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Public Statements

Untreated Mental Illness

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MURPHY of Pennsylvania. While the Senate argues about gun issues and talking about what is in the hands of those perpetrators who commit heinous crimes, I want to talk about America's shameful secret that people don't want to be talking about, and that is our willful ignoring of dealing with mental illness. We have to start talking about not what is in people's hands, but what is in their hearts and minds.

Approximately 5 percent of individuals with schizophrenia will die by suicide during their lifetime, a rate 50-fold greater than the general population. Keep in mind now suicide has overtaken all other areas of accidental deaths. It is now the leading cause of death by injury, about 38,000 per year.

We understand that mental disorders are brain disorders with specific systems that are rooted in abnormal patterns of brain activity. Many of those with psychosis show up between ages 14 and 25 when there are changes occurring in the branching and pruning of brain cells. Yet, there is a delay between the first episode of psychosis and the onset of treatment with an average of 110 weeks before someone gets care. There are 100,000 young Americans who will have a first episode of psychosis this year and will join over 2 million others with schizophrenia.

Look at this: one-sixth of murderers in prison are mentally ill. Here are some other quick facts. The number of murders in the U.S. in 2011 committed with rifles: 323. In 2011, more murders were committed with knives: 1,694; hands, fist and feet: 728; and blunt weapons such as clubs and hammers: 496, according to FBI data.

A while ago I sent a letter to Secretary Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS, seeking clarification of the laws of confidentiality known as HIPAA, specifically asking why we have not loaded 1.5 million more records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System so that these people cannot purchase guns. I hope the Secretary will respond soon.

Recently, I also handed a note to the President of the United States and will continue to pursue questions with the Government Accountability Office, asking where are we spending our money and is it effective in going to help those with mental illness and severe mental illness. We simply don't know.

In the United States, an estimated 11.4 million Americans, or about 4.4 percent of all adults, suffer from serious mental illness. What happens is that States in many cases do not submit those records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. There are many States that haven't submitted any at all, and this is a problem because people who should not be purchasing weapons are.

But underlying all of this, we had better take off our blinders and deal with the underlying root cause of mass violence: untreated mental illness. Look at yesterday in the news when a man went on a campus and attacked people with a knife. Look at the other shootings that have taken place by people with untreated or undertreated mental illness. Why aren't we talking about our action on those?

Our current system is especially falling short for those with a serious mental disorder who deny they're ill. Half of those persons with severe psychosis don't even understand they have mental illness. They refuse their medication or simply cannot function in a community setting. So what have we done historically in this country? We've burned them as witches, we imprison them as dangerous. We still have not dealt with the underlying needs.

There were 500,000 psychiatric beds in 1955. There are 40,000 now. We have a lack of long-term treatment options. There are gaps in the care for young adults. There are artificial limits and barriers to care under insurance. Four years ago plus we passed a mental health parity law, and we still do not have the regulations for that.

Parents who are not informed and cannot get their children help or treatment is another problem with HIPAA laws and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which creates barriers between parents knowing what is going on with their children in school when they have a severe mental illness. Of course, there is the stigma of acknowledging there is a problem or getting treatment.

Politicians refer to those committing these murders as evil, as monsters. Television shows where there's tragedy or comedy mock them. This is not the way to deal with the underlying problem. We have a shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists throughout this country and in the military as well, where suicides have overtaken combat as the number one cause of death.

I am asking for an audit from the Government Accountability Office of every single penny spent on mental illness diagnosis, research, and treatment throughout our government, through HHS, through the judiciary, through Labor, every branch. We need to know these answers. It is a shameful secret in this country that we still refuse to deal with mental illness. And if we do not, shame on us.


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