I want to thank everyone who has posted a comment here since Friday about what I should tell a congressional subcommittee when I speak tomorrow (Tuesday) on Capitol Hill. I’ve received a number of detailed and thoughtful suggestions. As I was going through them, I was reminded of just how wise many of you are. It’s one reason why I enjoy writing this blog. I hope you will share your comments with your local, state, and national elected leaders.
I was told over the weekend that I will be given a total of three minutes to speak. The subcommittee will then ask questions. Obviously, I can only make a few key points in such a short period. However, I will be allowed to submit written testimony and I intend to submit most of the comments that you have posted. I want your voices heard!
The subcommittee has invited the following professionals to make statements: Thomas Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); Harold Koplewicz, M.D., President, Child Mind Institute; E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., Founder, Treatment Advocacy Center; Michael Welner, M.D., Founder and Chairman, The Forensic Panel; and Michael Fitzpatrick, MSW, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Over the weekend, I sent the subcommittee an email suggesting that it also invite persons with mental illnesses to appear before it. I’ve not heard back.
This will be my second time testifying and third time speaking about mental illness to members of Congress. Because of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., I believe we have reached a tipping point. Elected officials are finally listening. The question is: how will our state legislators and members of Congress react?
Jessie Close recently wrote a blog for me about whether her rights to keep her medical records private are going to be trampled by the flurry of bills being introduced in state legislatures. Dr. Dinah Miller, the Baltimore psychiatrist who contributes to the blog, SHRINK RAP, responded to Jessie’s comments with a blog of her own.
Dr. Miller and I both feel strongly that our elected leaders are rushing to pass laws that have not been well thought-out and will further stigmatize persons with mental disorders. Many of the laws being introduced call for drawing up lists for law enforcement agencies of persons with mental disorders, including individuals with no history of violence. No one seems to be scrutizing those bills. Meanwhile, anything that suggests banning the sale of assault weapons, large capacity magazines or closing the “gun show” loophole are drawing fierce resistance.
Dr. Miller and I have an editorial in USA TODAY this morning about the problem of legislators hurrying new laws into place. You can read it here.
Last week, Dr. Miller testified in Maryland about the more than 40 bills that have been introduced in that state as a result of the Newtown shootings. If you want to get discouraged, you should read her account of her day waiting to testify and what happened when she finally was able to speak.
What I found interesting about Dr. Miller’s experiences at the Maryland capitol is her observation that the pro-gun forces were out in mass. Speakers who wanted to talk about mental illness and barriers in getting meaningful treatment were scarce and, based on Dr. Miller’s personal experiences, not made to feel welcome.
Thank you Dr. Miller for persevering and testifying. Now more than ever, it is vital for us to speak out ! If we don’t, I fear persons with mental illnesses are going to become easy scapegoats.