Rep. Murphy Aims For Mental Health Bill To Pass Before Next Shooting

The latest mass shooting has lawmakers on Capitol Hill talking again about overhauling the mental health system. On Thursday, psychologists and others urged Congress to do more.

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On a Friday, this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. The mass shooting in California last weekend has lawmakers on Capitol Hill talking again about overhauling the nation's mental health system. In recent months the issue has seemed to have been placed firmly on a back burner but yesterday psychologists and family members of those with mental illness urged Congress to do more. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Congressman Tim Murphy has been slowly building support on the Hill for a bill that will change the way mental illness is handled in the US. Murphy wants to lower the standard by which seriously mentally ill people may be forced into treatment. He's got fierce opposition from a number of groups that believe the bill will violate people's civil liberties and return the country to state-run insane asylums. But in a briefing yesterday, Murphy was clear about what he believes is at stake. Starting with Elliot Rodger who killed six people last weekend.

CONGRESSMAN TIM MURPHY: Before there was Elliott Rodger there was Adam Lanza in Newtown, Jarod Loughner in Tucson, James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado and Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard. All had untreated or undertreated serious mental illness. All spiraled out of control within a system that lacked the basic mechanisms to help.

SULLIVAN: Murphy is a Pennsylvania Republican. His bill is one of several at the moment, attempting to overhaul aspects of the nation's mental health system. One bill increases funding for mental health programs. Others deal with the issue of gun access and mental illness. But Murphy's bill appears to have the most bipartisan support including 82 cosponsors. He also has the support of several prominent psychiatric organizations. DJ Jaffe, the founder of the Mental Illness Policy Organization, told lawmakers that families, judges and psychiatrists need more tools like involuntary confinement for when the mentally ill are no longer functioning on their own.

DJ JAFFE: We have to recognize that some people are so sick they don't know they're sick. When you see somebody going down the street, screaming at voices only they can hear, yelling that they're the Messiah, it is not because they think they're the Messiah. They know they're the Messiah. The illness tells them they are the Messiah. And as the Messiah they are never going to volunteer for treatment.

SULLIVAN: The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. Statistically, they are actually more likely to be victims of violence, but a small subset of the group can be prone to violent acts. Murphy's bill will create more inpatient bed space and change privacy rules so family members and caretakers could be more involved in their treatment.

ED KELLY: There are seven million families who share our plight.

SULLIVAN: Ed Kelly's (ph) son has struggled with schizophrenia for 15 years. He's never shown any signs of violence, but Kelly says families can be a valuable resource to the entire system.

KELLY: We're the first ones that know and we can tell when the delusions and voices are taking over. That's the face of mental illness. And that's what happens to someone who's not treated.

SULLIVAN: Murphy says his goal is to get his bill passed before there is another shooting. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, The Capitol.

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