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Murphy Hopes To Pass The Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images
A makeshift memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre stands outside a home in Newtown, Conn.

Monday marks the 3rd anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 and injured many more. Since 2012, mass shooting have appeared to be on the rise, with recent incidents in San Bernadino and Colorado Springs.

While arguments about gun laws are a major point of contention in these shootings, mental health also remains an important factor. Pennsylvania CongressmanTim Murphy (R-18)has been examining the United States’ mental health laws and has crafted the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 in an effort to fix the issues of mental health in the country. Murphy joined Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to explain the law and what it could mean for the US.

Of the estimated 10 million people with a major mental health problem, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, 4 million of them are receiving little to no treatment for their disease, according to Murphy. This large number is problematic as people not receiving treatment are 16 times more likely to be violent than those receiving treatment.

Murphy says receiving treatment can be very difficult under current mental health laws. Medicaid often does not pay for treatment unless under specific circumstances and communities can be lacking or completely devoid of mental health facilities, especially in rural areas.

However, the issue is not so simply solved as creating more facilities. Murphy discovered that the U.S. spends a lot of money on mental health, but the funds are not always used effectively.

“What we found is, we’re spending a lot of money, we have a lot of programs. We have 112 that deal with mental illness, but they’re not coordinating and they’re not working.”

A major part of the problem comes from the antiquated laws on mental health that Murphy says seem to be governed by 18th century thinking.  He mentioned that asylums, for example, needed to be shut down because of how they treated patients, however many then started forgetting about the mentally ill and their need for treatment completely.  Problems with current laws also exist, such as privacy issues surrounding HIPAA.  In some circumstances, family members have trouble finding out information about their mentally ill loved one and therefore cannot always support them with the necessary means. Furthermore, a person cannot legally be compelled to seek mental health care unless they are on the verge of killing someone. Murphy compared this to not helping a cancer patient until they had stage IV cancer.

While many members of congress are passionate about helping the mentally ill, Murphy often finds it difficult explaining the science behind the illnesses and the necessity of action. As the only member of Congress with a mental health background, he described himself as a “caucus of one.”

“I’m calling attention to those things people don’t want to pay attention to,” Murphy said. “It’s uncomfortable for us to have our nice world shattered by someone like me who is saying that America is a mess, that we have ignored this.”

Still, Murphy remains adamant that the law needs to be passed, pointing out that the thousands of deaths that occur each year from mental health issues. He hopes his bill will pass through the legislature and start to help those who need it most. 

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.

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