Advocates received a sober reminder a few weeks ago that many in Congress involved in mental health reform efforts still all too quickly fall into the fatal trap of "us versus them."
Reacting to a sign-on letter from the Center for Democracy and Technology opposing HIPAA changes in Rep. Tim Murphy's mental health bill (H.R. 2646), Murphy's Chief of Staff, Susan Mosychuk outlined the Congressman's strategy for addressing dissent with stark clarity. In an interview with Politico, Mosychuk is quoted saying, "Those who oppose the reform [HR 2646] are 'the enemy'. I challenge anyone opposing this life-saving reform to talk to someone who loves and cares for an adult family member experiencing schizophrenia."
Those who provide mental health services at the local level will tell you that describing mental health providers with different viewpoints as the "enemy" is a quick recipe for community-wide failure. For many years, I have had the opportunity to visit communities across America deeply involved in working to create service delivery systems that honor both the needs of a community and the individuals and families seeking services. It is a complicated dance, but those communities that do well share in their commitment to honor difference, create opportunities for dialogue and challenge gross generalizations about what works or what does not.
Members of Congress involved in discussions about mental health reform would do well to keep this in mind as they move forward in creating mental health legislation. If they are sincere in wanting to do what is best for families (and I believe that they are), then there is no place for making broad statements that effectively say that any disagreement with "reform" (as they define it), puts you in the camp of "the enemy."
I expect more from our elected leaders. If Congressman Murphy wants to be a champion of mental health reform, the only way to do so is to abandon the bullying tactics utilized in the creation of the original Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. Our task as advocates and politicians involved in the creation of a successful mental health reform bill is to approach difference with respect and a willingness to listen.