ASAN strongly opposes recently proposed legislation, sponsored by House Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA), which would cut funding for crucial mental health services and advocacy programs while expanding coercive intervention programs. The proposed act reinforces stigmatizing perceptions that people with mental illness are at increased risk for violence and would be a major step back for the rights of people with mental illness.
“Our mental health system today needs more respect for the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities – not less. Rep. Murphy’s legislation threatens to set people with disabilities back decades,” said Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The proposed legislation, dubbed “The Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act,” would eliminate funding for cost-effective, voluntary services that are known to improve outcomes for people with mental illness, such as peer-run services and family supports, while expanding funding for coercive service models such as “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT), which permits states to force individuals to follow a specific court-ordered treatment plan. The bill would also weaken privacy protections for people with mental illness and create a “gag order” preventing protection and advocacy organizations from counseling a person with mental illness from “acting against the wishes of such individual’s caregiver” – whatever those wishes may be. It would also prevent the nation’s protection and advocacy for persons with mental illness (PAIMI) system from advocating for systematic mental health services reform, including advocacy for more community-based supports and services. State protection and advocacy organizations currently play a vital role in enforcing the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. that states must make integrated, community-based services available to people with disabilities.
The proposed legislation’s focus on coercive interventions, and its targeting of organizations that protect the rights of people with mental illness, arises from incorrect perceptions that people with mental illness are potentially dangerous to others and that coercive treatment is the best approach for people who lack “insight” into their condition. In fact, after controlling for complicating factors such as substance abuse, people with mental illness are overall no more likely to be dangerous than people without mental illness, and are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Moreover, research shows that coercive outpatient treatment is costly and leads to poor long-term outcomes when compared with programs that provide individuals with the opportunity to make their own health care decisions, and the support that they need in order to make and follow through on those decisions.