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Congressional Hearing on Violence & Mental Illness - My Open Letter to Congressman Murphy

Posted Mar 06 2013 12:47pm
March 6, 2013
Representative Tim Murphy
Fax: (202) 225-1844

 Dear Congressman Murphy
 My name is Chrisa Hickey and I am a parent of four young adults, two of which are diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. I write a blog about Childhood Onset Mental Illness and moderate a support group of over 600 parents of children diagnosed with all types of mental illness. I was made aware of yesterday’s subcommittee hearing on violence and mental illness by my friend Pete Earley . I was able to watch the first portion of the hearing on C-SPAN , and will be able to complete watching it this evening. I wanted to thank you for holding this hearing and for your remarks in your opening statement. I do have three concerns regarding the hearing, however, that I wanted to bring to your attention.

In your opening statement, you state that you were there to, “listen and learn from those who have lived lives of fear, frustration, love and compassion: the families of t hose with children who have violent mental disorders.” My first concern is that, in your opening sentences, you link violence and mental illness, even though further into your remarks you accurately state that persons with mental illness are far more likely to become the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. You also failed to mention that persons with mental illness are far more likely to exhibit violence when they are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, and that persons with substance abuse issues and no diagnosis of mental illness have rates of violence at the same level as substance abusers with a mental health diagnosis. As I stated above, I have yet to view the entire hearing, but I am concerned that there was no discussion of substance abuse and its link to violence.

My second concern is that, as you stated, the subcommittee was there to hear from parents struggling to get help for their children with mental illness, yet when you invoke the Newtown tragedy, you failed to mention Nancy Lanza as one of the victims. Most persons with mental illness who act violently do so towards a close friend or family member, not towards strangers. But when we talk about Newtown, we scapegoat the very person we as a society failed – Adam’s mother. There have been numerous reports from her friends and family that she was trying to get help for her son, but ran into the roadblock so many of us parents face, namely, that until he demonstrated he was a threat to himself or others, there was nothing that could be done. If we are to remove the stigma of being the parent of a child with a severe mental illness – and believe me, that stigma is enormous – we need to recognize there were 27 tragic deaths last December, not 26.

Finally, I am gravely concerned that there was no mental health care consumer on the panel that testified yesterday. I am not sure how we can discuss what is in the best interest of the mentally ill without asking the opinion of persons with mental illness. Would a hearing about cancer rates be as valid if there were no cancer survivors testifying? Of course not. We talk about, as you stated, wanting to, “take mental illness out of the shadows,” but then do not invite the very persons we are trying to help. I have two teenagers, ages 17 and 18, who have severe mental illness and are stable. I have advocate for them in full view so as to teach them how to one day advocate for themselves. I cannot imagine deciding their treatment without their knowledge and input. I wish your subcommittee had given mental health care consumers that same respect, and heard their input on how they are treated by today’s mental health care and social services systems. 

Again, thank you for holding this hearing. It is encouraging to see our representatives in Washington, D.C. begin to hear about the experience of how difficult it is to help a family member with mental illness. I hope you will consider my suggestions for any future investigation this or any other committee has on the state of mental health care in the United States.

 Regards,
 Chrisa Hickey
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