The Ripon Forum

Volume 48, No. 1

Winter 2014 Issue

In this Edition

By on July 16, 2014 with 0 Comments

Every time there is a mass shooting in America, a predictable political storyline unfolds — Democrats and those on the left say it’s time to pass tougher gun laws, while Republicans and those on the right say it’s time to reform the way we treat the mentally ill.

The Democrats have been fairly specific in their policy prescriptions, whether it’s closing the gun show loophole or limiting the size of clips that are used in guns. Republicans, on the other hand, have tended to speak in generalities about mental health reform, leaving the impression that their specific policy prescriptions on the issue are vague and unformed.

This past December, Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18) introduced a piece of legislation that could help the GOP reverse that impression. Murphy has over three decades of experience as a clinical psychologist and is helping to lead the fight for mental health reform on Capitol Hill. His bill is based on two simple premises. First, the vast majority of mentally ill individuals are not violent. And second, those individuals who do have a serious mental illness require treatment, but are not receiving it under the system that exists today.

According to longtime advocate and activist DJ Jaffe, Murphy’s plan is also based on another fundamental truth about the issue — namely, that the problem America faces is not one of dollars. It is one of misplaced priorities, where, in his words, the latest “cause célèbre” such as bullying receives the bulk of the funding and attention while those who are most seriously ill are left untreated and ignored. We look at Murphy’s plan and this problem in this latest edition of The Ripon Forum with essays from Jaffe and the Pennsylvania crusader, himself.

We also look at the steps being taken to fight mental illness in the State of Wisconsin, where the Assembly has approved and Governor Scott Walker has signed into law a mental health budget increase and package of related reforms. As Assembly Speaker Robin Vos writes in an op-ed for the Forum, both the budget increase and reform package were passed with overwhelming support, reflecting not just the bipartisan nature of the issue, but the fact that those who have been affected by this disease come from all walks of life.

This includes the U.S. Senate. In 2003, Gordon Smith was serving as the senior Senator from Oregon when he received word that his son, a 21-year old college student who had been battling depression, had committed suicide. Over a decade later, Smith is spearheading a campaign as President of the National Association of Broadcasters to raise awareness and end the stigma of mental illness. He talks about this campaign in this latest edition, and also discusses what it means to be a member of the “fraternity of suffering” who have been impacted by the disease.

For what it’s worth, I’m a member of that fraternity, too. My older brother suffered from mental illness. He spent all of his adult life in and out of hospitals and halfway houses, or hiking the Appalachian Trail, where, in solitude, I imagine he found some relief. He was a gentle soul and the smartest member of our family. And yet his temperament was masked and his intellect lost to a disease that – 30 years after his diagnosis and six years after his death — we still do not fully understand.

We govern by crisis in America. It should not take another crisis – another shooting – to take action on this issue. To that end, we hope this edition of the Forum helps further the debate and, as always, we welcome any questions or comments you might have.

Lou Zickar

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