A bill that creates the legal framework for more care for the severely mentally ill has just gone past the House on a 422-2 vote. The legislation called HR 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act is now heading to the Senate.
It is relatively rare to see Democrats and Republicans agree on something, but the topic of mental illness, which is often hidden from public view due to the stigma associated to it, apparently needs emergency action.
The new bill was introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting where 27 kids lost their lives and two more were injured. The shooter reportedly had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The man was so obsessed with personal hygiene that he changed socks 20 times a day and washed his hands many times over.
Reportedly, his mother, whom he killed before heading to Sandy Hook, had to do three loads of laundry per day. Nevertheless, autism advocates argued that people with autism are not as violent a the Sandy Hook shooter was. Plus, they underlined that autism is a developmental disorder not a mental illness, as media had portrayed it.
The new bill won’t take handguns from the mentally ill, but it includes some provisions that can enable them and their families get help. For instance, health care providers who look after a mentally ill adult will no longer infringe federal laws if they share information on their adult patients with members of the family such as parents, siblings or spouses.
Although it doesn’t give the mentally ill free housing, the bill will boost funding to hospitals that host severely mentally ill people; it will also force states to pay for medication through Medicare, and raise standards in care for the mentally ill to match that for the physically ill.
The new law will also boost funding for suicide prevention efforts and police training to help officers deal with the mentally ill. States will also be encouraged to help mentally ill people who refuse medication.
The mentally ill will now have a voice at a federal level through a new position called assistant secretary for mental health and substance use disorders. The promoter of the law is Republican Rep. Tim Murphy who managed to persuade Democrats to back the bill as well.
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