Several deadly mass shootings are pushing mental-health legislation forward in Congress, with advocates and lawmakers citing a momentum for change they haven't seen for nearly a decade, the Washington Post reports. This month, by coincidence, leaders of five advocacy groups met with the head of a key House committee hours after a student opened fire at an Oregon community college. As pictures of the event flashed on a TV screen in his office, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mi.) promised to make mental-health reform a priority this fall. “He told us, 'We're going to work on this . . . Democrats and Republicans are going to work together,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president of Mental Health America. The politics of mental-health legislation have long been tangled up with the politics of gun control. With little change on the latter, advocates and congressional Democrats remain reluctant to have mental-health measures be seen as the sole response to escalating gun violence, partly because they don't want to perpetuate inaccurate stigmas about the mentally ill being more dangerous.
Headway has been stymied by disagreements over how to change the mental-health system. Families of those with severe mental illness want greater ability to intervene, including mandated treatment; legal advocacy groups emphasize prevention and early identification, better access to care and civil rights protections. None of it comes cheaply, with cost another hurdle. Two bills are the prime focus. Both are drawing bipartisan support. The House measure was introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a child psychologist. In the Senate, a companion effort from Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, is scheduled for a hearing next week, the first in the Senate since the school shootings in Newtown, Ct. Each bill would allow more Medicaid funding of mental-health treatment. They would fund more psychiatric beds in hospitals, establish an assistant secretary for mental health and amend privacy rules to help families get more information about a loved one's condition and treatment.