Back in the sixties and seventies there was a major national push to “clean up” our state, federal and private mental hospitals. I remember some of that, although I was pretty young at the time. The media inundated the populace with lurid tales of forced lobotomization, over prescribing dangerous drugs, physically restraining “patients” and the supposed use of mental institutions as psychiatric and medical experimentation centers. As a result of those reports, congressional action was initiated which greatly increased the hurdles that patients had to clear to get “forced” into such institutions and greatly reduced the funding of those institutions based on the belief that fewer patients meant lower costs.
The end result has been a devastating social cost with our prisons now overflowing with mentally ill who receive little or no appropriate treatment, and huge numbers of mentally ill living as homeless individuals, unable to consistently exercise the life skills required to maintain the suitable economic and/or social status to live in a home or apartment. Many, many more live with family members who do their best to deal with their needs but who are ill equipped to do so.
The United States gets plenty of unearned and downright unfactual criticism for our national health care system, but one area of our system which is truly well below the standards of most “civilized” countries is the state of our mental health system.
If anything good comes out of the recent Tucson tragedy, I hope it will be a national conversation (a rational, intelligent one) about how we deal with the mentally ill.
Most estimates show that over half of the people in prison and over half of our homeless are mentally ill.
This is a national embarrassment and it should be something the new Congress tries to address.