Spotlight on treatment of serious mental illness

APA convention program featuring Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., highlights reforms intended to address the urgent needs of children and adults with serious mental illness.

“We live in a crisis-oriented [mental health] system where you have to be in crisis to be treated,” Congressman and psychologist Tim Murphy, PhD, R-Pa., told attendees at a symposium during the August 2014 APA Convention in Washington, D.C. The federal government’s approach to mental health care thus far has been chaotic and ineffective, said Murphy, who has taken the lead in the U.S. Congress on addressing serious mental illness in this country.

Entitled “Envisioning Services for People with Serious Mental Illness,” the convention program was sponsored by the APA Task Force on Serious Mental Illness/Severe Emotional Disturbance (SMI/SED) and APA Div. 18, Psychologists in Public Service. In addition to Rep. Murphy, the session featured Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services of Philadelphia, and moderator Susan L. McCammon, PhD, Department of Psychology, East Carolina University, and chair of the APA Task Force on SMI/SED. 

The session provided an opportunity for attendees to hear about the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 3717), comprehensive mental health reform legislation intended to help fix this crisis-based system and benefit people with serious mental illness by focusing programs and resources on care for patients and families who need it most. Sponsored by Rep. Murphy, HR 3717 was introduced in December 2013 and has 96 bipartisan cosponsors in the House. 

Taking a public health approach to mental health care shifts thinking to how we can keep people well, says Evans. Both Rep. Murphy and Dr. Evans discussed pathways forward to providing appropriate and effective mental health services for children and adults with serious mental illnesses. 

Rep. Murphy and Dr. Evans presented data and ideas on an array of issues such as involuntary outpatient commitment, treatment adherence and interventions for people lacking insight into their disorder (also known as anosognosia), the role of federal mental health programs, the availability of psychiatric beds and community services for individuals in acute mental health distress, and family and caregiver access to information relating to education and health care privacy laws.

Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA Executive Director for Professional Practice (left) with Congressman and psychologist Tim Murphy, PhD (R-PA).

APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, (left) with Congressman and psychologist Tim Murphy, PhD, R-Pa.

“We applaud Congressman Murphy for his strong leadership on mental health issues,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA executive director for Professional Practice. “We are committed to working with Congress to enact legislation that supports evidence-based mental health practices across the lifespan and promotes early intervention, treatment, rehabilitation and recovery.” 

APA and the APA Practice Organization both recognize the importance of comprehensive reforms to address the urgent needs of children and adults with serious mental disorders.

In addition to HR 3717, Rep. Murphy is the lead sponsor of bipartisan legislation that would make psychologists eligible for incentives to adopt health information technology (HIT), the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (HR 2957). This extension of funding eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid HIT to psychologists is also included in the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. 

For more information on HR 3717 or other federal legislative and policy issues, contact APAPO’s government relations office by phone at (202) 336-5889 or by email.