Letter to House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight on Mental Health, Lack of Representation of People with Psychiatric Disabilities at Roundtable

March 14, 2013

The Honorable Tim Murphy
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Energy and Commerce Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Diana DeGette
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Energy and Commerce Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
2322A Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Murphy and Congresswoman DeGette:

I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent nonpartisan federal agency comprised of 15 presidential appointees and a professional staff, charged with providing advice to Congress and the President on disability policy. NCD’s constituency includes people with disabilities of all ages and disabilities, including those with psychiatric disabilities (mental illnesses). I write regarding the absence of the perspectives of anyone with a psychiatric disability at the recent roundtable held by the Subcommittee, and to provide information that we hope can be helpful to the Subcommittee’s ongoing work in this area.

Just prior to last Tuesday’s Subcommittee roundtable, “After Newtown: A National Conversation on Violence and Severe Mental Illness,” large numbers of people with personal experience with psychiatric disabilities contacted NCD to express concern about the exclusion of persons with first-hand lived experience with psychiatric disability. NCD contacted majority and minority staff of the Subcommittee, flagged the concern, and offered to provide suggestions of local individuals who could add this critical perspective to the discussion, and who were willing to clear their schedules to ensure their availability. Unfortunately, NCD was informed that the list of participants was considered final, although our insights would be taken into consideration in the future. NCD renews its offer to assist in this manner and continues to emphasize the importance of including people with psychiatric disabilities in any and all conversations about people with psychiatric disabilities.

In January, NCD wrote to Vice President Biden shortly before the gun violence taskforce made its recommendations to the President. In that letter, NCD highlighted the fact that people with psychiatric disabilities are more often the victims than the perpetrators of violence. In fact, a 2005 study indicated that even individuals with a severe mental illness are more than 11 times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than a member of the general public. NCD affirms its support for efforts to improve the quality, availability, and affordability of mental health services and supports.  The principal challenge to accessing mental health supports and services is the deep and abiding stigma that exists to acknowledging a need for and receiving mental health treatment. When people with psychiatric disabilities are excluded from important policy conversations about mental health care, that stigma is reinforced and perpetuated, however unintentionally.

NCD welcomes the opportunity to brief the Subcommittee on its findings and recommendations to the Vice Presidential taskforce and share information on promising practices. In short, our recommendations focus on greater investment in community-based mental health supports and programs. This shifts the existing mental health system from an illness/maintenance model to a wellness/recovery model and emphasizes peer-support. NCD cautions against any proposal that requires colleges and universities to outline procedures for the involuntary referrals of students with perceived psychiatric disabilities for evaluation and institutionalization. NCD reiterates that identification and isolation of individuals who have harmed others or are at risk of committing acts of violence must not lead to the unnecessary expansion of institutionalization, involuntary commitment, or forced treatment for individuals who do not pose such threats and who may benefit from mental health services and have a basic human right to make independent decisions.

NCD stands ready to be a resource to the Subcommittee as it continues to pursue policy paths to curbing gun violence and reforms to the mental health system in America. We thank you for your consideration of NCD’s resources and counsel.

Respectfully,


Jeff Rosen
Chairperson

National Council on Disability • 1331 F Street, NW, Suite 850 • Washington, DC 20004