Mental Illness, Civil Liberty, and Common Sense

The idea was to close the massive state hospitals and instead care for patients with mental illness in community settings that would end their isolation from the world and recognize their rights as citizens. When funded and practiced well, community psychiatry was an enormous success. But, sadly, the money saved from closing the custodial state hospitals was often misallocated to tax cuts and prison construction—depriving the mentally ill of adequate community treatment and housing. The result has been a broken American mental health “non-system” that overtreats the worried well and vastly undertreats the seriously mentally ill. Instead of 600,000 in state hospitals, we now have 350,000 mentally ill in prison and 250,000 homeless—because the vast majority is unable to obtain decent housing and access to treatment.

Funding for mental health continues to be cut by millions each year, long-term hospitalizations are virtually nonexistent, and many patients who desperately need short-term help are turned away because there really are no beds and no outpatient alternatives. This leaves them, and their families and loved ones, stranded without any recourse in a sea of neglect.

An all-too-common scenario in modern psychiatry is the person who can clearly benefit from psychiatry but receives no help because of unavailable access to treatment and/or too stringent commitment laws. If a (usually petty) crime is committed, often the only alternative is jail because there is no psychiatric treatment available in anything approaching a timely fashion. Occasionally, the seriously disturbed person will commit a major crime—one that could have been avoided had he received proper psychiatric care, counseling, and housing.

– Psychiatric Times

Read the full article here.