'Musts' for Addressing Mental Illness

By Ashby, Hank | The Florida Times Union, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

'Musts' for Addressing Mental Illness


Ashby, Hank, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Hank Ashby

The tragic loss of precious lives in Connecticut points a spotlight on our nation's stunningly deficient mental health system.

Thousands of seriously ill people in our country are living in our communities without ongoing treatment and support. Many are homeless or are warehoused in jail cells.

In fact, a recent study cited by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that, "Nationally, the number of beds available in the U.S. is 28 percent of the number considered necessary for minimally adequate inpatient psychiatric services."

While mental illness can take many forms, the most serious include bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia.

Mental illness is not a result of societal breakdown or poor parenting. Further, these lifelong illnesses are not contracted by choice but are organic brain diseases similar to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis.

Severe mental illness affects and/or chemically alters and impairs that part of the brain that gives insight and judgment. Physical changes to the brain are observable in MRI studies of the mentally ill.

Many victims of serious mental illnesses simply do not have the capacity to understand and make decisions regarding treatment of their own illnesses.

SON DIED ON WAITING LIST

Our own son ended his struggle with mental illness by jumping from a high rise at age 25 while on a waiting list for comprehensive outpatient treatment.

If placement was eventually available, there was no guarantee he would agree to receive help.

Although as loving parents we did everything possible to get him desperately needed treatment, everywhere we turned the system let us down. By law, even severely impaired adult victims are not required to receive treatment.

Here are some 'musts' to provide appropriate care and avoid tragedies:

1. Make mental health care a core function of government, since the cost (legal, court, probation, hospital, substance abuse, incarceration, criminal and violent acts) of not treating those with severe mental illness is considerably higher in the long run. …

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