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Tim M.
Republican PA 18

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  • Mental Health Reforms Needed

    by Representative Tim Murphy

    Posted on 2015-01-07

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    MURPHY of Pennsylvania. Madam Speaker, sadly, each day we read sensationalized headlines that boggle the mind, but here is the rest of the story. In New York, headlines read a 30-year-old man has been charged with killing his father who founded a hedge fund because his allowance had been cut.

    The rest of the story? He had been in a mental health decline for years. A friend told the press, clearly their son had serious mental illness. There were stories about strange things that he had been doing in the past few years, really erratic behavior. Another newspaper reports the man was off his medication.

    In Florida, headlines read a 22-year-old man cut off his mother's head with an ax last week because of her nagging about daily chores.

    The rest of the story? This man had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had been involuntarily held under the State's civil commitment law but released. Despite his illness and past commitments, he was no longer in treatment because Florida, like most States, requires a person to be imminently homicidal or suicidal for treatment.

    In Pennsylvania a former marine killed his ex-wife and five of her family members last month because of ``family issues.'' The rest of the story? The marine had been evaluated and cleared of having suicidal or homicidal tendencies by a Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist just days before, a decision we now see was wrong.

    Each week there are half a dozen new reports that demand more than a sensationalized headline because the rest of the story tells the real story. Severe mental illness is a brain disease; it is not an attitude or a lifestyle choice. Psychosis, schizophrenia, and other serious mental illnesses involve disruption in typical brain functioning which translates into a very specific set of disturbing behaviors. This is not a condemnation of the mentally ill nor a criticism of those who have severe brain disorders.

    Hallucinations, voices, visions, and paranoia lead to actions that aren't grounded in reasoned choices. For those who don't have a brain disease it is hard to understand, and it is unnerving to think about, but when we understand that behaviors are symptomatic of what is occurring in the brain, we can address them without judgment, just like other medical diseases and other lifesaving treatments.

    The distorted reasoning why an individual acts out in a violent manner or takes the lives of innocent victims on a mass scale are complex and not as simple as a response to a mother's nagging. Sadly, in all cases I mentioned today, the families knew there was something wrong with their mentally ill loved one but they were ignored and frustrated or turned away by a broken system of State and Federal laws that create walls and barriers instead of access to care.

    Parents know there is a problem, and even when they have the resources to get a child help, the family efforts are thwarted by this broken system, and they are not getting effective, evidence-based treatment. And communities rarely have the appropriate programs, resources, and doctors to deal with the most severe cases.

    In the face of this growing crisis, we must approach serious mental illness as a medical emergency that engages a community and medical response to help people and families trapped in this system that is misguided, in denial, and disconnected.

    We can change this tragic pattern, and that is why I will be reintroducing the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

    {time} 1015 My legislation makes sure the most severely mentally ill have access to [[Page H53]] treatment. It fixes the shortage of psychiatric beds. It clarifies and simplifies HIPAA privacy laws. It reforms Federal programs to focus on programs that research shows work, not feel-good fads. It helps patients who aren't able to understand their need for treatment get meaningful care.

    We know that, for example, 50 percent of people with schizophrenia suffer from something called anosognosia--they are not even aware that they have problems--and this leads to noncompliance with treatment and helps to explain why 40 percent of Americans with serious mental illness don't get any treatment.

    Anosognosia occurs most frequently when schizophrenia or a bipolar disorder affects portions of the frontal lobe, resulting in impaired executive function. The patients are neurologically unable to comprehend that their delusions or hallucinations are not real.

    This is different than denial; this is a change in the wiring of the brain. We need to understand and respect that. The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act also ensures there is accountability for how public health dollars are being spent.

    We owe it to the 10 million Americans with a serious mental illness and the 5 million who are not with treatment to take meaningful action to fix the chaotic patchwork of programs and laws that make it impossible to get meaningful medical care until it is too late to do anything beyond mourning.

    Each day, I receive countless letters and telephone calls from parents across the country who must courageously battle a broken system when trying to help a loved one in mental health crisis. I admire their courage, their compassion, and their passion. Let their struggles be our motivation to take action of our own now.

    As I said, I will soon be reintroducing my Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, and I welcome all Members interested in joining me in this quest to work together as we reintroduce this to make sure we get treatment before tragedy.


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