Washington (CNN) – Despite the impending anniversary of the Newtown school shootings and national pleas for more talk about mental health, serious reform efforts are struggling to get attention. Case in point: just a handful of reporters showed up to cover the announcement of a major mental health reform bill in the Capitol Thursday. (Read about the bill here.)
As three congressman stepped up to unveil their proposal, they looked out on just eight reporters and nearly 60 empty chairs.
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"I guess if there was a shooting announced this morning, more (reporters) would have showed up," Rep. Tim Murphy, who is the legislation's lead sponsor, told CNN. He noted that other things, including the sign-language interpreter for Nelson Mandela's memorial, were getting heavy coverage.
The Republican congressman from Pennsylvania is a clinical psychologist who launched a top-to-bottom audit of the mental health system in January. The result? His 135-page bill which would overhaul some aspects of mental health treatment. Several other bills on mental health have been introduced in Congress and similarly have seen few headlines. Murphy's office says his stands out because it is the only one to propose systemic changes in mental health treatment.
At the news conference, he was joined by lawmakers representing other key areas affecting mental health treatment: Republicans Leonard Lance of New Jersey, an attorney who specialized in municipal law, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a medical doctor.
Yet just two reporters asked the men any questions.
As the news conference ended, Murphy thanked journalists who attended. Why weren't more there? It was a busy day on the Hill, with votes in both the House and Senate. But Murphy thought the interest level had more to do with the stigmatized issue itself. "We want to pretend (the mental health problem) is not there, until there's a problem," he concluded.