We have yet another mass shooting by an individual suffering from mental illness – this one at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Specialist Ivan Lopez killed three people and wounded 13 others before committing suicide. Again, we hear the same discussion that follows each shooting – why can’t something be done to prevent these tragedies.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a psychologist by training, is doing something. He is leading the charge for significant reforms to our broken mental health system and in December 2013, introduced the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” (H.R. 3717). This proposed landmark legislation has the potential to reshape our mental health system by eliminating barriers to treatment and improving care for individuals with the most severe mental illnesses.
The majority of people with mental illness are not violent…they receive treatment and contribute to society. However, for decades Congress has ignored a broken system that fails the sickest – those people who need treatment the most, but are too sick to recognize their illness and refuse treatment. H.R. 3717 addresses reforms that will benefit these individuals.
Among other provisions in the bill, the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” will increase Congressional oversight of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) programs and seek improvements to the programs it supports.
Serious psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression are treatable, but these disorders require medical intervention. Instead, SAMHSA uses its $3.6 billion annual budget to undermine treatment for severe mental disorders by supporting a movement that opposes drug treatment, psychiatric care, and civil commitment laws. It pushes a recovery plan that puts the patient in charge of his own recovery.
People suffering from serious psychiatric disorders do not, as SAMHSA advocates, “dance their way to wellness and recovery,” nor are the voices they hear part of their human experience. Our tax dollars should not fund an agency that supports a culture of non-treatment of serious mental illness.
While this approach may benefit people with minor mental illness, it does not help those with serious mental disorders. I know this to be true from personal experience as the mother of an adult son who suffered from severe and persistent bipolar disorder. When he took his medication, he lived a very normal life – happily married with a successful career. When he stopped taking his meds, he became dangerously psychotic. Sadly, my son took his life seven years ago.
Rep. Tim Murphy’s H.R. 3717 will address the existing barriers to treatment of individuals with severe mental illness, and I urge Congress to provide bipartisan support for this very important piece of legislation.
Dottie Pacharis, Author, Mind on the Run – A Bipolar Chronicle