October 21, 2015

Cassidy: The Time For Mental Health Reform Is Now

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. urged Congress to discuss and finally address how to fix America’s broken mental health system. Dr. Cassidy and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), members of the U.S. Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation to comprehensively overhaul and strengthen America’s mental health care system. The Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 will make critical reforms to address a lack of resources, enhance coordination, and develop meaningful solutions to improve outcomes for families dealing with mental illness.

Watch the floor remarks here and read excerpts below:

Mental Health Floor Speech

“For 25 years I have worked in the Louisiana public hospital system, and you can’t help but notice when you work in a public hospital system, but also in private hospitals, how often mental health issues are directly a part of a patient who comes to see you.  But it doesn’t just have to be a physician seeing patients in the emergency room, each of our families, mine included, has a family member or a friend who has serious mental illness. 

“It is non-partisan, it cuts across demographic lines, if I go before a group anywhere in my state, indeed anywhere in the nation, and bring up the need to address serious mental illness, all heads nod yes.  It is true of my family.  It is true of yours.  It is true of almost everybody watching today.

“Now, I’m old enough to remember when people wouldn’t speak of cancer. There was a stigma associated with having cancer, that’s long gone, much to our advantage.  But for some reason there continues to be a stigma and a shame associated with mental illness.  And I would argue that that stigma and sense of shame has retarded what we can do.  This is something that we have to address, we have to discuss, we have to go forward.

“Now, the discussion right now, frankly, is being driven by tragedy.  Lafayette, Louisiana, Newtown, Charleston, Oregon, Tennessee—we’ve heard stories, and they are beyond heartbreaking. But what’s not spoken of are the broken families, the parents that know that there is something wrong with their child, but don’t know where to go to receive that help, ending up in an overcrowded emergency room or their child in a jail or prison when a more appropriate setting would be elsewhere.

“And it is in the midst of these terribly tragedies that at least we can hope that they can serve as a catalyst for society and Congress to begin to fix America’s broken mental health system. Maybe something good can happen, even from tragedies as horrific as these. 

“So the question is, if one of the roles of Congress is to respond to societal needs that justify federal involvement, shouldn’t we ask ourselves why has there been such a failure to address the issue of serious mental illness?

“I’m pleased to say my colleague Senator Chris Murphy and I wish to change that. We’ve introduced the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act, which now has 10 sponsors, both Republican and Democrat.  Our bill begins to fix our mental health system and attempts to address the root cause of mass violence, which is recognized, but untreated mental illness.

“…In 2006, William Bruce of Maine was a 24-year-old who needed help. He suffered with schizophrenia and had been hospitalized. Without contacting his parents, our broken health care system allowed William to be released—even though his doctors said he was ‘very dangerous indeed for release to the community.’ Sadly, two months later he murdered his mother at home with a hatchet. This story is tragic and heart breaking and even worse, it could have possibly been prevented if we had worked then to fix our broken mental health system.  We wish to fix it now so there is not another such episode in the future. 

“The time for mental health reform is now.

“If not now, when?

“If not us, who? 

“If not now and not us, there will be more Lafayettes, more Newtowns, Charelstons, Tennessees and Oregons, more broken families.

“This bill does not wave a magic wand, but it puts us on a path where we can say these things that once occurred, perhaps no longer will.”

Read the full remarks and read more about the Mental Health Reform Act HERE.