Why the Murphy Bill Gets it Wrong
There is a lot of talk in the mental health community about the Murphy Bill, or H.R. 2646, as it is officially known. This legislation is being touted as comprehensive legislation to help people with mental illness live better lives by changing laws and funding to ensure that people with mental illness have better access to services and the money to pay for them.
That would be fantastic – if it were true.
I do agree that this is a comprehensive law aimed at changing the way the federal government goes about helping those with mental illness. But I do not agree it is a good solution. And the data supports my position.
For what it’s worth, I’m not surprised that it isn’t a good solution and I’ll tell you why: because Representative Murphy is getting his information from families with horror stories while completely ignoring the success stories from the recovery movement. One-sided information creates lopsided conclusions.
How the Murphy Bill’s Data Collection Fails
I live with bipolar and anxiety disorders every day. Before I was diagnosed, I still had these disorders; I just wasn’t aware of it. This made my life chaotic, to say the least. I felt terrible and didn’t know where to turn or what to do and I ended up with a group of people who felt just like me: depressed, desperate, and confused.
We banded together and made plans to help us “get better.” We treated our illnesses with alcohol, drugs, casual sex, and scores of other risky and unsafe behaviors. This is commonly referred to as “self-medicating.” Because of our one-sided approach, the results were less than fantastic.
It never occurred to us to step outside the circle because we were emotionally invested in each other and no education about mental illness was provided to us. Make no mistake; this isn’t about us refusing to believe we were sick. It was about us not realizing we were sick. No one told us we were, because the people in our lives didn’t know either. Once I looked outside my emotionally-built circle and started relying on actual data, science, and doctors, my life started to get a lot better. As it turns out, getting my information from a single source didn’t serve me very well. It wasn’t because I was a bad person, or even stupid, but because I was wrong.
Now, consider the Murphy Bill and all of the people who support that bill. Think of the people Representative Murphy has quoted time and time again and all the reasons we are given for needing this bill to be passed. What do the majority of these people have in common?
Who Supports the Murphy Bill?
They are mostly family members.
The organizations that support this bill are mostly family member organizations as well. Compare this to the fact that the majority of the organizations opposing it are recovery organizations literally on the front lines of helping people with mental illness and addiction.
The emotionally invested, scared, and well-intentioned groups that are pushing so hard to pass this bill are an awful lot alike. They have banded together based on their lived experiences and are working, desperately, to do something. And, like me back before I was diagnosed, the something they came up with isn’t a very good idea. They honestly think they are helping, but they mostly aren’t.
The plan is scattershot at best and, given the enormity of the issue, research is needed. This is too important for guesswork. We have a national systemic flaw in the way our society treats people with mental illness and addiction and this bill is largely based on talking to family members. For unknown reasons their lived experienced matters to Representative Murphy, while the lived experience of people in recovery from mental illness and addiction don’t matter at all.
The majority of the Murphy Bill’s supporters are middle class parents with a single child who has mental illness. From my vantage point, I don’t see poor people actively campaigning for this. I’m not hearing stories about families with generations of people with mental illness campaigning for this. (Remember, mental illness has a strong genetic link – mentally ill parents often have mentally ill children.) I’m not seeing the minority community come out in support of this bill. And there are almost no mentally ill people in recovery campaigning for this.
I do see lower income folks, minorities, and people living well with mental illness campaigning against this bill. That is a major divide. Especially in the case of people living in recovery, shouldn’t we want this most of all?
This bill, after all, isn’t designed to help us. You can tell by the name Representative Murphy gave it: “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.”
It’s not “Helping People in Mental Health Crisis Act,” or even just “Mental Health Crisis Act.” Make no mistake; this is mostly about helping families deal with their mentally ill loved ones.
It is absolutely true that family members have suffered. It’s difficult to care for someone who is sick. These family members are not bad people trying to hurt anyone; they are desperately trying to help. Sadly, the person who showed up to lead them isn’t doing his due diligence. He is ignoring the people who have reached recovery, ignoring the data, and seems to be using this as an opportunity to make a power grab by shutting down SAMHSA and then reopening another agency that does exactly what SAMHSA used to do because that agency is “ignoring the severely mentally ill.” It’s straw man arguments like these that distract from solving the real problem.
Representative Murphy is not using a fact-based approach and instead favors heart-wrenching stories from caring and desperate mothers. He is ignoring that people like me exist in favor of his own misguided beliefs that people with mental illness cannot possibly contribute to society.
By ignoring the success of the recovery movement, blaming people with mental illness for most of the violence (see footnote below), and by only listening to one side of the story, he is stripping people with mental illness of their dignity. He is leading the public to believe we are all potentially violent, incompetent, and incapable of caring for ourselves. And those are pretty broad strokes for an entire group of people. At best it’s misguided and at worst it is blatantly offensive.
It’s true that I was once incapable of caring for myself and needed help. If I had listened to the tone of Representative Murphy’s movement, I may never have reached recovery, gotten back to work, met and married my beautiful wife, bought a house, and become equal to everyone else.
I would have believed myself to be nothing more than a problem society needs to collectively deal with, instead of a person society needs to collectively embrace. We have an opportunity to do something that will help a great many people. Let’s do something that will work.
If you think I’m wrong about Representative Tim Murphy’s blaming violence on the mentally ill, feel free to listen to him yourself. He is intentionally ignoring the facts (Harvard Study Link) to push his own agenda: Representative Murphy on CNN.
Howard, G. (2015). Why the Murphy Bill Gets it Wrong. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/dont-call-me-crazy/2015/10/why-the-murphy-bill-gets-it-wrong/