately for many mental health system survivors like me, Murphy goes way too far in his promotion of Assisted Outpatient Treatment. “AOT” is just a euphemism for expansion of forced outpatient treatment with medications including powerful tranquilizers that are often forcibly injected. There are no options like talk therapy in N.C. Our communities just have not had the staff funded to do that for over a decade.
Adult and child patients frequently have serious health reasons for refusing to comply with their doctor’s or family’s wishes in taking medications – such as debilitating side effects. By supporting HR2646, the House has invalidated the medical need to put patients first and instead chose to listen only to family members and professionals with a narrow agenda.
In considering expansion of forced medication, one needs to consider the perspective of the patients – the only ones who fully know the effects that prescribed medications create for them.
Instead Naval Reserve psychologist Tim Murphy violated his own professional ethics and ignored patients’ emotional and medical needs. He instead put the professional guilds and the pharmaceutical lobby first, with front groups like TAC and NAMI supporting his horrendous violation of human rights.
The House bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) has put forward a bill, S 2680, which is less punitive toward patients than HR 2646. It would not result in denial of the patient’s medical right to informed choice in health care and would not further impose lack of due process rights to those often forced into treatment as the result of family disputes or exaggerated allegations of dangerousness.
While mental health professional groups supporting Murphy’s bill cite research supporting use of forced outpatient treatment, research results are actually mixed, with more research showing it ineffective than supporting it.
As Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a Duke University professor of psychiatry, has noted in interviews and in scholarly journals, the percentage of gun violence that can accurately be attributed to those diagnosed with a mental illness is quite small: less than 5 percent. Let’s address the other 95 percent and stop using the minority of the individuals with a history of mental illness as the focus of reform to mental health delivery and to alleviating gun violence.
Martha Brock of Cary is a former policy analyst and mental health advocate.