Editor-at-Large As I See It:
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
In a day program I once attended, a consumer in a rage, hit another consumer with a cane. Many consumers expressed fright and fear during a specially called meeting. I asked, "What could be done?" A staff person, without batting an eye, said, "Prison is what is needed!" I didn't see that as an adequate answer, neither then, nor do I now. This heartless statement was made years ago, but those sentiments are now prevalent among the public and the media. Criminalizing the mentally ill is wrong.
What are the possible causes for involvement of consumers with the law? For a small percentage of them, they are regrettably violent; not taking their medicines is also a factor; paranoia another; taking illegal drugs also plays a large role. Those are some of the causes.
However, the majority of consumers are not violent. Instead, they are working hard, against great odds, to lead productive lives. Why are so many of the mentally ill falling through the cracks, into the pit of the criminal justice system? Because services -- particularly for vulnerable consumers-are inadequate for the problems I have mentioned, or are hard to find, or non-existent.
Some measures are being attempted, but resources are inadequate, and the problems are massive in scope. A large percentage of consumers are currently trapped in the criminal justice system, because the mental health system has utterly failed them.
My fears are that we have not seen the bottom of this ugly pit: It will swallow us all in one way or another. There is the grief of lost, wasted lives, lost friends, but most of all, there are the family members who must grieve now and into the future. This is senseless and needless; yet, it is happening.
Prisons are now hospitals for the mentally ill. This is the new reality for many consumers. But prisons are not treatment facilities. Treatment in prisons, instead of in psychiatric hospitals, is "cost effective," for it is much less expensive than in-patient care.
The mentally ill, however, deserve better than they are now given. "Well," I ask in frustration, "is this any way to treat the mentally ill?" This is an outrage! The mentally ill are human beings, but are treated as outcasts.
The treatment for mental illness should be taken out of the political realm, therefore, and put into the realm of daily human needs. After all, we aren't talking about repairing potholes. On the contrary, we are talking about rebuilding human lives. Politicians have no right of balancing one against the other.
Shame on the state! It isn't appropriating sufficient money to remedy this problem. The legislators are guilty of business-as-usual. Few show a conscience, and even less care.
Consequently, politicians don't respond promptly or anticipate the special needs of these people. When politicians return to the belief that this country's strength lies in its desire and ability to help those citizens that are in the most need of help, then we will start towards a humane and just society.