Murphy gets mental health input to take back to D.C.

By:  Scott Whipple
New Britain Herald

NEW BRITAIN — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy met with mental health professionals, providers, clients and advocacy groups Friday at Community Mental Health Affiliates. The senator discussed the importance of addressing mental health prevention, intervention and treatment in Congress.

Murphy heard the concerns and needs of the New Britain mental health advocacy community, intending to bring feedback to Washington to support mental health efforts at the federal level.

Though several of the 40 or more people on hand told compelling stories about the need to address mental health long term, Sue Barez of Cheshire’s gripping account of her son Josh’s suicide underscored a key message: timely, compassionate care of patients afflicted with mental illness.

Barez said Josh, 24, left psychiatric care and refused to stay on his prescribed regimen for thought disorder. He was treated by therapists and social workers, having to repeat his medical history each time. He stopped attending school and later became a threat to himself and others. Finally, Barez had to call 911, which brought in the police.

Murphy agreed with attendees that patients with thought disorders need to be closely monitored and not left to become lawbreakers, and that medication alone is not always the answer. Often, mental patients are looking to connect with society through friends, family or even a job. Also, mental health care can’t be measured the same way as physical health problems; a time table can’t be placed on mental illness recovery.

Friday’s discussion was one of a series of meetings Murphy has organized to discuss what the federal government should do to support people facing mental health challenges. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, he has led several initiatives aimed at increasing access to mental health services in Connecticut and the nation.

Murphy has called on state governors to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and introduced legislation to ensure that youths who spend time in the juvenile justice system receive the mental health care they need.

Bill Carroll, economic development director for the city and a member of the CMHA board of directors, praised Murphy for meeting with the CMHA.

“This is one of the better agencies who aid people with mental or substance abuse,” Carroll said. “Today, the senator heard about the importance of funding mental health programs.” Founded in 1975, Community Mental Health Affiliates is a private, nonprofit organization with 14 program locations in four cities and towns. The agency provides community-based behavioral health and substance abuse recovery services for 6,000 adults, families, adolescents and children each year.

In the wake of the recent outbreak of measles, Murphy recently visited the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. He announced his plan to introduce legislation that would increase the amount of information provided to parents who choose to exempt their children from vaccinations for nonmedical reasons.

Murphy’s bill would motivate states to require that parents who want a nonmedical exemption first visit their physician and be told of the risk of refusing vaccination. The information would be designed to counteract false information he says is being spread, leading parents to believe that vaccinations cause autism.

“Here in Connecticut, the trend is going in the wrong direction,” Murphy said. “Exemptions for vaccinations have more than doubled over the course of the last five years. Now, we’re lucky. We haven’t had a measles case in 2015 and we’ve had less than 10 cases over the course of the last half a decade. But if more and more families keep their kids away from vaccinations, one case in Connecticut could quickly become 10, 50, 100, and we could have an outbreak on our hands.”