Help for the Mentally Ill

The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Help for the Mentally Ill


"Leaving the Mentally Ill Out in the Cold" by E. Fuller Torrey, in City Journal (Autumn 2003), Manhattan Institute, 52 Vanderbilt Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017.

When President George W. Bush's Commission on Mental Health issued its report this past July, hardly anybody seemed to notice. Maybe that was because of the endless platitudes that filled the report, suggests Torrey, a physician and coauthor of The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present (2002). Or maybe the report's political correctness put people off. But the study was at least partly redeemed by offering "a hint" of how to make progress.

The Bush commission's "aversion to unpleasant truths," Torrey says, was frequently on display. While calling for a campaign to "'reduce the stigma'" of mental illness, the commission made no mention of that stigma's chief cause: "untreated mentally ill individuals committing acts of violence," including 1,000 homicides annually, or more than four percent of the national total. Some 35 percent of the nation's homeless people and 16 percent of the inmates in prisons and jails are mentally ill.

The commission likewise emphasized the need for mental health "consumers" to choose their own treatments, ignoring the fact that 50 percent of all schizophrenics and manic depressives aren't even aware that they are sick. …

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