News Releases

Murray highlights story from Olympia, WA and discusses priorities for strengthening our mental health care system 

Murray: “…the mental health crisis in our country is a challenge that we cannot afford to ignore.”

(Washington, D.C.)Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and mental health experts, providers and advocates, at a Mental Health Summit to raise awareness and build momentum to fix our country’s broken mental health care system. In her remarks, Murray outlined key priorities including strengthening our mental health care workforce, better integrating primary care with mental health care, prioritizing crisis response, and breaking down the stigma associated with mental illness. Murray also told the story of a constituent from Olympia, Washington, which highlights the many barriers families face when trying to help their loved ones get the treatment they need.

Murray has been working alongside her Senate colleagues and others to introduce bipartisan legislation to help ensure patients and families receive the quality care they need to combat mental illness. The bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, passed unanimously out of the HELP Committee on March 16, 2016.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

“I’ve heard so many stories, from families in my home state and across the country…One that really stood out to me is Jenny’s. Jenny is a constituent of mine from Olympia. She was seven months pregnant when her husband began having psychotic episodes. She and her husband had health care coverage—but still, as they tried to help him get treatment, they were left in waiting rooms for hours on end, were cycled in and out of emergency rooms, and were sent home from hospitals without information Jenny felt she needed in order to care for him. Jenny remembers how clear the contrast was between the coordinated, team-based health care she received as an expecting mother, and the disjointed patchwork that she and her husband faced trying to treat his mental illness. Jenny had her baby early while her husband was in in-patient care. He wanted to go home and was released. Tragically, Jenny found him the next day having taken his own life.”

“Unfortunately, Jenny’s story is just one of many that show how too often, our mental health care system lets people fall through the cracks. Today, nearly one in five people in our country experience mental illness in a given year. And far too many of them don’t receive treatment when they need it. In fact, there is on average nearly a decade between someone showing signs of mental illness and getting treatment. Suicide is the second highest cause of death for those ages 15 through 34. And nearly a quarter of the state prison population has struggled with mental illness. These statistics—and the stories like Jenny’s across the country that they represent—demand action.”

“I’m very proud that the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 would take important steps forward on each of these issues, and would help give more patients and families the opportunity to live healthy, fulfilling lives. And I’m going to be fighting hard…to get this bill to the floor and keep working till mental health reform is on the President’s desk and signed into law.”

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks: 

“Thank you, everyone, for being here—it’s great to be with you today.

“I want to start by expressing my appreciation for the leadership of Senators Murphy and Cassidy.

“They’ve done so much to raise awareness and build momentum toward fixing our broken mental health system—and I’m very grateful for everything they’ve done.

“In addition, I want to thank Chairman Alexander for his leadership throughout our bipartisan work on mental health reform in the HELP Committee.

“I know we are all going to keep working hard on this together—because the mental health crisis in our country is a challenge that we cannot afford to ignore.

“I’ve heard so many stories, from families in my home state and across the country, about the barriers they’ve faced in trying to help loved ones, friends, and neighbors get the treatment they need.

“One that really stood out to me is Jenny’s.

“Jenny is a constituent of mine from Olympia.

“She was seven months pregnant when her husband began having psychotic episodes.

“She and her husband had health care coverage—but still, as they tried to help him get treatment, they were left in waiting rooms for hours on end, were cycled in and out of emergency rooms, and were sent home from hospitals without information Jenny felt she needed in order to care for him.

“Jenny remembers how clear the contrast was between the coordinated, team-based health care she received as an expecting mother, and the disjointed patchwork that she and her husband faced trying to treat his mental illness.

“Jenny had her baby early while her husband was in in-patient care. He wanted to go home and was released.

“Tragically, Jenny found him the next day having taken his own life.

“Unfortunately, Jenny’s story is just one of many that show how too often, our mental health care system lets people fall through the cracks.

“Today, nearly one in five people in our country experience mental illness in a given year. And far too many of them don’t receive treatment when they need it.

“In fact, there is on average nearly a decade between someone showing signs of mental illness and getting treatment. Suicide is the second highest cause of death for those ages 15 through 34.

“And nearly a quarter of the state prison population has struggled with mental illness.

“These statistics—and the stories like Jenny’s across the country that they represent—demand action.

“There are a few challenges I am focused on in particular.

“I believe we need to strengthen our mental health care workforce—because right now half of all U.S. counties don’t have a single psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker.

“We also need to treat the whole patient by ensuring that primary care is integrated with mental health care—because often, patients that seek care for serious mental may also need primary care, and vice versa.

“And as we work to improve detection and treatment of mental illness, we need to prioritize crisis response.

“I’ve heard too many stories of patients with mental illness held for days and weeks in emergency rooms—or even solitary confinement—waiting for treatment. That’s simply unacceptable.

“Communities need the resources to respond quickly and appropriately when someone is clearly in or approaching crisis. Because without those resources, intervention comes too late, or not at all.

“Suicide prevention must also be a priority—I have been especially concerned about the high rate of suicide among our veterans and among other vulnerable populations. For example, recent students show that young adults from tribal communities are especially at risk.

“And finally, we have to acknowledge that in order to confront the challenges I’ve just laid out, and many others within our mental health system,  we have to break down the barriers that stigma creates for those suffering from mental illness.

“That means prioritizing research that helps enhance our understanding of, and ability to effectively treat, mental illnesses, and it also means raising awareness so that those struggling don’t feel they have to struggle alone.

“I’m very proud that the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 would take important steps forward on each of these issues, and would help give more patients and families the opportunity to live healthy, fulfilling lives. 

“And I’m going to be fighting hard—as I know Senators Murphy, Cassidy, and Alexander will—to get this bill to the floor and keep working till mental health reform is on the President’s desk and signed into law.

“I want to close by thanking all of you in this room for the work you’ve done.

“Your work to keep the pressure on here in Congress—and make sure the voices of families and communities struggling with mental illness are heard—has made all the difference.

“And now that we’ve gotten this far—we’re going to need you more than ever.

“It won’t be easy—because nothing in Congress ever is!—but we’ll keep fighting with you, and together I’m confident that we can get this done and help so many of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones.

“Thank you again, and I look forward to our continued work together.”

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