Rep. Tim Murphy, Sen. Creigh Deeds, Philanthropist Ted Stanley: Impact Players in Mental Health 2014


Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy gets my nod as the Impact Person of 2014 in Mental Health.

Whether you agree or disagree with the Republican from Pittsburgh, his relentless attempt to radically change how the federal government oversees the delivery of mental health services has focused a national spotlight on our current broken system.

Murphy launched his crusade two years ago after he met with the parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary school by Adam Lanza, who had a mental disorder. He recently told a reporter from CNN that he keeps photographs of those children in his Capitol Hill office as a reminder of his pledge to their parents that he would introduce wide sweeping changes.

I’ve written several blogs about Murphy’s legislation that you can read searching my site, but here’s a thumbnail.

Murphy, the only psychologist in Congress, introduced the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, after holding a series of national hearings. His bill would modify HIPAA and FERPA (which restrict information that hospitals and schools can release respectively) so that parents and other loved ones could obtain information about a loved one without consent if that individual is ruled mentally incompetent. It would allow Medicaid dollars for payment of acute psychiatric treatment in facilities larger than 16 beds by modifying the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion. The IMD was instituted to limit the size of mental facilities to avoid a return to the old asylum days. Murphy’s bill would expand Assisted Outpatient Treatment which would, among other things, require individuals with a history of violence or noncompliance with medication to take medication. It would significantly cut the budget of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration by giving SAMHSA funding to the National Institutes of Mental Health. And it would require states to lower their criteria for involuntary commitment with a tilt away from requiring dangerousness to a so-called ‘need for treatment’ standard.

Critics of Murphy’s bill didn’t pay much attention to it until Murphy collected 115 co-sponsors, as well as editorial support from The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. At that point, the Democratic House leadership under the direction of Rep. Nancy Pelosi recruited Arizona Representative Ron Barber to introduce a mental health bill to sidetrack Murphy’s legislation, which it did. Barber was first elected to complete the unexpired term of Rep. Gabby Giffords after she was critically wounded in January 2011 by Jared Lee Loughner, who murdered six and wounded 13 others, including Barber. Loughner was later found to have schizophrenia.  The fact that Barber was wounded during that melee and had a background as a director of disabilities services in Arizona gave him credentials in the mental health community.

But in November, Barber lost his 2014 re-election bid by 167 votes.

Barber’s departure doesn’t mean Murphy’s bill will have clear sailing even though the Republicans now control both sides of Congress. Several powerful groups continue to oppose it, the most outspoken being Mental Health America, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the National Disability Rights Network headed by Curtis Decker and Daniel Fisher at the National Empowerment Center.

Those tirelessly supporting it include Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, D. J. Jaffe, the Treatment Advocacy Center, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, although since the departure of its former executive director, NAMI has arguably pulled back its full support. It’s current leadership suggests that parts of Murphy’s bill may go too far.

My guess is that the Democratic leadership will recruit Colorado Representative Diana DeGette, Murphy’s co-chair of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the last Congress, to help block Murphy’s legislation now that Barber is out. But that’s just speculation on my part.

What isn’t speculation is that Rep. Murphy has pledged to continue his campaign to get his bill passed. I’ve been told by both sides that Murphy sees changing mental health laws as his number one legislative priority as an elected leader.

TWO RUNNERS UP : State Senator Creigh Deeds and Philanthropist Ted Stanley

My second choice for Mental Health Person of Impact in 2014 would be Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds who was critically wounded by his son, Gus, in 2013, after both were turned away from a local mental health center. Gus attacked his father with a knife and then ended his own life.

This year Deeds told his poignant story on 60 Minutes, at the National Press Club and recently in The Washington Post. He also persuaded his Virginia legislative colleagues to take yet another look at the state’s failing mental health system. A modest but effective political leader, Deeds’ voice has helped call attention to a national lack of acute care hospital beds. The result of not having access to crisis beds has lead to “patient boarding” in hospital emergency rooms and “streeting” where individuals with mental illnesses are simply turned away untreated from hospitals because there are no beds available.

Sadly, a recent story in The Washington Post by Annys Shin  shows that even Deeds is having problems getting his colleagues to fund needed reforms.

I salute his courage in putting a father’s face on untreated mental illness.

Along with Senator Deeds, I salute Ted Stanley who announced this year that his family would donate $650 million dollars to mental health research. Overall, the Stanley family has donated more than $850 million to mental health causes. The family has been a major funder of NAMI’s Grading the States Reports, which have called national attention to the need for mental health reforms. The Stanleys also helped fund the Treatment Advocacy Center and the Stanley Medical Research Institute. 

My book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, chronicles how Ted and Vera Stanley became involved in mental health reform after their son, Jonathan, had a mental break in New York. Now a successful lawyer and school teacher, Jon Stanley, plays a key role in overseeing the ongoing philanthropy.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.