On July 6, the House of Representatives passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646) by an overwhelming majority (422-2).
“This historic vote closes a tragic chapter in our nation’s treatment of serious mental illness and welcomes a new dawn of help and hope,” said Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA), the bill’s main sponsor. “We are ending the era of stigma. Mental Illness is no longer a joke, considered a moral defect and a reason to throw people in jail. No longer will we discharge the mentally ill out of the emergency room and say to the family, good luck, take care of your loved one, we’ve done all the law will allow.”
“The House voted to deliver treatment before tragedy,” said Murphy. The passage of this legislation is a first effort by lawmakers to tackle federal policies on serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Rep Murphy, a clinical psychologist, was asked by House leadership to investigate mental health treatment in the United States following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. During the past few years, Murphy and other advocates of fixing our broken mental health system have reviewed all the many obstacles family members have faced in caring for people with serious mental illness.
H.R. 2646 is considered the most comprehensive reform of the mental health system in the past half century. It had the bipartisan support of 207 cosponsors in advance of the vote in the House as well as endorsements from news outlets, mental health advocates, physicians and families of individuals with mental illness.
The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act focuses resources where they are most needed to foster evidence-based care. The bill would fix the shortage of psychiatric hospital beds, empower caregivers under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to allow for compassionate communication, bring accountability to mental health spending and help patients get treatment well before their illness reaches the crisis level.
Additionally, the bill would reorganize the federal agency overseeing mental health policy, direct funding to combat serious mental illness as opposed to general mental health programs, and change Medicaid reimbursements for treating patients with serious mental illnesses.
Congressman Murphy said, “Federal policy has been a failure and that current practices impede treatment for serious mental illness by emphasizing patients’ civil liberties ahead of their treatment.”
As the mother of an adult son who suffered from severe bipolar disorder and took his life, I can personally attest to the fact that families for decades have had to watch their loved ones descend into “Code Red” territory because current laws do not allow them to push the “help” button until they become a danger to themselves or others.
The overwhelming vote in the House is expected to break the logjam on considering mental health reform legislation in the Senate. I, along with millions of other parents, applaud Congressman Murphy for his efforts to help families in mental health crisis. The Congressman has pledged to continue working the bill all the way to the President’s desk for signature.
Dottie Pacharis of Fort Myers Beach is a mental health advocate and author of “Mind on the Run – A Bipolar Chronicle.”