Rep. Murphy basically says his bill is about making this a safer place to live. On the heels of tragedy after tragedy he has come out to say his bill would have prevented it. If there had been enough psychiatric hospitalization…. if there had been enough committal… things would be better. His argument echoes the argument many make against Moslems in this country. “Maybe some of them aren’t dangerous but many are and more vigilance is needed….” He would have us go to war. That is the essence of his appeal. It is a call to arms.
The war on drugs should give us pause before we jump into any new wars. We were told the best way to win the war on drugs was to lock people up. We ended up with a lot of people locked up and no less drugs. The people locked up were disproportionately poor and disproportionately black or Hispanic. Communities were destroyed in order to save them. Nothing was made better. Violence was done to our people in the name of government intervention and the problems created were far worse than any problems we thought we were solving.
The real problem with this bill goes past any specific feature of it. It says that the mental health system should only be about one story. People have a genetically based predisposition that can be diagnosed and treated. Everything is about deciding what people got and getting them to accept the prescribed treatment for whatever it is. We are to trust an industry that seems intent on medicating the entire world almost and to accept the faith they have the answer. The research about trauma, victimization, and hurt is ignored in this bill. It pays lip service to the notion of peer support and then tries to define it in a way that will make many of of the people who are peer support specialists no longer peer support specialists. It rests in the faith that the mentally ill are dangerous and tries to sell us on the idea that a more coercive system will make us a less violent people. It defines a large group of people as marginal and somehow lacking in the rights and privileges that others have. In the end it promises a lot and delivers little.
It does not give us a more honest system but builds a system that would allow less questioning.
It does not give us a system that would connect us more with those who suffer and need help but would justify their exclusion from the larger community (of course for their own good.)
It does not give a system that sees life as something more than a medical problem. It puts no brakes on the runaway medication of ordinary human life experiences.
It gives us a system that would treat a psychiatric diagnosis as the most real thing about a person instead of their goals, their passions and their ability.
In a land that prides itself on the promise of a better life for its people it would tell us that for many people life would never get better and they just needed to accept it.
It ignores things like poverty, racism, crime, trauma, homelessness, drugs and alcohol and a million other things that cause and give rise to human misery and instead treats that misery like a disease.
And finally for many people in profound distress really needing help it would teach them once again that government action has little to do with making their life better and holds little promise other than the creation of another burden to deal with.
Murphy would have us build more psychiatric hospitals and hospitalize people for longer periods of time. Some people talk glowingly about “new asylums”. I do not know of one study, one set of data, one anything that shows that long term psychiatric hospitalization is one of the evidence based practices Rep. Murphy loves to talk about. We have years of horror in this country that says otherwise.
What is the evidence that people who have had long term psychiatric hospitalization actually needed it? (And what defines “needing it” and who decides). I have a friend who survived 24 years in a Florida hospital. He still has no idea why he “needed it” but what he saw and what he lived was not something for the good of anyone. Bluntly how many lives have been ruined, wasted or destroyed in treating people for their “mental illness?”
How likely is it that people with “mental illness” will be driven underground? If community resources become less and less and people understand that failure with community resources may lead to being hospitalized for long periods of time how many people who could use help, who need help will simply try to hide their needs for their own safety?
What about the people who now experience trauma associated with hospitalization as one of their mental health issues? Is their experience not at all instructive?
Their is a large and growing body of evidence that says that trauma and injury has a lot to do with any mental health issues someone struggles with and that the best treatment is trauma informed. Hospitalization is not trauma informed care.
Murphy claims to promise real solutions to real people who badly need help but when all is said and done and we are pointing fingers at who is to blame I don’t think it will be the people who have started this war on mental illness. It will be the victims.