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Lawmaker calling for changes to nation's mental health care system

One of the more difficult realities to accept is that many otherwise deserving people who would qualify for Social Security Disability benefits for mental conditions are often reluctant to apply due to fears that they would somehow be unfairly stigmatized within their communities.

Interestingly, one Pennsylvania lawmaker is now seeking to not only raise awareness about just this kind of issue, but also to overhaul the entire federal mental health care system.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny), a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversights and Investigations and a clinical psychologist, recently completed a comprehensive yearlong review of the mental health care system here in the U.S., and the results were less than favorable.

According to his findings, the $125 billion in funds allocated to cover mental health expenses every year are not being spent effectively and the way the system is currently being run demonstrates a complete absence of accountability.

Murphy recently introduced legislation called the "Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act," which he believes will help remedy these systemic failures. Among its many goals, the act is designed to accomplish some of the following:

  • Clarifying federal rules concerning the ability of physicians to communicate with the family members of those suffering from a mental illness, a step that would allow them to diagnose and treat these conditions far earlier.
  • Adjusting existing Medicare rules so as to create greater access to acute psychiatric care in hospitals.
  • Increasing the availability of tele-psychiatry to both rural and underserved communities.
  • Reducing legal barriers to mental health professionals being able to work at community health clinics.

Most importantly, Murphy believes his bill would help address the problem of people waiting until it's too late to secure help and, by extension, help overcome the widespread stigma against mental illness.

"People (with a mental illness) have this idea that 'Oh, they're just going to lock me up,'" said Murphy. "We need people to understand that these (mental illnesses) are diagnosable and they're treatable and the earlier we catch them the better."

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which has bi-partisan support, was introduced in December and has since been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations. Given that it is currently lacking concrete numbers as to how much its proposed overhaul would cost, it's conceivable that it could encounter some obstacles.

While it's unclear what effect, if any, that Murphy's bill would have on the Social Security Disability program, his efforts have at the very least served to raise awareness about the importance of overcoming the stigma associated with mental conditions and the importance of people getting the help they need.

Source: WESA, "Rep. Murphy introduces bill to overhaul federal mental health system," Liz Reid, April 1, 2014

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