The March 2 editorial “After Newtown” was very well done. I hope it was read by those who are concerned about all the tragedies resulting from gun violence. As a clinical psychologist with more than 35 years in the mental health field, I would like to make the following comments on HR 3717, proposed by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, also a trained psychologist, in response to the yearlong investigation led by Mr. Murphy and a House subcommittee. Although this bill, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, cannot fix every defect in the mental health system, it is a good start to reduce gun violence.
The bill addresses the issues of communication and privacy and specifically includes clarifying privacy statutes including HIPAA. This, hopefully, would allow mental health professionals to provide critical information to caregivers and parents. Also under this bill those who resist needed treatment could be ordered by the courts to receive it.
Mr. Murphy makes it clear in this bill that although some $125 billion is spent annually in the mental health system, it is not being spent wisely, probably for lack of data and inter-agency coordination. He recommends the creation of an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse disorders, who would be a mental health professional within the Department of Health and Human Services.
The investigation also revealed a severe lack of treatment options especially in the serious drop in available inpatient beds, which has resulted in an appalling number of the mentally ill being incarcerated.
Mr. Murphy also recommends special training for first-responders and correctional officers in understanding mental illness and treatment options. A good resource in this training could include the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
HR 3717 may not fix all the flaws and problems in mental health, and none quickly, but it is a good start. I hope it moves forward before the next tragedy and loss of innocent lives.
LILLIAN L. MEYERS, Ph.D.