The letter I sent my senators and representatives

about the Murphy Bill and real mental health change.


As your constituent, I’m writing to you to ask you to oppose Representative Tim Murphy’s Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act. [You can read some of what Murphy has to say about it here and here.]

Representative Murphy wants to reform and improve mental health care, but several of the provisions of his bill would actually move healthcare back in time instead of forward. Representative Murphy’s bill encourages (and funds) institutionalization at the expense of community-based programs that are proven to be more cost-effective and more effective, period. It broadens the circumstances in which a person’s medical records can be shared against their will. It weakens the structures currently in place (in particular, “Protection and Advocacy” organizations created by federal law) to protect the rights of people being treated for mental illnesses. It also makes it easier for people to be forced into treatment they don’t want by a court order.

Taking away a person’s self-determination and control over their own life– even a person with a severe mental illness– should be a last resort. Institutions and compulsory treatment programs have dangers as well as benefits.

People with mental illnesses are already disproportionately vulnerable to being abused and taken advantage of, and giving relatives, doctors and judges more legal power over people with mental illnesses increases that risk. People like me– women with developmental disabilities–have a hugely increased risk of sexual assault over the general population, possibly as much as an 80% chance of being sexually assaulted at least once in our lifetimes. [here] This is in large part because of the difficulty of reporting abuse committed by doctors and staff in institutions.

Even though theĀ  majority of medical professionals and caregivers have the best interests of those with mental illnesses at heart, when we make a system we need to prepare for those who will try to misuse it. That means limiting as much as possible the power that parents/guardians have over their children and doctors have over their patients.

And even when all is well, extensive research has borne out that institutions generally do not provide the best possible outcome for their patients. [here’s just one source] When people with mental illnesses and disabilities can live in their communities, maintain relationships with their families and friends, and control their own lives as much as possible– instead of being placed in highly restrictive institutions– their mental health improves.

It shouldn’t be surprising that people get more out of mental health treatment when they choose it for themselves and have a say in how it’s conducted. Mental health treatment is not one-size-fits-all. I believe that listening to patients’ wishes is essential to providing good healthcare, especially for mental illnesses. Institutionalization and compulsory treatment are counterproductive and increase the risk of abuse for people with mental illnesses.

They also don’t protect the public the way you might expect.

Representative Murphy originally created this bill after the Sandy Hook shooting. Every time such a tragedy makes the news, over and over, I see people raise questions about mass shooters’ mental health. I see people discussing gun control name “the mentally ill” as a group of people who should be prevented from owning guns. This concern is quite simply misplaced.

People who commit terrible crimes understandably seem sick. We cannot understand why anyone would do such a thing, so we reject any reasons they might have as nonsensical, insane. But this idea of insanity as incomprehensible evil has absolutely no relationship to the reality of people diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Research bears this out. All other things being equal, a person with a mental illness– ANY mental illness, even the “scary” ones like schizophrenia– is no more likely to commit a violent crime than a person with no mental illness.

If concern about mass shootings makes you consider supporting this bill, please consider this. The vast majority of the people affected by this bill will never commit a violent crime of any kind, much less become mass murderers. Representative Murphy is asking us to trade away the privacy, safety and self-determination of thousands of already vulnerable people, for a vision of safety from violence which there is no indication this bill can actually provide.


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