One Step Closer to Ending an Era of Stigma

by Jessica Taylor, via Multibriefs

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 marked a big day for the U.S. when a bill that should significantly change mental healthcare overwhelmingly cleared the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote of 422-2.

Introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act would "make available needed psychiatric, psychological and supportive services for individuals diagnosed with mental illness and families in mental health crisis, and for other purposes."

Because the lack of psychiatric beds has long become the norm in the U.S., this bill was considered to be historic as it "closes a tragic chapter in our nation’s treatment of serious mental illness and welcomes a new dawn of help and hope," Murphy said in a statement.

Murphy, a psychologist, became more serious about severe mental illnesses when Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds was stabbed by his son, Gus, two years ago. Gus later committed suicide.

The tragic event occurred the day after he was released from psychiatric care because there wasn't an available bed for him. Surviving the wounds, Deeds is suing the state of Virginia for $6 million in a wrongful death suit — ultimately underlining the crisis the nation has been and is facing because of the shortage of psychiatric beds available.

Statistics show 1 in 5 Americans have a mental illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that 33,300 people who suffered from a mental illness died by suicide in the U.S. in 2006. This number increases each year, as does the stigma associated with mental illness.

According to a study published in World Psychiatry, "stigmatizing views about mental illness are not limited to uninformed members of the general public; even well-trained professionals from most mental health disciplines subscribe to stereotypes about mental illness."

Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), told HealthDay News it is important for people to realize the issues surrounding serious mental illness.

"Most Americans understand that mental illnesses are treatable illnesses. I think people basically understand depression," Fitzpatrick said. "Depression is talked about in the media and is considered a treatable disease. But when you reach psychosis and schizophrenia, there's still a lot of misunderstanding and fear."

But with this landmark bill on the verge of being passed, the stigma is quickly fading.

"We are ending the era of stigma," Murphy said. "Mental illness is no longer a joke, considered a moral defect and a reason to throw people in jail. No longer will we discharge the mentally ill out of the emergency room to the family and say 'Good luck, take care of your loved one, we've done all the law will allow.'"

Groups like NAMI and the Sandy Hook Promise are praising the bill's passage and are urging Senate to do the same.

"The House has taken a major step forward toward mental healthcare reform. The bill addresses a broad range of issues and provides an important framework for the future," NAMI stated. "All eyes are now on the Senate.”

Jessica Taylor is the medical editor for MultiBriefs and has been a journalist and writer for more than 10 years. Jessica received her bachelor's degree in communications with a dual concentration in media studies and journalism from Virginia Wesleyan College. She’s been awarded first place in headline writing from the Virginia Press Association and an honorable mention for design and content from the Society of Collegiate Journalists.

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