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mental health mondays :: a bill is due

don't look now, but america's infamously ineffective congress may be on the verge of getting something done. something important.

rep. tim murphy [a republican, no less and also the only psychiatrist in congress] has paired with texas democrat eddie bernice johnson [a psychiatric nurse] to put forward the helping families in mental health crisis act, meant to bring about serious reforms in the way that the american health industry deals with the mentally ill [h.r.-2646]. at the same time, senator bill cassidy [r-la] and senator chris murphy [d-ct] have introduced a bill in the senate [s. 1945] called the mental health reform act of 2015.

this is actually a second kick at the crazy can for murphy #1 and johnson, whose earlier bill was heavily criticised by those involved in the psychiatric care industry. this time around, reactions have been better. mental health america, a century-old not for profit group, has offered their cautious support for murphy-johnson, labelling it "a good start".  they've also offered qualified support for the senate bill, although they do note that there is an important difference between the two in terms of the funding to be allocated to helping those with mental health issues. [side note :: the murphy-cassidy bill is cosponsored by susan m. collins r-me, al franken d-mn, debbie stabenow d-mi and david vitter r-la]

another not for profit group, the treatment advocacy centre has given enthusiastic support to murphy-johnson, but does not appear to have taken an official position on murphy-cassidy.

this recap from the american psychiatric association gives a summary of the key points in murphy johnson. if you're feeling hardcore, you can read the complete text of the bill here. and then if you really want to dive in, you can also read the full text of the senate bill here. after all that, i have nothing else to offer you.

well, almost nothing.

one of the more controversial aspects of the bill is that it makes it easier for friends and family to force treatment on someone they believe is sick. that's a godsend for people who have lost someone they loved because they felt powerless to intervene, but for others it's a very scary pathway to stripping the mentally ill of their rights, especially since the bill is at best vague about the legal recourse of those who feel they've been unfairly sequestered.

the important thing is that there is actual legislation on the table. the even more important thing is that it's the first legislation that moves towards getting the mentally ill out of prison and into hospitals, making sure that there are enough hospitals available to care for patients and working on solutions that allow patients to remain in their communities or in their homes while receiving treatment.

we've talked about what other countries are doing to address the issue of mental health treatment and chances are this won't be the last time there's a post about these two pieces of legislation. but for now, it's a miracle: the least effective congress in history may be the one that pushes through meaningful, long overdue reform on a very complicated issue.

p.s. :: if you don't recognise the image at the top of this post, it is from the iconic schoolhouse rock "i'm just a bill" [watch it here!], which is still the source of 90% of my knowledge about the american legislative process. the rest comes from the simpsons treatment of the original

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