The Murphy Bill has, from the start, been more medieval crusade than anything else. It has been holy war and battle against those he claims have hurt and continue to hurt thousands and thousands of innocent people whose protection he claims as his burden and cross to bear.
It’s danger is more than what it proposes. It defines what is really real in a way that leaves the mental health system forever an adversarial procedure that is more about who is in control and maintaining that control than it is about helping anybody. It is about the maintenence of territory and status and the defense of that territory and status against all enemies….. real and imagined. It has been an effort more morality play than policy debate. It has been about vanquishing foes and making the world right again.
Like the crusades Murphy starts with a “truth” he believes is self evident. “The mentally ill are not like the rest of us. Their illness often leaves them unable to make good decisions for themselves. Sometimes they may not even realize they need help. A caring society would care for them even if they reject that care.” Because it is so “obvious” he believes failure to grasp that truth is evidence of personal failing, of a religious heresy that is dangerous and must be rooted out. He sees that truth as a product that has been under attack for a long long time and many problems we face now as a loss of the true faith that once seemed so obvious to so many.
He seeks the restoration of “truth.” He wants the emperor back on the throne. He does not care that he may have no clothes.
Like the ancient crusaders Murphy believes that compromise is impossible and a betrayal of his mission. He does not believe that a thinking, caring person with right values and moral integrity can sincerely disagree with him. His effort over the last 3 years has been to vanquish his foes by labeling them as selfish, uncaring, ignorant people promoting their own selfish agenda at the expense of those they say they care about.
His crusade is based on controlling the narrative about mental illness. He says the biggest problem in the system is that it is clogged with those undeserving care who steal resources away from those that do. He sees coercion as a fundamental part of a functioning mental health system and would try to cast a wider net for those “needing help”. Those who don’t are the “worried well” and just need to grow up.
Trauma in his eyes is way overblown and gets in the way of “the truth of mental illness.” DJ Jaffe one of the loudest of the Murphy surrogates, writes, “They use funds to address “trauma.” But everyone loses a parent and many people experience a trauma at some point. That is not a mental illness. It is part of life…”
He blames SAMSHA for making everything a mental illness but as normal he ignores the truth especially when it is inconviently in front of him. It is psychiatry, the profession he claims has all truth and value, that in the DSM medicalized life.
He relies heavily on caricature. He will tell you about the mentally ill in the jails and paint vivid pictures of people suffering in solitary confinement without talking about the system that drives them “mad.” He will tell you that their crimes are basically a result of a defiency in psychiatric hospitalization or that AOT will make it all better. He will talk about huge numbers like 335,000 supposedly seriously mentally ill prisoners but not tell you that AOT in New York state (literally the Disney World of AOT fans) serves 1/3 of 1% of the population served in the mental health system. His analysis is simple minded. His prescriptions are simplistic. And his faith in very small answers for very big problems is simply amazing.
He proposes mental health reform that has nothing to do with justice and truly doesn’t seem to realize that for many, many people caught in the system their experience is more about injustice than any single thing.
His bill has not went exactly as he thought it might. He seemed really ready to martyr himself rather than give into anyone trying to change a bill he seemed to think was given on tablets from a mountaintop. A committee chairman, Rep Upton, driven more by the requirements of Republican politics than anything else, finally wrote his own Bill (To see the sanitized reaction of Murphy to the Upton Bill read the following : “Major New Mental Health Bills Ignore Serious Mental Illness” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dj-jaffe/should-major-new-mental-h_b_10281132.html) He made a deal with the Democrats. He softened many of the poison pills of Murphy. People can argue forever about whether or not that mattered or not. I think it did. Good friends have told me it didn’t. But regardless it did not solve the problem.
The problem is deeper than the value or lack of value of any specific provisions. The bill supports a narrative that says that decisions can be made about us without us. It supports a narrative that says containing “mental illness” is the solution to the violence that is devouring this society. It supports a narrative that says that identifying me and labeling me is essential to making this a better society to live in. It supports a narrative that ignores the injustice that everyone with a psychiatric diagnosis lives with everyday. It supports a narrative that says that I am what I am called and that what I am called is illness and that illness is chronic and will define my life until the day I die. It supports the authority of people whose science is shaky at best and prejudice at worst. It supports a narrative that would medicate away what troubles us and drugs the elderly to keep them quiet and less inconvenient and drugs children so they may be more easily controlled.
It supports a narrative that cannot be supported.
I think the Murphy /Upton Bill is going to pass the House. Advocacy as I have said before is a competitive sport and we got beat by people that had better resources, a louder voice, more allies, and more boots on the ground. If this spurs us to become a more effective voice and presence perhaps it will not be the worst defeat.
The House means nothing without the Senate and a conference committee after that and that is where I hope we turn our energy.
The other thing I know about advocacy is that battles are important but in the end it is about wars.
This one is far from over.