Grad students take to Twitter to grill Sen. Murphy on mental health legislation

How future psychologists are advocating for issues that affect practitioners.

By Jewel Edwards-Ashman

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., one of the lead sponsors of S. 2680, the "Mental Health Reform Act of 2016," is hoping to get President Barack Obama’s signature on the bill to transform mental health care in the U.S. before the end of the year. According to Murphy, psychology graduate students could help make that happen.

During a Twitter chat hosted by the APA Practice Organization on Sept. 22, Murphy told psychology students that they can help push for the bill to become law by getting involved with advocacy. “Talk to your friends about the Mental Health Reform Act. Call your senator. Work for a candidate that cares about mental health,” Murphy said. The Practice Organization hosted the event as part of its Training and Engaging with Advocacy Mentors (TEAM) project to help education and engage graduate students in advocating for their profession.

Several of the students who participated in the Twitter chat are members of APA Graduate Students (APAGS). APAGS Chair Ian Gutierrez, MA, a clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Connecticut, says students can become activists even before they are practitioners by speaking out on issues like student debt relief and access to more training opportunities in integrated care settings.

“Our field is only as effective and impactful as the political system we live in allows it to be. If we don’t speak up for our profession and what we do, and the benefits we offer to society, nobody else is going to,” says Gutierrez.

Gutierrez adds that being graduate students gives future psychologists a “unique lens” into mental health issues on college campuses. “For a lot of college students in any psychological distress, very often they go to see a trainee in a mental health program.”

For the Twitter chat, Gutierrez joined other graduate students to tweet questions to Murphy on everything from how Murphy’s mental health reform bill would impact the way insurers respond to claims involving mental illness and whether there is a partisan divide on the issue. Here’s how the senator responded to some of the students’ questions:

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The House of Representatives passed the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016” (H.R. 2646), their  version of the mental health reform bill, on July 6. Senators on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved S.2680 on March 16, pushing it one step closer to a full vote in the Senate. Both bills envision broad reforms to the mental health system to increase patients’ access to care for serious mental illnesses and substance abuse, make more funds available for suicide prevention and expand monitoring and enforcement of mental health parity laws. 

The Practice Organization is advocating the enactment of mental health reform legislation by the end of the year, including provisions to broaden access to psychologists’ services. More information on the two bills is available online.