Saturday, July 25, 2015
OUR NATION'S FAILING MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM: DO OUR POLITICANS REALLY CARE?
For years our media has been consumed with tragic stories of mass shootings and other horrific crimes committed not by hardened criminals but by emotionally disturbed individuals who have fallen through the ever-widening gaps that exist in our nation's mental health system. Since the onset of Reaganomics in California, when as Govenor he was able to initiate the dismantling of the state-operated hospitals for the mentally and emotionally-disabled here, there has been a nation-wide pattern of closing, under-funding, and otherwise weakening what had previously been one of the world's premier mental health systems. We now almost daily read about the results of our failing mental health system. Shootings committed by the person next door that neighbors may have thought to be a little strange but no real problem, only his or her family or closest friends knew of the emotional or behavioral problems that were problematic but resistant to any treatment attempts; homeless people, often reduced to begging on the streets, the majority of which have emotional disturbances but lack the capacity or resources to find effective help; jails and prisons which are increasingly housing people whose emotional needs were paramount in triggering legal infractions but found no accessible avenues for dealing with those needs short of breaking the law; veterans returning from combat experiences anyone would have difficulty accepting, finding the drugs and therapy the VA offered to deal with their PTSD being delayed, inadequate, and poorly monitored and sustained; and young people in urban areas leaving high school poorly prepared for being productive, being unemployed or underemployed, depressed over the lack of positive options, alienated, often prone to affiliating with gangs or other dead-end avenues. The systematic decline in our mental health system has been going on for at least 35 years, beginning slowly at first, accelerating rapidly during more recent years. The results are all too obvious, but do our political leaders REALLY care? If they do, where is the evidence? With each tragedy they are quick to express their sorrow and dismay, but has ANY effective action resulted? Mental hospitals are still closed, jails are increasing housing mentally disturbed people, not hardened criminals, community mental health services are still being underfunded, services denied or referred to privately-funded clinics for those with the ability to pay. The visible efforts are all in the direction of providing more security within our communities in the attempt to prevent the tragedies, but the real cause, the increasing incidence of people developing serious mental and emotional problems that are not being attended to effectively in the early stages and as they grow in severity, is being ignored. A "perfect storm" is created by the ready availability of guns, including assault weapons, in our nation combined with the acceleration in the number of emotional disturbed individuals on the streets of our communities. Since politicians have been unwilling or unable to restrict the easy access to guns, the remaining option is to deal more proactively with the emotionally distraught. Families are typically not able to deal with the emotional concerns of their loved ones, it becomes a community and a societal problem. Politicians closed the hospitals, reduced funding for services and half-way houses offering therapeutic treatment, eliminated the early warning network that is essential to effective intervention. They have the power to restore the needed system. But where are they? It is, after all, a problem that obviously effects all of us, just as much as the foreign threats our politicians are so quick to address with ready funding and manpower. Isn't it time our leaders express more than sympathy and regret? One would hope so. Enough of the kind words, time for action!