Our Shattered Mental Health System
This Sunday, 60 Minutes did a powerful piece about Senator Deed’s son and the state of our mental health systems. Saturday we had the shooting in the mall in Columbia, Maryland. Weeks ago marked the anniversaries of the shooting that wounded Rep. Giffords (Jan. 8th) and Sandy Hook (Dec. 14th), and many others.
After recently being reacquainted with a friend who shared a horrific series of events that he endured as a child/teen, it is painfully obvious that we need to address our failing and deteriorating mental health systems, specifically research, to develop and use improved diagnostic tools to properly diagnose mental illnesses.
This friend’s parents had their child institutionalized between ages five and seventeen, at great cost, merely to be rid of him. The private institutions happily kept him there without any medical basis or diagnosis while receiving large sums of money.
The lack of substantive diagnostic tools to accurately diagnose mental illness and at the time, the lack of regulation allowing two private mental health institutions (in MN and IL), to admit and detain him for years with no documented diagnosis is inhumane and unthinkable.
There were no advocating agencies supporting patient rights, in this case the child, inappropriately institutionalized and labeled mentally ill, to ensure that he was being treated appropriately. Misdiagnosis, and/or, in this case, no diagnosis results in ineffective or inappropriate treatment, which further worsens the outcome.
Yes, we are better at diagnosing Autism and Asperger’s syndrome, which is an improvement, over institutionalizing sufferers and essentially mistreating or not treating them at all, but we are still misdiagnosing bipolar and unipolar disorders. If we had diagnostic tools that could actually verify a diagnosis, we would be able to detect, diagnose and treat more effectively.
We have fewer available beds today in our hospitals and institutions for the seriously mental ill and we are incarcerating many in our prisons. Fifty years ago, we began the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and we transferred much of the fiscal responsibility to the federal government. During the last thirty to forty years, we have seen it become a very costly failure, costly in lives and dollars.
The CDC stated the following in September 2011, comparing illnesses, “Mental illnesses account for a larger proportion of disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.”
We have too many instances of mass-killings, suicides, and a host of other violent acts that are perpetrated by people who have gone undiagnosed.
When we look at the shooting that wounded Rep. Giffords, and others, Sandy Hook, the attack on Senator Deeds by his son, the Maryland shopping mall shooting, and many others, and when these instances are discussed and analyzed in our media, they are done generally by young males who are not that severely ill. When further investigated, family, friends, educators and others may have seen signs, but they went unmentioned or not investigated. We also hear, often that they are over eighteen and that families may not be able to do anything because they are of age and they have not been a threat previously to themselves or others.
Something clearly needs to be done about an apparent epidemic of mental illness issues having profound affects on our communities and cities.
Regarding the horrific shootings in Sandy Hook, of Rep. Giffords, the attack on Senator Deeds, the Maryland mall shooting, and the others, it is not that they occurred, but that they were preventable, and we continue blindly, turning our backs on a shattered mental health system.