Sen. Chris Murphy discussed mental health, guns and the Republican Party Friday afternoon with a crowd of roughly 100 Elm City psychiatry professionals and patients at the Connecticut Mental Health Center.
Murphy — a Democrat who co-sponsored the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 with Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy — said he expects bipartisan support will push a version of the bill through committee this spring and eventually to Congress. The act proposes reforms that would integrate physical and psychiatric services, establish funding for early intervention for mental health treatment and prevent insurance companies from refusing coverage for mental illnesses. Murphy said the bill enjoys bipartisan support because many representatives on Capitol Hill want to advertise mental health reform as the solution to gun violence.
“Of course we cannot allow for people to blame the epidemic of gun violence on our nation’s system of health care,” Murphy said. “But given that Republicans control both houses this is the reason for the legislation coming to the floor.”
The bill would affect the 44 million Americans who experience mental illness each year, many of whom do not have access to adequate care, Murphy said. 26 percent of the country’s homeless population and 20 percent of those incarcerated have been diagnosed with mental illness, he said. Murphy added that psychiatric treatment programs often fail to provide long-term care, with only 32 percent of those with depression receiving follow-up treatment.
Luming Li — a resident at the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry who invited Murphy — said the bill’s provisions to encourage child and adolescent psychiatrists to practice in community centers would be particularly impactful. She added that she found integrating psychiatric care with physical care and creating an undersecretary of mental health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as particularly important parts of the act.
“As someone who is working in the field, it is very exciting for there to be talks of reform at the national level that might come through,” Li said. “The last one was the [Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act] of 2008.”
As the bill passes through Congress, senators and representatives will likely attempt to combine it with other mental health reform acts comprised of both similar and conflicting provisions, Murphy said.
In the House, Republican Rep. Tim Murphy created a bill that emphasizes Assisted Outpatient Treatment — court-ordered regimens for severe cases of mental illness — which is not available in Connecticut. Murphy said his bill neither assists nor discourages AOT programs.
Murphy added that several members of Congress have also suggested that he merge his bill with one supported by Republican Sen. John Cornyn. The Texas senator’s bill would improve health care in the criminal justice system, but contains dubious gun law provisions, he said. The National Rifle Association endorsed Cornyn’s bill last August. While Cornyn’s provisions would aim to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining guns, critics of his bill have said it loosens overall gun regulations.
Murphy added that he is worried about his fiscally conservative colleagues diminishing the scope of bill while still touting its symbolic importance as comprehensive reform. In its current form, the bill would spend several billion dollars expanding clinic capacities and bolstering outpatient support.
Participants at the discussion included GESO Co-Chair Robin Canavan GRD ’18, who attended with Grant Mao — a former School of Management student who alleges that the administration expelled him after he suffered from depression. Though Murphy’s bill does not address mental health services at universities, Canavan said she wanted to learn more about mental health services in general.
Murphy’s visit on Friday ended a four-city tour that began Friday morning in a public high school in Hartford, where he discussed systemic racism with students.