Letter to Senator Bill Nelson from Jim Probert, PhD
August 20, 2016
The Honorable Bill Nelson
Dear Senator Nelson,
I am writing to express my hopes and concerns regarding passage of the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 (S. 2680). First and foremost, I want you to be aware the Coalition for Mental Health Reform—made up of disability, civil, and human rights organizations working with people with psychiatric disabilities—opposes incorporation into S. 2680 of any language from H.R. 2646. (This is unfortunately titled the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015.) While the vote in the House may create the impression that adjustments made to H.R. 2646 leave it now acceptable to all major stakeholders, you should know that a broad group of national cross-disability rights groups remains strongly opposed.i
I am a Psychologist at the University of Florida. The Gainesville Sun published my op-ed article opposing H.R. 2646 as a tragic response to many fear-based and scientifically inaccurate ideas about people diagnosed with serious mental illness.ii I am also an individual who has myself recovered after a diagnosis of serious mental illness. (I can tell you, my family does not support H.R. 2646.) The idea that we are biologically incapable of having or developing insight because of “anosognosia” is simply not supported by science. In fact, evidence from rigorous long-term studies demonstrates that individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness recover in far greater numbers than most people realize.iii Yet evidence also demonstrates that how many of us recover, and to what extent, is largely dependent on the kinds of supports available.
It is certainly true that public mental health supports have fallen into horrifying disrepair—as a recent Pulitzer Prize winning article about conditions in Florida’s state hospital system demonstrates.iv Tragically provisions of H.R. 2646 would subject too many suffering individuals--who have never been and will never be violent—to these kind of regressive conditions and misguided interventions while tearing down the kinds of programs which actually support recovery.v
In truth, I am also personally opposed to passage of S. 2680. It has been drafted without adequate input from the community of individuals who would be the most impacted by its passage—those of us who have been diagnosed with mental illness, who have recovered and who are in recovery, reclaiming our lives or working to do so. I would hope that Congress would support creating the same kind of lasting and transformational change brought by the American with Disabilities Act—by working closely with members of our community from the inception of any bill intended to address much needed mental health care reform.
However, seeing it as far less damaging to the lives of its represented members, the National Coalition of Mental Health Recovery itself supports passage of Senate Bill 2680--without any amendments from HR 2646.vi As an individual supporter member of the NCMHR, I would also strongly prefer passage of S. 2680--without any inclusion of language from HR 2646--over any bill which does incorporates provisions from that House bill.
I will be calling your office to follow-up this correspondence. Please be aware that I am available to speak to members of your staff about the realities of mental health recovery.
Jim Probert, PhD
iii - www.researchgate.net/profile/Jim_Probert/publications (Toward a more trauma-informed and recovery-oriented practice of lethality assessment and suicide prevention. Workshop presented at 2015 American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, GA.)
vi - www.ncmhr.org
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