NEW HAVEN >> U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy Wednesday said mental health care in America desperately needs an overhaul, and the self-described “progressive Democrat” has joined forced with “a very conservative Republican from the deep South” to do just that.
Murphy has held 11 roundtable discussions in recent weeks — most recently in Middletown — and one public hearing in New Haven to talk about his Mental Health Reform Act of 2015.
Murphy was joined Wednesday night at Wilbur Cross High School by state Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services Commissioner Miriam E. Delphin-Rittman, seeking suggestions from the public on the bill.
“We are looking for input. We are looking for potential changes,” Murphy said.
The atrium at Wilbur Cross was nearly full and many of those who spoke brought firsthand experience. Murphy said after the event that he was pleased to have had so many individuals who are either living with mental illness or have loved ones with mental illnesses come out and speak on their behalf.
“That was really important, to get that firsthand perspective tonight,” he said.
The bill, according to a release from Murphy’s office, “will make critical reforms to address a lack of resources, enhance coordination, and develop meaningful solutions to improve outcomes for Connecticut families dealing with mental illness.”
Murphy said one of the clear messages from the public Wednesday was that peer support is one of the best things for people with mental illness.
“I’m going to go back and scrub the bill to make sure that it incentivizes peer support programs across the country because that’s a theme that I heard loud and clear this evening,” Murphy said.
The bill will next go before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Both Murphy and the “very conservative Republican” — Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — sit on this committee. Murphy hopes the HELP committee will have a hearing and take action this fall.
“This is about making those individuals, their families and society, who are threatened with serious mental illness, whole,” Cassidy said in a release.
Twenty-nine members of the public spoke Wednesday night. Murphy and Delphin-Rittman engaged with many of them during the three-minute period each of them had to speak. Issues such as the negative perception that all mentally ill people are violent were discussed, as were issued with both in-patient and out-patient care.
“You get more instructions when you go home with a broken arm than you do when your son is mentally ill,” one woman said.
There are no more scheduled public hearings for the bill in Connecticut, Murphy said, though there will be a hearing in Washington in the coming months. The bill has a long list of endorsers including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Council for Behavioral Health, the American Psychological Association, the Clinical Social Work Association and the American Psychiatric Association.