Senator Collins Speaks from the Senate Floor to Urge Support for The Mental Health Reform Act of 2015

“The shootings in Roseburg should serve as a wakeup call that it is past time for a comprehensive overhaul of America’s mental health system.”

  WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins spoke from the Senate floor this morning to urge support for the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015. This bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Senator Collins, would make critical reforms to address a lack of resources, enhance coordination, and develop real solutions to improve outcomes for families dealing with mental illness.
 
      From the Senate floor, Senator Collins stated, “Roseburg, Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, the Navy Yard – these mass shootings are examples of tragedies that our country has experienced far too often.  The common thread that runs through all of these acts of violence is untreated or undertreated serious mental illness.  The shootings in Roseburg should serve as a wakeup call that it is time, indeed it is past time, for a comprehensive overhaul of America’s mental health system.”
 
      Senator Collins highlighted the story of Joe Bruce, from Caratunk Maine, who “motivated by his family’s tragic experience” has become “a powerful advocate for mental health reform.” Joe’s son Will “had a history of severe and persistent mental illness,” but “his parents had no right to participate in his treatment or have access to his medical records,” because Will refused to give his consent. Tragically, Will, “in a deep state of psychosis” murdered his mother, Amy.  Now, Will is doing well because he is “getting the treatment and care he should have had before… As his father says, ‘ironically and horribly, Will was only able to get treatment by killing his mother.’”
 
      Senator Collins continued, stating that her “hope is that this most recent tragedy in Oregon will provide an impetus for the Senate to consider our bipartisan bill, which has been endorsed by so many mental health groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems.  Passage of this comprehensive, bipartisan legislation would help to jump-start the much-needed conversation in this country about how to better help people living with severe mental illness and to help their loved ones."
 
 
Senator Collins’ remarks as prepared for delivery:
 
      MADAME PRESIDENT, I am deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy that occurred in Roseburg, Oregon last week that resulted in the loss of nine lives and injured many more.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families, who are struggling to understand this senseless act of violence and are shouldering incomprehensible grief.
 
      Roseburg, Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, the Navy Yard – these mass shootings are examples of tragedies that our country has experienced far too often.  The common thread that runs through all of these acts of violence is untreated or undertreated serious mental illness.  The shootings in Roseburg should serve as a wakeup call that it is time, indeed it is past time, for a comprehensive overhaul of America’s mental health system.
 
      A serious flaw in our current system is that it is simply just far too difficult for families to get help for their adult children with serious mental illness.  Over the past several months, it has been my privilege to get to know Joe Bruce, from Caratunk, Maine.  Motivated by his own family’s tragic experience, Joe has become a powerful advocate for mental health reform. 
 
      Let me share with you and with my other colleagues Joe’s tragic story.  In 2006, Joe’s 24-year old son Will, who had a history of severe and persistent mental illness, was discharged from a psychiatric hospital, and returned home without the benefits of any medication.  Will had been advised that, without his consent, his parents had no right to participate in his treatment or to have access to his medical records. 
 
      Will believed that there was nothing wrong with him and that he was not mentally ill, which can be characteristic of some individuals with severe bipolar disorder or paranoid schizophrenia. Will would not consent to his parents’ involvement with his treatment, and, because he was an adult, his father Joe and his wife Amy were barred from all access to his treatment or his medical records. 
 
      Tragically, the fears that Amy and Joe had voiced to Will’s doctors that Will would hurt or kill someone came true.  On June 20, 2006, Joe returned home to find the body of his wife Amy.  His son Will, in a deep state of psychosis and believing his mother to be involved with al Qaeda, murdered her with a hatchet.
 
      Because of that tragedy, Will was committed to the same psychiatric hospital that had previously discharged him by a criminal court. He is now doing well because he is getting the treatment and care he should have had before.  As his father says, “ironically and horribly, Will was only able to get treatment by killing his mother.”
 
      Joe also introduced me to a group of families from Maine, who are part of a group known as the “Families of the 4%” – a reference to the segment of the population that suffers from serious mental illness.  All of them spoke of similar difficulties in getting the needed treatment and care for their adult children with severe mental illness.
 
      This group of parents are distressed, exhausted, and so worried about their loved ones. One mother told me that she had made more than 60 calls seeking help for her son whom she believed was dangerous. Another mother described her son chasing her around the kitchen table with a butcher knife. A few of these families had more uplifting stories because they had finally been able to get needed help for their children. One mother told me about her son, who is currently receiving treatment and is in stable condition after being hospitalized more than 30 times in ten years and spending time homeless and in jail. 
 
      Another father told me about his son, who had been hospitalized more than a dozen times but is now living in an apartment and able to hold a part-time job because he too is finally receiving the care that he needs.
 
      While millions of Americans suffer from mental illness, only a very small number engage in unspeakable acts of violence against themselves or others.  Yet many of the tragedies that we have witnessed in recent years—these mass shootings—might have been prevented had the proper resources been in place to support a timely diagnosis, early intervention, and effective treatment for those struggling with severe mental illness.
 
      That is why I have joined my colleagues, Senator and Dr. Cassidy and Senator Murphy, in sponsoring the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015. This bill is patterned on a bill that has been introduced by Congressman Tim Murphy, a clinical psychologist, in the House of Representatives. It will make critical reforms to address a lack of resources, to enhance coordination, and develop real solutions to improve outcomes for families dealing with mental illness.  My hope is that this most recent tragedy in Oregon will provide an impetus for the Senate to consider our bipartisan bill, which has been endorsed by so many mental health groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems.  Passage of this comprehensive, bipartisan legislation would help to jump-start the much-needed conversation in this country about how to better help people living with severe mental illness and to help their loved ones.

      This bill addresses one facet, but a significant and ignored one, of the problem of mass shootings.  I will continue to support other actions, such as the gun purchase background checks proposed by Senators Manchin and Senator Toomey.  I hope that we can come together to pass both bills to help lessen the chance that other families will have to endure the loss of a loved one to a mass shooting. 
 
      I urge all of our colleagues to join Senator Cassidy, Senator Murphy, and me in cosponsoring this important legislation to strengthen our mental health system, to help ensure that others in this country do not suffer as far too many families have done because of adult children suffering from severe mental illness. Thank you.