10.29.15

Murray: We Can and Must Do More to Strengthen Our Mental Health System, Support Those Facing Mental Illness

Murray: “Those struggling with mental illness should be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity—and they should have the resources they need to live and work in their communities.”

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a hearing on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in America: Priorities, Challenges, and Opportunities. In her remarks, Murray highlighted that while progress has been made toward improving the health and wellness of families, more work must be done to address the challenges faced by those living with mental illness.

Murray outlined her priorities for addressing those challenges, including integrating primary care with mental health care, prioritizing crisis response, focusing on suicide prevention – especially for those at increased risk like LGBT youth and young adults in tribal communities, advancing research that helps us 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 opening statement:

“Our mental health workforce should serve as the foundation on which a strong, supportive system is built.  But today, far too many communities have inadequate 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 far too 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. This is critical to ensuring that mental health is seen as just as much of a priority as physical health.”

“Too often, patients’ mental and physical health are considered separately. This silo means that on the one hand, patients with serious mental illness who need primary care may not get it when they need it, and on the other hand, that any signs of mental illness may go undetected... I’m very interested in a collaborative model being practiced in Washington state, where mental health professionals provide ‘telehealth’ consulting to primary care physicians in communities that lack access to mental health care. This model helps patients receive treatment that is mindful of both their mental and physical health.”

“As we work to improve detection and treatment of mental illness, we need to prioritize crisis response. I have heard too many stories in my state, and across the country, of patients with mental illness held for days and weeks in emergency rooms—or even solitary confinement—waiting for treatment. That’s simply unacceptable. Communities need the resources to respond quickly and appropriately when someone is clearly in or approaching crisis. Because without those resources intervention often comes too late, or not at all.”

“Suicide prevention must also be a priority. Each year, suicide takes tens of thousands of lives in our country—and shatters countless others… I know that the Administration is very focused on suicide prevention. And our committee recently passed the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, which reauthorizes the critical Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Act. I look forward to continued work together to put an end to this crisis in all of our communities.”

“…we have to break down the barriers that stigma creates for those suffering from mental illness. That means prioritizing research that 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. I saw this stigma early on, when I interned in a VA psychiatric ward as a college student. There, veterans returning home from Vietnam with severe psychological trauma were told they were simply ‘shell-shocked’. Over the course of my career, I’ve heard time and time again from veterans, and constituents from all walks of life, that stigma and stereotypes are a crushing burden to bear on top of illness. Those struggling with mental illness should be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity—and they should have the resources they need to live and work in their communities. That’s something I’m going to continue to be very focused on.”

“I look forward to continued bipartisan work to strengthen our mental health system and give more patients and families the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. I’m confident that everyone in this room has a story about a friend, a loved one, a classmate, or a coworker who has faced mental illness. The harsh reality is that these challenges impact all of us—and I hope our efforts here today are a step on the way to overcoming them.

Full text of Senator Murray’s opening statement:

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander—and thank you to all of our colleagues for coming today.

 

“I’m pleased that we have with us: Kana Enomoto, acting administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Jim MacRae acting administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Thank you for everything you do.

 

“And as he prepares to move on, I want to express appreciation in particular for the work Dr. Insel has done to improve health and wellbeing for families across the country.  Dr. Insel, thank you for your service.

 

“Over the last few years we’ve made real progress toward building a health care system that works for families and communities and puts their needs first.

 

“But as I’ve often said, there is a lot more we can and must do. And this is especially true when it comes to addressing mental health and substance use.

 

“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. In fact, there is on average nearly a decade between someone showing signs of mental illness and getting treatment. Suicide is the second highest cause of death for those ages 15 through 34. And nearly a quarter of the state prison population has struggled with mental illness.

 

“These statistics are deeply disturbing—but the stories behind them are even more tragic: of stigma that keeps too many from seeking help, even though it could make all the difference, of treatable illnesses dealt with by a judge rather than a clinician, of millions of lives—especially young lives—cut short.

 

“All of us have heard these stories far too often. And they demand action.

 

“Members of this committee on both sides of the aisle have made clear that improving our mental health system is a priority. In particular, I appreciate the bipartisan work that Senators Murphy and Cassidy are doing to push for progress.

 

“I’m looking forward to hearing from my colleagues and our witnesses about the ideas they have to strengthen our mental health system, and prevent more of our parents, friends, neighbors, students, and children from falling through the cracks.

 

“There are a few challenges I am focused on in particular.

 

“Our mental health workforce should serve as the foundation on which a strong, supportive system is built.  But today, far too many communities have inadequate 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 far too 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.

 

“This is critical to ensuring that mental health is seen as just as much of a priority as physical health.

 

“So is integrating primary care with mental health care. Too often, patients’ mental and physical health are considered separately.

 

“This silo means that on the one hand, patients with serious mental illness who need primary care may not get it when they need it, and on the other hand, that any signs of mental illness may go undetected.

 

“That presents a real threat to patients with mental illness—especially those with chronic physical health problems or substance use disorders that can make mental illness worse.

 

“I’m very interested in a collaborative model being practiced in Washington state, where mental health professionals provide ‘telehealth’ consulting to primary care physicians in communities that lack access to mental health care. This model helps patients receive treatment that is mindful of both their mental and physical health.

 

“As we work to improve detection and treatment of mental illness, we need to prioritize crisis response.

 

“I have heard too many stories in my state, and across the country, of patients with mental illness held for days and weeks in emergency rooms—or even solitary confinement—waiting for treatment. That’s simply unacceptable.

 

“Communities need the resources to respond quickly and appropriately when someone is clearly in or approaching crisis. Because without those resources intervention often comes too late, or not at all.

 

“Suicide prevention must also be a priority. Each year, suicide takes tens of thousands of lives in our country—and shatters countless others.

 

“Like many here today, I have been deeply concerned about the high rate of suicide among our veterans. And we also need to take a close look at what is driving these tragic decisions among other populations.

 

“I was very concerned to learn, for example, that recent studies show young adults from tribal communities are at especially high risk.

 

“I know that the Administration is very focused on suicide prevention. And our committee recently passed the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, which reauthorizes the critical Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Act. I look forward to continued work together to put an end to this crisis in all of our communities.

 

“Finally, it’s critical to acknowledge that in order to confront the challenges I’ve discussed, 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 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.

 

“I saw this stigma early on, when I interned in a VA psychiatric ward as a college student. There, veterans returning home from Vietnam with severe psychological trauma were told they were simply ‘shell-shocked’.

 

“Over the course of my career, I’ve heard time and time again from veterans, and constituents from all walks of life, that stigma and stereotypes are a crushing burden to bear on top of illness.

 

“Those struggling with mental illness should be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity—and they should have the resources they need to live and work in their communities. That’s something I’m going to continue to be very focused on.

 

“I’m pleased that we are having this discussion today. I look forward to continued bipartisan work to strengthen our mental health system and give more patients and families the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. I’m confident that everyone in this room has a story about a friend, a loved one, a classmate, or a coworker who has faced mental illness.

 

“The harsh reality is that these challenges impact all of us—and I hope our efforts here today are a step on the way to overcoming them. Thank you all again for being here, and I look forward to our conversation.”