Creigh Deeds Introduces Mental Health Reform Bills After Son’s Tragic Suicide

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Former VA gubernatorial candidate and current state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D), right, hugs his late son, Gus, on the campaign trail in 2009

Last fall, former Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and current state Sen. Creigh Deeds’ son, Gus, stabbed his father in the chest multiple times before turning a gun on himself and committing suicide. The younger Deeds had been issued an emergency psychiatric custody order just a day before the tragedy. But a communications mix-up led the local community health board to falsely believe that there weren’t any psychiatric beds available for Gus — meaning that the troubled young man had to be sent home.

Now, Sen. Deeds has introduced legislation aimed at preventing similar tragedies in the future.

“I cry a lot. I can’t focus now and talk to anyone,” wrote Deeds in an email exchange with the local publication Recorder in November. “My life’s work now is to make sure other families don’t have to go through what we are living.”

According to the Washington Post, Deeds has introduced three bills — S.B. 260, S.B. 263, and S.B. 287 — that would collectively extend how long authorities can hold someone under an emergency custody order (like the one issued to Deeds’ son); establish a statewide, real-time registry for available psychiatric beds; and make it a felony to give a firearm to someone who is prohibited from owning one.

Virginia has cut funding for mental health beds to the point where the state has just 17.6 psychiatric beds per 10,000 people — which is less than 40 percent of the recommended minimum. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) introduced the Behavioral Health IT Act on the eve of the Sandy Hook shooting’s one-year anniversary. That legislation would make it easier to keep track of mental health beds nationally and establish a system of electronic records for the sickest patients.