01.20.16

MENTAL HEALTH: Murray Highlights Stories from Washington State, Discusses Priorities for Strengthening Mental Health Care System

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered opening remarks at a hearing on Improving the Federal Response to Challenges in Mental Health Care in America. In her remarks, Murray highlighted examples from Washington state that show how comprehensive mental health care can truly improve lives.

 

Murray also outlined challenges in the mental health care system, and discussed some of her priorities for addressing them, including ensuring communities have access to trained mental health professionals, better integrating primary care with mental health care, prioritizing research that will help better understand and treat mental illness, and breaking down the barriers that stigma creates, so that those struggling with mental illness are treated with compassion, respect, and dignity.

 

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“I recently heard about a woman from Seattle, who I’ll call Amanda. Amanda was experiencing mental illness so severe that she lived in a dumpster for fear of being abducted by aliens. Case managers were able to help her get appropriate medication. They also connected her with primary care, housing, and supplemental security income benefits.  Today, Amanda is enrolled in school and pursuing her degree with hopes of full-time employment. That’s quite a change.

 

“And my constituent Jack’s story is similarly powerful. Jack, a veteran from King County, enrolled in outpatient support services after he was hospitalized several times for attempted suicide. He had serious addiction problems and was becoming alienated from his family. But after being connected with support, he was able to find recovery—even while being treated for cancer. He now lives independently and is reconnecting with his teenage son. Amanda and Jack’s stories show that comprehensive, high quality mental health care can truly give someone their life back.”

 

“Far too many communities lack access to mental health professionals. In fact, half of all U.S. counties don’t have a single psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. That means that for many patients and families, it’s unclear where to turn for help.  So we need to make sure communities have access to trained professionals who can intervene, treat, and support those struggling with mental illness. And in addition to strengthening our mental health workforce, we need to make sure that when someone presents in crisis, or simply chooses to seek help, there are providers who can take them in and meet their needs. No patient should be turned away, asked to wait in an emergency room for days, or left out on the street, because there isn’t a bed available.”

 

“The siloes that exist between mental health care and physical health care don’t match patients’ realities—and that needs to change. The legislation Senators Murphy and Cassidy have worked on together would take some important steps to better integrate mental and physical health care. And I’m also interested in some innovative steps being taken at the state level.  For example, the University of Washington has a residency program that allows students focused on psychiatry to get experience working in physical health settings.”

 

“If we are going to confront the challenges I’ve laid out today—and many others within our mental health system, we have to break down the barriers that stigma creates for those suffering from mental illness. That means prioritizing research that like Dr. Eaton’s, which helps enhance our understanding of, and ability to effectively treat, mental illnesses. And it also means raising awareness so that those struggling don’t feel they have to struggle alone. Today, nearly one in five people in our country experience mental illness in a given year. Far too many of them don’t receive treatment when they need it—and part of the reason is that stigma is getting in the way.”

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander. And thank you to all of my colleagues for being here. I’m pleased that we have the opportunity today to continue our discussion about ways to improve our mental health care system.

 

“And we’ve got a really incredible group of witnesses joining us to share their expertise and experiences. Thank you all for coming.

 

“As I’m sure all of us do, I hear far too often from families in Washington state about loved ones, friends, and neighbors who are struggling with mental illness—and aren’t getting the support they need.

 

“It’s heartbreaking—especially because when someone does get treatment and support, it can truly make all the difference.

 

“I recently heard about a woman from Seattle, who I’ll call Amanda.

 

“Amanda was experiencing mental illness so severe that she lived in a dumpster for fear of being abducted by aliens. Case managers were able to help her get appropriate medication. They also connected her with primary care, housing, and supplemental security income benefits. 

 

“Today, Amanda is enrolled in school and pursuing her degree with hopes of full-time employment. That’s quite a change.

 

“And my constituent Jack’s story is similarly powerful.

 

“Jack, a veteran from King County, enrolled in outpatient support services after he was hospitalized several times for attempted suicide. He had serious addiction problems and was becoming alienated from his family.

 

“But after being connected with support, he was able to find recovery—even while being treated for cancer. He now lives independently and is reconnecting with his teenage son.

 

“Amanda and Jack’s stories show that comprehensive, high quality mental health care can truly give someone their life back.

 

“But unfortunately, many stories don’t end this way.

 

“In fact, only 63% of people with serious mental illness received treatment in the past year.

 

“I’m going to focus on a few challenges in particular today, ones which I believe our witnesses will have a lot to say about as well.

 

“The first is inadequate access to treatment. Far too many communities lack access to mental health professionals.

 

“In fact, half of all U.S. counties don’t have a single psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. That means that for many patients and families, it’s unclear where to turn for help. 

 

“So we need to make sure communities have access to trained professionals who can intervene, treat, and support those struggling with mental illness.

 

“And in addition to strengthening our mental health workforce, we need to make sure that when someone presents in crisis, or simply chooses to seek help, there are providers who can take them in and meet their needs.

 

“No patient should be turned away, asked to wait in an emergency room for days, or left out on the street, because there isn’t a bed available.

 

“Ms. Blake—I’m sure this is a problem you’ve seen all too often in the ER. I think we can and must do better on this—and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

“Another issue I’m eager to discuss today is the need to truly integrate mental and physical health care.

 

“The two stories I shared a few minutes ago have something especially important in common. Amanda didn’t just need psychiatric help—she needed primary care. Jack needed help with addiction and depression—but during the course of his recovery, he also needed treatment for cancer.

 

“The siloes that exist between mental health care and physical health care don’t match patients’ realities—and that needs to change.

 

“The legislation Senators Murphy and Cassidy have worked on together would take some important steps to better integrate mental and physical health care. 

 

“And I’m also interested in some innovative steps being taken at the state level.  For example, the University of Washington has a residency program that allows students focused on psychiatry to get experience working in physical health settings.

 

“Dr. Hepburn, I know you have focused on this challenge in your work, and I’m grateful that we’ll able to hear your insights today.

 

“And finally, I want to reiterate something I mentioned at our last hearing.

 

“If we are going to confront the challenges I’ve laid out today—and many others within our mental health system, we have to break down the barriers that stigma creates for those suffering from mental illness.

 

“That means prioritizing research that like Dr. Eaton’s, which helps enhance our understanding of, and ability to effectively treat, mental illnesses. And it also means raising awareness so that those struggling don’t feel they have to struggle alone.

 

“Today, nearly one in five people in our country experience mental illness in a given year. Far too many of them don’t receive treatment when they need it—and part of the reason is that stigma is getting in the way.

 

“Mr. Rahim, you’ve worked for over a decade to raise awareness and promote understanding of mental health in communities across the country. And you’ve been an inspiration to so many people who otherwise might not have had the courage to seek help.

 

“So I want to thank you for your work. And I’m eager to hear what you think we in Congress can do to lend another voice to efforts like yours.

 

“Thank you again to all of our witnesses for coming today.

 

“We’ve got a lot of truly urgent work ahead of us to make sure that our families and communities have access to the comprehensive, high-quality mental health care they need.

 

“I look forward to continued bipartisan efforts to strengthen our mental health system and give more patients and families the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Thank you.”