Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Predictable Tragedy

Why are people with serious mental illnesses roaming the streets untreated? According to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey:
The killing of six people in Tucson is one more sad episode in an ongoing series of tragedies that should not be happening. The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is reported to have had symptoms associated with schizophrenia—incoherent thought processes, delusional ideas, erratic behavior—and almost certainly was seriously mentally ill and untreated. The fact that he was barred from his college until he was evaluated by a psychiatrist would appear to confirm the nature of the problem.

The truth is that these tragedies are happening every day throughout the United States. The only reason this episode has received widespread publicity is because there were multiple victims and one victim was a member of Congress. Such senseless killings have become increasingly common over the past 30 years, starting in about 1980, when Allard Lowenstein, coincidentally a former congressman, was killed by Dennis Sweeney. Sweeney was a young man with untreated schizophrenia who had been Lowenstein's protégé in the civil rights movement. Congress was also prominently involved in 1998, when Russell Weston, who also had untreated schizophrenia, killed two policemen while trying to shoot his way into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

These tragedies are the inevitable outcome of five decades of failed mental-health policies. During the 1960s, we began to empty the state mental hospitals but failed to put in place programs to ensure that the released patients received treatment after they left. By the 1980s, the results were evident—increasing numbers of seriously mentally ill persons among the homeless population and in the nation's jails and prisons.
Over the past three decades, things have only gotten worse. A 2007 study by the U.S. Justice Department found that 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of local jail inmates suffer from mental illnesses.

A 2008 study out of the University of Pennsylvania that examined murders committed in Indiana between 1990 and 2002 found that approximately 10% of the murders were committed by individuals with serious mental illnesses. There are about 16,000 homicides a year in this country. Using the Indiana study as a guide, roughly 1,600 of them are likely committed by people with serious mental illnesses.

In Arizona, public mental-health services are among the worst in the nation. In a 2008 survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center, Arizona ranked next to last among all states in the number of psychiatric hospital beds per capita. If you don't have hospital beds and outpatient clinics to treat mentally ill people, those people don't get treated. Thus the tragedy was somewhat more likely to happen in Arizona because mentally ill individuals are less likely to receive treatment there. Although Arizona is the worst state, except for Nevada, in psychiatric-bed availability, there is no state that currently has enough beds for its mentally ill population, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center study. This tragedy occurred in Arizona, but it could easily have happened in any state.


Theresa Bruno said...

It disgusts me how poorly we take care of the mentally ill. For a time I worked as a librarian and the many homeless who came were clearly mentally ill.

If these people were receiving treatment, they most likely wouldn't be homeless. They could hold down a job, have a family and lead a regular life. Instead they were looked down upon by others because they "didn't have job!"

Of course they didn't have one! Seriously ill people generally cannot work and need our help. Until we start taking care of the vulnerable in our society, these incidents will continue.

The North Coast said...

You speak of something that has touched me personally.

I have had a number of acquaintances, and a friend, who suffer from severe mental illness, and who have usually been untreated or undertreated.

One woman neighbor of mine was murdered by her violent schizophrenic son, who there was no dealing with, when she told him that he would have to go to a halfway house. Another, a high school classmate, was let to be killed by pieces on the streets of St. Louis for 30 years, because she was too dangerous to live with without 24 hour a day supervision, but it took her elderly, ailing mother 30 years to get her institutionalized in a public institution, for she couldn't begin to afford the private ones- Bill Gates can't even afford those places.

You see, that's the problem. We have no money for public institutions, and even a rich person could go bankrupt keeping a loved one in a private one, for those places cost $4000 a day or more and health policies will not pay for extended care. So these people live on the streets, getting assaulted and raped, freezing and starving, assaulting others, becoming more deranged everyday until they do something like this, or until they jump in front of an oncoming el train or something.

The North Coast said...

I can add that I'm appalled at the disrespect most people have for those suffering from severe mental illness. You'd be considered to be a monster if you expressed the same contempt and dislike for those physically ill or disabled, that most people do for the mentally ill.

It's really much easier for a physically disable person to cope, as least as long as his mind is intact. But if you don't have your mind, which is the human's only means of survival, what do you have?

Julygirl said...

The first areas where Government funding gets cut are domestic social service programs. There is always money to fix up things for the rest of the world while our most helpless citizens go 'begging'.

May said...

Here is a post about St. Dymphna, the patroness of the mentally ill:

Stop the Genocide said...

this article presented the story in a more accurate way than mainstream media. But come to think of it, I recall, they closed down 2 mental institutions near my village. I wonder what happened to all the patients.

Pablo the Mexican said...

When I was a kid, you could tell all the crazy people. But you couldn't tell them much.

With the advance of the liberal agenda, the line between crazies and sane folk has gotten blurred.

Until he picked up a gun and started shooting, he fit right in with the skinhead rednecks that patrol the border "Protecting America".