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“How Nancy Pelosi Broke My Heart” – guest column

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(May 22, 2014)”Families wish someone would protect their severely ill family members from groups that advocate for their right to be severely psychotic,” Susan Inman writes in the Huffington Post (“How Nancy Pelosi broke my heart,” May 20).

psychotic episodeTo help families in crisis, Representative Tim Murphy proposed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 3717), but the issue has become partisan and Democrats have been slow to show support for his bill.

“Now the lack of Democratic support has morphed into something even more dangerous,” Inman writes. “Under the guidance of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Barber bill has been introduced. It guts every important change proposed in the Murphy bill.”

To make matters worse, “there has been a lack of leadership from groups that should be actively lobbying to get the Murphy bill passed,” Inman says. “This might come as quite a shock to the many American families … who can’t get treatment for their very ill sons and daughters whose psychotic states aren’t passing.”

Inman wonders why the party that “mostly has been consistent in its support of the value of science” has turned its back on the only piece of legislation that would make a difference for the millions of Americans living with severe mental illness who are now filling jail cells or homeless, victimized or cycling in and out of the emergency room.

“I urge Ms. Pelosi to get the Democratic leadership to endorse a sensible approach in responding to the reality of severe mental illnesses.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Read the entire piece by Susan Inman.

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97 People Cost a Florida County $13 Million. Surprising?

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(May 20, 2014) Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman pleads in the Miami Herald for Florida to treat its mentally ill residents in an op-ed in the Miami Herald (“Give people with mental illness treatment, not a jail cell,” May 17).

isolationLeifman describes a University of South Florida study that examined the costs of 97 people with severe mental illness over a five-year period in Miami-Dade County.

Almost all of the subjects were homeless. They also experienced 2,200 arrests, 27,000 days in jails and 13,000 days in hospitals and emergency rooms. The total cost to taxpayers was estimated to be $13 million dollars.

“Shocking? Yes. Surprising? No,” Leifman writes. “Florida ranks 49th nationally in funding for community mental-health treatment.”

We certainly are not surprised. According to our 2012 bed study, the miserable national average is 14 beds per 100,000 people, but Miami-Dade musters only 3. This means that of the 185,000 people diagnosed with serious mental illness in the county, only a tiny percentage receives treatment through the public mental health system.

Of course, the scarcity of psychiatric treatment means that “the county jail has become the largest psychiatric institution in Florida.”

“If we treated people with primary healthcare needs the way we treat people with mental illnesses, there would be rampant lawsuits and criminal indictments,” Leifman says. “But people in a psychiatric crisis without financial means who are admitted to a hospital receive treatment only as long as they are considered dangerous to themselves or others . . . . Such people are then discharged, often to homelessness, and eventually find their way into the criminal-justice system again — and again and again.”

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Shifting the Focus to Help the Severely Ill

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(May 19, 2014) Until we make treating people with severe mental illness a priority, we will continue to see people with psychiatric disease flock to the country’s emergency rooms, prisons and streets, advocates tell reporter Paige Cunningham in her examination of Rep. Tim Murphy’s efforts to change the way we treat severe mental illness (“Pushing to help the severely mentally ill," Politico, May 19).

mental illness jailsPrior to the introduction of Murphy’s bill, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, “much of the focus on mental health issues has been directed at removing stigma for the millions of individuals who need help for milder conditions" Cunningham writes. "That has shifted public attention from those with more severe problems.”

“We’re talking about people who don’t have a voice for themselves, who don’t make poster children for mental health because they are living under bridges or eating out of trash cans or they’re behind bars,” Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center tells Cunningham. This is the “first piece of federal legislation in 50 years that’s really looked at this population.”


Murphy’s bill would redirect federal mental health funds to those who need them the most and prioritize initiatives backed by solid evidence and track their success, like assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). The legislation intends to change the way Medicaid pays for certain mental health treatments. His proposal would also clarify HIPAA so that doctors can more easily share information about people in a psychiatric crisis with their family and caregivers.

Learn more about the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

Please contact your representative in Congress and tell him or her how important this legislation is to you and your loved ones. Use the sample letter on this page.

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The Burden of Untreated Severe Mental Illness

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(May 16, 2014) “The mentally ill who have nowhere to go and find little sympathy from those around them often land hard in emergency rooms, county jails and city streets. The lucky ones find homes with family. The unlucky ones show up in the morgue,” reported USA Today earlier this week (“The cost of not caring: Nowhere to go,” May 12).

untreated mental illnessAs we know, the costs and consequences of non-treatment for severe mental illness are huge. But how many Americans are currently suffering from a serious mental illness without treatment?”

Among the individuals in the U.S. with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, studies consistently estimate that between 40 and 50 percent are receiving no treatment, according to a Treatment Advocacy Center backgrounder called “What percentage of individuals with severe psychiatric disorders are receiving no treatment?

The newly updated backgrounder cites studies performed using data from a number of sources, including, among others:

·         The National Institute of Mental Health;

·         Medicaid claims data;

·         The National Comorbidity Survey; and

·         The five-site Epidemiologic Catchment Area survey.

According to some of these sources, approximately 3.0-3.5 million individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are not being treated on any given day in the US, the backgrounder says.

Untreated severe mental illness is a problem with wide-ranging and devastating consequences for individuals, families, and communities. Disturbingly, as our backgrounder indicates, evidence supports an estimate that millions of adults in our country with these diagnoses are not receiving treatment and thus are vulnerable to these consequences.

Our backgrounder can be a tool for educating fellow community members, press, politicians, and others with influence about the great need for meaningful intervention in our laws and services.

For access to more of our backgrounders, which summarize information about severe mental illness, policies and programs related to its treatment, and the consequences of lack of treatment, visit the “Reports, Studies, Backgrounders” page on our website.


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The Day the First Private Mental Health Hospital Opened its Doors

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(May 15, 2014) It was on this day in 1817 that the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason was founded in Philadelphia. It was the first private mental health hospital in the United States. The Asylum was founded by a group of Quakers, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends, who built the institution on a 52-acre farm. It is still around today, but goes by the name Friends Hospital.

hospital-bed-genericAt the time that Friends Hospital was founded, mental illness was widely misunderstood and treated as criminal behavior. Mentally ill people were tied up, put in chains, isolated, or beaten. The Quakers wanted to model a new type of care. They wrote out their philosophy in a mission statement for the hospital: "To provide for the suitable accommodation of persons who are or may be deprived of the use of their reason, and the maintenance of an asylum for their reception, which is intended to furnish, besides requisite medical aid, such tender, sympathetic attention as may soothe their agitated minds, and under the Divine Blessing, facilitate their recovery."

The group purchased the 52-acre farm for less than $7,000, and tried to create a beautiful place with gardens and lots of outdoor space.

These days, the hospital occupies 100 acres, which include flower gardens and about 200 varieties of trees. Much of this was the work of one man who started out at the hospital as a bookkeeper in 1875 and ended up working there and managing the grounds until his death in 1947. One day, he found an azalea that a family member had brought for a patient and tossed out. He tended it in the greenhouse until it was healthy again, took cuttings, and planted those, and from that one plant more than 20 acres of the Friends Hospital are now planted in azaleas.

Excerpted from the Writer’s Almanac.


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