May is Mental Health Month, a good time to remember the ten million adult Americans who suffer from a serious mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Without proper treatment, psychiatric disorders put an enormous strain on affected individuals, family members and on society at large.
In the mid-1950s, state mental hospitals housed about a half a million people with mental illness. Many held patients against their will for decades in understaffed and deteriorating wards.
Today, most of those hospitals have been shuttered; the ones remaining hold fewer than 50,000 patients.
Taking people out of psychiatric institutions would have marked an extraordinary leap in social progress, if only it had been accompanied by a proportionate and continuing public investment in community-based mental health care. Instead, we now have a public system of mental health care that is fragmented and grossly underfunded.Continue reading…
“A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”
“Joe” has been on the streets now for two months. He’s 35, unmarried, and diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia since age 19. His illness is difficult to manage, even with regular medication, and Joe is subject to hallucinations telling him to “fight off the evil ones”. Like most people with psychiatric disorders, Joe has never been violent—but when his illness is not well-controlled, he can become loud and belligerent.
Despite his many tries at holding down a job, the economic downturn and his worsening psychosis have left Joe jobless and homeless. Joe’s family thinks he is “faking” his symptoms and they are “fed up” with him. They have refused to take him in or help him with his medical care. Joe has no friends willing to help him and survives on the streets by panhandling and dropping in at soup kitchens. The local shelters won’t accept Joe, because he is “too agitated.” Joe sleeps in alleyways, or, when lucky, in ATM stations. In the past month, he’s been beaten up twice by members of youth gangs. Recently, Joe was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, requiring daily medication and monitoring. Joe says he doesn’t want “charity”, and would like to work again, but doesn’t see how he can.
“Joe” represents many patients I’ve cared for during nearly 30 years of medical practice, and typifies thousands of Americans with severe mental illness. In my previous blog entitled, “The Libertarian Mind”, I posed this question: what is the moral responsibility of federal and state government to help care for people like Joe? I argued that the Libertarian Party platform—calling for the abolition of “the entire social welfare system”, including food stamps—is neither humane nor compassionate.