The bipartisan Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, HR2646, introduced in June by Rep. Tim Murphy and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, has come under attack. The purpose of the legislation is to resolve a number of problems within our mental health care system, particularly for the treatment of America’s seriously mentally ill. The measures within this legislation would effectively improve treatment and outcomes for those with severe brain diseases ultimately resulting in a significant reduction in homelessness and incarcerations.
But various groups, agencies, and organizations are trying to halt the entire bill, or have a number of crucial measures removed or watered down.
First, there are anti-psychiatry and anti-psychology groups intervening to halt any and all efforts to correct our failed system. The most noted on this front is the Church of Scientology, a cult that doesn’t recognize the substantial scientific evidence behind brain diseases, such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. These diseases make up well over half of those with serious mental illness (SMI).
Next, there are anti-science and anti-pharmaceutical groups who rather than accepting empirical studies of evidence based treatment, maintain faith in pseudo-scientific therapies for SMI. Such faith is often based on mere anecdotal stories by the herbal supplement industry, the mistaken notion that diet and nutrition alone is the cure-all to everything, and acceptance of disproven or unproven treatments from the fringes of the mental health field.
Many within these groups also often hold strong paranoia and conspiracy theories toward scientific and medical communities and prescription drug companies. In this camp are also likely the seriously mentally ill themselves, as paranoia and conspiracy theories are a hallmark of schizophrenia and psychosis. I don’t fault the latter here, as it is their illness that causes such beliefs.
Perhaps the most disconcerting opposition, however, are the agencies and organizations whose purpose is or should be to care for and treat the seriously mentally ill.
Many individuals with SMI experience psychosis, and as a result are the portion who pose greater than average danger to themselves and others when left untreated. These individuals also often have the symptom of anosognosia, meaning their brain disease prevents them from being aware of their illness resulting in their refusal of treatment.
Some of these mental health agencies, along with many of my fellow Democrats, are opposing such crucial measures as assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), which refers to court ordered treatment. Evidence has shown this to be the only way to effectively treat the smaller percentage of the most seriously mentally ill with psychosis and anosognosia. Yet misguided civil rights laws to protect the seriously mentally ill continue to be upheld as justification to allow those incapable of making an informed decision about their treatment from receiving care that is critical to their safety and well being, and the safety of their families and society.
Some of these agencies also favor mental health reform that benefits the 25-40% or so of the population that might need various services from time-to-time to deal with such issues as personal stress. Other agencies might place all or most of their focus on reducing stigma, peer support groups, and educating about work related stress. These agencies prefer to manage the easy-to-treat, or the worried well. While these goals are admirable, these agencies are often funneling and misusing funds that were intended for treatment of the seriously mentally ill. As a result, such organizations have strongly objected to measures in the legislation that would lead to oversight.
In doing so, these agencies deplete the extremely limited resources intended to serve the critical needs of those with the most severe brain diseases, who are the most under served. If such efforts are successful, they will have the effect of maintaining the status quo in America’s mental health care system.
In light of daily tragedies occurring across the country and the severity of the various problems associated with serious mental illness and our ineffective mental health care system, it is imperative legislators co-sponsor and advance this legislation–and keep the measures within fully intact.
Kimberly Blaker, an author and freelance writer, is the mother of a young adult son with SMI, schizoaffective disorder.