New disability bill will reduce rights and freedom

Neuro-divergent folks get a really short end of the stick here in America. Mental health services are virtually non-existent in many places, and tragically under-funded in most others. The mentally ill are routinely and disproportionately abused at every level, be they inmates, patients or public citizens. Now, a new bill in Congress seeks to make the situation worse. According to many, a lot worse.

HR 2646, the “Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act,” also known as the Murphy Bill, is a bill currently in Congress proposed by Tim Murphy, representative of Pennsylvania. On the website for the bill, Murphy asserts that the bill will fix “the nation’s broken mental health system” by focusing resources on families and psychiatric services in crisis. By the time a situation has reached crisis point, however, it is often too late to effectively resolve. Putting aside the flaws in the concept of the bill itself, the policies that the bill would put into place have been targeted with criticism from numerous organizations and groups for the ways in which they would restrict and eliminate the freedoms of mentally ill and disabled people in society.

Firstly, the bill eliminates a lot of privacy protections for neuro-divergent people. It would allow for confidential medical records to be released to anyone defined as a “caregiver.” Under the bill,  caregiver means “anyone who helps the individual do a single daily living task or pay their bills.” That definition is ridiculously broad. It opens the door for parents, relatives, friends, children, employers, even total strangers to have access to the extended confidential mental health records of neuro-divergent individuals.

Second, the bill would require states to pass laws to allow courts to mandate forced outpatient treatment or risk losing federal mental health funds. There are numerous problems with this, chief amongst them is that forced outpatient treatment doesn’t work. It creates situations where the person being treated does not want treatment and it tends to exacerbate whatever disorders the individual is dealing with. This would necessitate that patients get permission from a judge to change doctors or alter their medical regimes.

Thirdly, the bill will eliminate the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, replacing it with funding for brain research and an emphasis on psychotropic drugs rather than recovery-focused efforts. The community-based support programs provided through SAMHSA have proven effective and are considered crucial by individuals with mental illnesses and their families.

Finally, the bill would eliminate many of the legal protections and resources available to mentally ill and disabled people through the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness program. It also limits the capacity for PAIMI to investigate cases of abuse and neglect, which is a significant part of the program’s activities and often the only recourse mentally ill people have in these cases. It also makes it illegal for PAIMI organizers to give any advice to a client that contradicts a caregiver, even if they are abusive or act against the client’s best interest.

One final point to be made. HR 2646 applies to all mental illnesses, anything with a diagnosis in the DSM. That includes anxiety, anorexia, bulimia and ADHD. The Murphy Bill seeks to remove the freedoms, rights and protections of every person with any mental illness in this country. Talk about kicking a person when they are down.

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