US Representative Tim Murphy is a clinical psychologist, but his first experience of mental illness came long before he decided on his first profession. “I remember when I was ten or eleven years old, growing up in Ohio, there was this railroad track in front of the house,” he told us in Washington, DC. “And one time when the train was supposed to come, it didn’t—and all I saw was this light. I asked my Dad about it, and he said someone had escaped from the local psychiatric hospital and laid on the tracks.”

“How could that be?” he remembers thinking. “How could someone do that?” That formative memory and his years working in the mental health field have led to a political career committed to making change for people and families struggling with psychiatric disease. Congressman Murphy is co-chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus and sponsor of landmark mental health reform legislation, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which he hopes will bring real, transformative change to a broken system.

Murphy has not forgotten that childhood thought—”How could that be?”—and brings it to bear on the state of mental health care in the US, which he has called “immoral” and “embarrassing.” He is confident that his bill can work to address the problem legislatively-but he also knows that this issue is deeply personal, and that change begins with each of us.

People and families struggling with mental illness exhibit “courage under fire,” Rep. Murphy told the crowd at the Change Maker Awards. They face a complicated, confusing system—and illnesses that are so misunderstood and maligned that most people would rather ignore the problem. But the bravery of these families must be matched by our own resolve.

“That’s what we need to do when it comes to dealing with mental illness, to have courage,” he said after accepting the Champion Award. “To have the courage to say, ‘We will stand up for this. We will work for this. We will forget all the barriers that divide us, and see that this is something that must unite us.'”

Rep. Murphy’s thinking follows a clear line—from that speechless 11-year-old boy to the Pennsylvania psychologist all the through to the politician and Naval Reserve officer who treats patients at Walter Reed. “Mental illness doesn’t know income level, or race, or gender, or preference, or party,” he said. “Let’s work together.” We couldn’t agree more.