Pa. congressman wants to tear down, rebuild U.S. mental health system

     U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (John Heller/AP Photo, file)

    U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (John Heller/AP Photo, file)

    The federal government spends more than $100 billion on mental health every year, and a U.S. lawmaker from Pennsylvania says that money currently is not well spent. He’s proposing legislation that would fundamentally change how mental health care is delivered.

    U.S. Rep Tim Murphy, a psychologist, said he is the only mental health professional serving in Congress. Murphy, who represents the 18th District of Pennsylvania, said several violent tragedies with connections to mental illness demonstrate the urgent need for better mental health care.

    His “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” proposes that states be held accountable for how they spend federal mental health funding.

    “Are you reducing suicide, are you reducing homicide, are you getting people to treatment, are they getting back to work? That data is not gathered,” he explained.

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    Right now, too much money is being spent on programs that either have no results, or actually harm people, he said.

    “It may be things that expend half a million dollars on a conference that tells people how to get off their medications, how to make a collage, or how to do an interpretive dance, those are not legitimate treatments,” he said.

    Mental health care must become as outcome- and research-driven as physical health care, he said, adding that states should provide a continuum of care for people in crisis. States also should offer different options, among them assisted or court-ordered outpatient treatment. State officials have to start learning from each other, discussing programs and approaches that have been shown to work.

    Opponents of the legislation say it undermines self-determination for those with mental illnesses, and would cut funding for advocacy.

    Murphy hopes to start holding hearings on the proposed legislation soon.

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