One Year After Sandyhook, Mental Health Overhaul Offered

Dec 18, 2013

US Congressman Tim Murphy
Credit Tim Murphy /

The shootings and Sandyhook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. focused the nation’s attention on mental health care but now that the tragedy is a year behind us, debate on the subject has waned.

However, U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18) is hoping to throw it back into the spotlight with a bill he is calling the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

Murphy has spent the last year exploring mental health care spending and treatment options as he drew up the bill.  He says he learned that there is an unacceptable amount of money going to programs that he calls “silly.”

“Everything from buying paintings to sponsoring conferences and parties and dancing… everything that has nothing to do with mental health treatment,” said Murphy, who is also a clinical psychologist. “The standard is now going to be, (federal spending) has to be on programs that have some scientific basis and that they are effective. And if not, the money is going to programs that are.”

Murphy’s bill aims to restructure federal spending formulas and overhaul the nation’s mental health system. He said the goal is to give states options beyond putting mentally ill individuals in jail or locking them in psychiatric wards. Options such as outpatient care.

“We want to shore up our community health centers and community mental health centers to get more providers there,” Murphy said. “And also increased training for police and maybe paramedics who may be the first responding when there is a tragedy.”

Murphy quoted a parent of a Sandyhook student who was killed saying when we get to the point of a gun it is too late.

“What ne need to be paying attention to is what were the mental health problems that contributed to this.  That is where we just have to make some efforts,” said Murphy, who believes he can get strong bipartisan support for his bill.

In recent years, the trend in mental health care has been to move away from large institutional care to more community based care.  A move that Murphy thinks might have gone too far.

“In Pennsylvania we have actually gone from 20 (mental health) hospitals and eight prisons to 20 prisons and eight hospitals,” said Murphy.

The congressman from the South Hills said 20 percent the men in Pennsylvania’s prisons are mentally ill and the number jumps to 50 percent among incarcerated women.  “We also have huge numbers in homeless.  About 40 percent of those who are homeless are mentally ill,” Murphy said.

Murphy said over all, the mental health system in the United States is broken and needs to be fixed.