April 16, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Mental-Health Interest Is Personal for Many Lawmakers

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Barber’s approach to the mental-health issue in Congress has been shaped by his career and his experience as a victim of the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz.

Franken also noted that he had a late comedy partner who was an alcohol and drug user, which was “kind of a source of our splitting up” and that he had friends with addiction problems during his time on “Saturday Night Live.”

Beyond those experiences, he studied behavioral sciences in college and holds the Senate seat of the late Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone, who was a leader on mental health.

Other lawmakers focused on mental-health care can also trace their involvement to connections made before their service in Congress.

Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, D-Calif., who introduced the House version of Franken’s school-centered bill (HR 628), said her interest dates back to the 1980s, when she served on the city council, and to her later work in the state legislature. Napolitano co-chairs the Congressional Mental Health Caucus with Pennsylvania Republican Tim Murphy, who worked as a psychologist before entering Congress and is now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. That panel is looking into mental-health issues in the wake of the Newtown shooting.

For Alaska Democrat Mark Begich, the sponsor of the Senate version (S 153) of Barber’s training measure, much of his interest in mental health comes from his work as mayor of Anchorage. In an interview, he referenced a crisis-intervention training program provided through the municipal police department to help de-escalate situations in which mental illness is a factor.

The broad reach of mental-health issues probably will continue to bring voices to the discussion as Congress maintains a focus in that area. Stabenow said she has “yet to be in a conversation with someone and not have them tell me that a member of their family or a friend or someone that they know at work” is affected.

“I’m finding that this is something that we may not talk a lot about, but every family is impacted not only by physical illnesses, but mental illnesses as well,” she said.

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