Imagine the federal government holding conversations about your privacy - except yours is the only voice not at the table. This is what people with psychiatric disabilities are facing as the House Energy & Commerce Oversight Subcommittee takes up the issue of mental health and privacy rights under HIPAA.
Rep. Tim Murphy, Chair of the House Energy & Commerce Oversight Subcommittee, is holding a hearing this Friday to try and argue that the HIPAA protections that protect the privacy of people seeking mental health services are unnecessary and a threat to public safety. Regrettably, Chairman Murphy has a history of threatening the rights of Americans with psychiatric disabilities. This Friday’s hearing is a continuation of a roundtable Rep. Murphy organized last month to try and showcase the inaccurate idea that people with psychiatric disabilities are more likely to commit violent crimes. Although empirical evidence shows no such link between psychiatric disabilities and violence, the roundtable made no acknowledgement of this simple fact. Furthermore, of all of the many witnesses called to testify, not a single person with a psychiatric disability was invited to share their perspective.
When a caller on C-SPAN's Washington Journal program asked Rep. Murphy to explain his rationale for excluding the voices of people with psychiatric disabilities from the witness panel, he dismissed the need for the voices of people with disabilities themselves, claiming they would be incapable of testifying and that the most important conversation is one about parents and families’ experiences!
There is a time and a place for discussing improvements to the availability and quality of mental health services. A conversation about violent crime is not that time nor that place. It is inexcusable for public officials to use public safety as justification for an attack on the civil rights of an already marginalized and stigmatized population. Tell Chairman Murphy and Ranking Member DeGette of the House Energy & Commerce Oversight Subcommittee that the disability rights principle of "Nothing About Us, Without Us!" apply in mental health policy too. Don't let our voices be forgotten.
Furthermore, I am deeply concerned by the lack of inclusion of people with psychiatric disabilities themselves in this conversation. The principle of "Nothing About Us, Without Us!" is core to the disability rights movement. It is imperative that people with psychiatric disabilities are able to enjoy the same right to speak on their own behalf as any other minority group. I urge you to reconsider the focus of your efforts on mental health policy and to include people with psychiatric disabilities in the conversation about their needs.