The proponents of Murphy’s Law have been using mass murders to frighten people into a law that erodes HIPAA protections, requires states to implement forced medication, and politicizes the Federal agencies responsible for overseeing mental health concerns. I have watched as one of their leaders likened support groups to appendectomy patients performing the surgery on the patient on the next gurney, called for the return of mental hospitals, called nonprofits aiding the mentally ill “the mental health industry”, and urged that we should stop talking about stigma. This gives me every reason to distrust him and any program he endorses, but many have bought his argument that we should support Tim Murphy’s Families in Mental Health Crisis Act because “it does something for the mentally ill”.
Now I agree that the system is broken and in deep crisis. Even the best community mental health services are in constant danger from funding cuts and fail to deliver services to all the afflicted. Group homes are privatized and overcrowded. Patients end up in jail because they can’t get treatment through other channels.
I would add these problems (which we never hear about from the advocates that I describe): The most destitute among us find ourselves in a crazy cycle of being declared in remission before we are ready and then falling back into more serious problems. People go off their medications because the drugs afflict them with harsh side effects. Psychiatrists are pressed to spend only fifteen minutes with patients. Clinics have limited ability to follow up with patients who have fallen through the cracks, even the most dangerous. Research into mental illness and its treatment has been losing funding. And these advocates repeatedly mischaracterize the recovery movement, community mental health services, and support groups. That some of these call themselves Democrats who are willing to cross party lines to have things their way is cold comfort. I, for one, have some deep seated reasons why “doing something” in the way of Tim Murphy isn’t the way to go.
Let’s consider Murphy’s history. He voted to dismantle Obamacare every time the House has voted on it. That he marches in lockstep with the rest of his party shows that he is not willing to work with opposition party members to devise just and effective solutions. Second, by virtue of his votes on Obamacare, he has also stood for abolishing parity, one of the most important changes to insurance law in the past fifty years. Parity ensures that our conditions are recognized as physical disorders and that we are not denied insurance for our treatment. Third, due to his conservative extremism, he does not want to fund programs that keep us out of the mental hospitals such as community mental health clinics and housing for the mentally ill. Fourth, again due to his conservative extremism, he has voted to cut the money for research into mental disorders. Fifth, he uses the stigma of mental illness to promote his bill without recognizing that the vast majority of us — including most of the unmedicated — are not violent. Corollary to this is that Murphy does nothing to address issues such as gun ownership which ensures that we have the highest murder rate of any industrialized nation, where women are commonly shot by abusive partners. The gun industry uses the mentally ill as scapegoats for the violence in our society and Tim Murphy goes along. Sixth, he has allied himself with the advocates who I have described above. The main actors are people who broke with NAMI when that organization brought in more of the mentally ill and let their voices be heard. Seventh, his proposed remodeling of federal mental health agencies will slant the perspective away from patient input and towards medical professionals. It will require that a majority of its board must be medical professionals — putting patient advocates in a minority. Eighth, it will encumber the system by requiring that every event the board funds must be approved by a congressional committee. The Alternatives Conference, for one, will certainly be ended by the new process’s heavy-handedness. Other organizations such as NAMI and DBSA may also find themselves forced to conform to right wing political correctness. Ninth, I am suspicious of any health care professional who leaves his job for politics. Murphy left his patients for power. It makes me wonder what kind of therapist he was; whether he helped his patients achieve self-empowerment or aided family members to control them.
Murphy’s Law may “do things” but they are not the things that those of us struggling with mental illness want or need. We need a better safety net not a gun pointed at our heads. We need better medications with fewer side effects so we won’t be tempted to stop using them. We need job protection. Murphy’s Law does NOTHING to ensure any of these. Its text makes it plain that it is about control rather than recovery. Like its proponents, it reduces those of us struggling with chronic brain dysfunctions to children.
It is necessary to part ways with those who support it, to continue to press for self-determination and for the issues that matter to us. The disingenuous claims of the Jaffeites need to be challenged for what they are and better alternatives demanded. We who live with mental illness know what helps and what hurts. Tim Murphy doesn’t listen to the us, but to those who want to bring back the “good old days” of mental hospitals and forced treatment. Yes, do something about the mental illness crisis — but not this. Murphy and his principal allies are untrustworthy.