DANBURY, Conn. — When U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy wanted to push legislation he is sponsoring to overhaul the nation's mental health care system, he took his message to the people who work in the trenches.
Murphy (D-Conn.) held a Town Hall meeting on Monday at the Family & Children's Aid building on West Street in Danbury in room filled with more than 200 people — many of whom work in the field of mental health care for children.
"I'm just in awe of the toughest and most thankful work you do," Murphy said.
He was joined by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-5th District) and state Reps. Bob Godfrey (D-Danbury) and Jan Giegler (R-Danbury); local leaders Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Newtown First Selectman Pat LLorda; civic leaders Danbury Hospital President John Murphy and John Clark, president of Western Connecticut State University; and school superintendents Sal Pascarella of Danbury and Christine Carver of Bethel.
The bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act was introduced in July with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Murphy said in explaining his legislation.
“It’s time that the federal government start helping you, rather than getting in the way, and we're going to push as hard as we can early next year to move this through the Congress,” he said. “I have never felt more optimistic that we will get this done.”
Murphy, who also advocates for stricter gun laws, said the mental health issue has become linked to epidemic of the mass shootings. He cited the massacre at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012, when a lone gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators.
“There is more support than ever because of the unconscionable pace of mass shootings since Sandy Hook,” Murphy said. “The reality, as you know, is that there is absolutely no inherent connection between mental illness and predilection to violence. People who are mentally ill are much, much, much more likely to be the victims than they are to be the perpetrators.”
But he pointed out, the Sandy Hook shooter and his family were not well-served by the mental health system.
Murphy's bill looks to integrate physical and mental health care; establish funding for early intervention; add research funding; create a new assistant secretary position in the Department of Health and Human Services devoted to the issue; correct the fragmentation of care; and add treatment options, including more inpatient and outpatient slots.
"The need is now greater than ever," Esty told the crowd. "Sen. Murphy's Act is so needed to overhaul our mental health system, to modernize it, overhaul it, fund it, destigmatize it."
Murphy and Esty said they hope a vote will be held on the Act before the presidential elections in 2016.