Sunday, April 6, 2014

Today's Mental Health System Is Insane

Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist with a track record proving that he cares for the least, the last and the lost, wrote an important piece that my home paper titled "Care for the Mentally Ill Is Moving in the Wrong Direction."  

His lede: The largest mental-health center in America, packed with thousands of people who have manias and psychoes, is a jail in Chicago. 

"Psychiatric disorders are the only kind of sickness that we as a society regularly respond to not with sympathy but with handcuffs and incarceration,"  he wrote.  And, it's true.  About half of our prisoners have diagnosable mental illnesses, and that includes roughly 75 percent of the female prisoners.

Some do commit serious crimes;  others are picked up in the justice system for petty offenses that stem from their illnesses.  Their behavior when paranoid or delusional is a ticket to arrest. About 40 percent of people with mental illnesses have been arrested at some point.  An African American friend who is a mother of a young man with schizophrenia is even more frightened of this, as she feels her son would be more likely to be shot by an officer.

Kristof raises a point:  Is it kinder to lock people up in a psych ward or a prison cell?  As Ohio, my home state, is considering laws that would make it easier for a mentally ill person to be hospitalized, I have to say that I believe hospitalization is better.  Putting them in jail is certainly closer to the vision of the past-centuries insane asylums.  We thought we were more civilized now, but evidently not.

To put people in treatment, we have to have places to treat them. If Ohio allows more forced treatment, I would hope we would build places and fund treatment.  The mental health system is beyond broken. It is insane.