May 29--In light of mass shootings across the nation, mental health illness has come to the forefront as being a driving force behind some acts of violence, and as a result, Congress is pushing for a bill that addresses mental illness and services.
One response has been the Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 2646, by Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania. Murphy, who is also a psychologist with 40 years of experience, drafted the bill, which passed the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in November 2015.
"Mental illness doesn't know any political party," Murphy said. "Although it's a public health crisis issue, mass shootings get the headline."
The bill seeks to expand Medicare and Medicaid coverage for mentally ill patients by allowing easy billing for providers, more coverage for inpatient psychiatric services, and better plans when patients with a mental illness are discharged from hospital services.
But there is a part of the bill that may violate medical privacy of the mentally ill patient. The act allows a licensed mental health professional and an educational agency or institution to share medical history and substance use treatment records of the patient to an "identified responsible caregiver," if it's believed that disclosure is necessary to protect health, welfare and safety of one or more individuals.
Murphy argues that the "pendulum has strung so far" that to not let family members engage in the treatment process would only be a disservice to the patient. Prognosis improves dramatically when the family engages, he said.
Murphy also believes that more needs to be done on how society responds to mental illness. If a person is acting strange in public, Murphy said it's usually police officers who respond to the scene. And more often than not, they respond with deadly force. But outcomes could change if paramedics were called to the scene as well, he said.
Murphy agreed that homicides by mentally ill patients are issues that need attention, but focus should be put toward early treatment of mental illness. "Mental illness is not a causal factor for acts of violence," he said.
Patrick Jones, former Redding city councilman and manager of Jones' Fort on Cypress Avenue, said that his store sells gun safes so people are able to lock away their firearms away from children. But it's harder to keep the firearms locked away from adults, even if they have a mental illness, Jones said.
"The fact of the matter is, when someone is bent on doing something really criminal, they can do it," he said.
He said when people come into his store to buy a gun, they go through a federal background check that asks whether the purchaser has "ever been adjudicated mentally defective."
"At the point of sale in California, any person with mental illness is denied sale," he said. "We think that is a reasonable thing."
But Jones said laws can also have "unintended consequences." He talked about a customer he's known for close to seven years, who was taken in for a psychiatric evaluation by the Anderson Police Department. Despite being cleared of any mental issue, the man lost his gun rights, and now needs an attorney to help him fight the case, Jones said. In such cases, there should be a better response, he said.
He believes blame should be placed on irresponsible gun owners, who don't lock away their guns or seek help for loved ones with a mental illness. He added that gun laws are quite restrictive in California already, and legislatively, another "gun law won't fix the problem."
Here are responses to the mental health legislation from 1st Congressional District candidates:
REP. DOUG LAMALFA (R)
LaMalfa said the core issue of mass shootings has more to do with access to mental health services, not guns. It's why LaMalfa wants to expand on broadband in Shasta County, to provide people with access to telepsychiatry, which would help connect people via the internet to mental health professionals, he said.
When it comes to mass shootings, LaMalfa said going after gun control to address mental health issues is like putting a bandage on the underlying cause.
He agrees there is a "mental health problem" in the nation and the North State, and emphasized the need to look at symptoms early on rather than later "when things spin more out of control."
"We're finding that if they're getting counseling for deeper psychiatric problems, we're preventing a lot," he said. "If we're talking mental health, gun control is not going to solve that,"
But he believes Murphy's bill is a step in the right direction. "That could give urgency to it and give light on the issue without calling it a gun-bill," he said.
GREGORY CHEADLE (R)
"It's important that mental health services are funded properly," Cheadle said. "It's an answer, but it's not the answer."
He mentioned that mental illness must be treated like any other illness, and with the growing number of people who are afflicted, providing services for the mentally ill is a better solution than incarcerating them. His concern is how the money will be utilized at a district level. For the North State, he said there is a need for more therapists, clinicians and facilities to house people who need rehabilitation.
He said however there's no "magic wand" he can wave to stop gun violence and the breakdown of the family structure and influence of rap music are leading causes of gun violence.
"We're just experiencing a breakdown in morality in our society," he said. "There is nothing that government can do that's going to stop these people from doing wicked things."
JEFF GERLACH (no party preference)
Gerlach said he doesn't believe in restricting gun control based on mental health. "That's a dangerous slippery slope," he said.
He said drug use and homelessness are big issues in the North State, and having no mental health facility to house people for rehabilitation, only lands them in jail, and doesn't get to the root of the problem. He said if elected, he would allocate funds to the district to address mental illness, and that money would need to go where there is a need for service, not just where the Legislature thinks it's a "good idea."
"If we're getting funding for mental health, we need it," he said.
He said when he thinks about gun control, he thinks about population density. In places such as Oakland or Los Angeles, where population is higher, having a gun is riskier. "No matter where you fire gun, there's going to be damage," he said.
But he doesn't believe that's the case in North State, where guns are used for protection against wildlife, he said. He acknowledges that more money needs to be spent on mental health, but not at the expense of gun control, he said.
JOE MONTES (R)
Montes believes that in order to address mental illness in the area, there needs to be rapid housing available. "There needs to be more care for folks on the street," he said. "There are a number of them suffering from mental health or substance abuse of some sort, he said.
He speaks of his own housing project located in Chico, Stairways Project, which is geared toward a housing first model, he said. Currently he has 22 people in transitional housing, and 40 people in permanent housing. The staff helps secure housing and benefits. They provide support such as transportation, counseling, drug and alcohol treatment and job skills.
"The need for rapid housing is critical," he said. "That despair or lack of hope in the human heart can make people act out in certain ways," he said.
JIM REED (D)
Reed agrees that there is a serious mental health problem in the nation, but it's coming to the forefront because of gun violence. "That gives an incentive for people to do something," he said.
He said what's needed most is an early start. "If you get early intervention on something that's a mental health issue, it's more beneficial," Reed said. "The programs are insufficient, in my mind, but it's not as bad as the Southern states that don't deal with the issue."
GARY OXLEY (R)
Oxley didn't return a phone call for comment by Saturday evening.
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