Congress Clashes Over Mental Health Laws: ‘The Body Count is Always Climbing’

By Chance Seales, Media General National Correspondent



WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – Mental health is shaping up to be a top bipartisan issue in 2016 on Capitol Hill.

But crafting a bill suitable to both parties could be tough, as members of Congress proved Tuesday by unleashing pointed criticisms of a leading reform proposal in the House.

Rep. Tim Murphy’s (R-Pa.) bill, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, took center stage in a health subcommittee and quickly faced scorching critiques by Democratic opponents.


Rep. Murphy, who is also a clinical psychologist, opened by recalling a summer of deadly American tragedies spurred by mental illness and the all-too-familiar subsequent ceremony of lowering the congressional flag and observing a moment of silence.

“The body count is always climbing,” Murphy reminded colleagues, imploring them to be bold. “We need action, not silence.”

He faced anything but silence from the opposing party as left-leaning members ticked off a checklist of flaws they see in the bill.

The subcommittee’s top Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) argued that Murphy’s proposal “will do more harm than good,” by degrading patient privacy and shifting “funding away from substance abuse treatment” provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

‘Helping Families’ Bill

Murphy has already gathered 158 cosponsors for his ‘Helping Families,’ which he says will deliver resources for Americans in desperate need of mental health treatment, clear HIPAA red tape for their families, institute a mental health office in the Department of Health and Human Services and free up federal dollars for additional mental health research and assistance.

In committee, Murphy denounced the “bigoted belief” that mentally ill people are incapable of becoming more than their illness.

A group of six GOP congresswomen joined Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) in a letter voicing their support for Murphy’s bill, writing, “This has a disproportionate impact on women, since women make up a sizable majority of those who rearrange their lives to care for children, parents, spouses, other family members and friends with mental illness.”

Mothers Urge Action

Mothers also showed up, in person, to display their support.

Advocates, many of them mothers of children battling mental illness, wore neon pink stickers urging members to pass Helping Families.