Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Impassioned father advocates reforms in mental health care

There was an interview published today in the Palo Alto Daily News with Pete Earley, the author of a new book called, "Crazy." He uses that word to describe our system in dealing with and treating mental illness.
Earley became intimately familiar with what he calls "America's mental health madness" after his son had a bipolar disorder breakdown during college — and ended up charged with a crime.

Just about anyone who has ever had a family member with severe mental illness knows just how stupid and heartless our system is. The result, very often, is tragic, as the story (I write about below) from Boston, today, demonstrates.

This snippet of the interview is spot on:
Q: How difficult is it to find help for a person with mental illness?

A: We know how to help most people with mental illnesses, but we simply are not doing it. Many of the solutions are cost-effective, and would save us money. Instead, we have a system that only responds when there is a crisis, and forces people into emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and jails and prisons — which are costly and ineffective.

Q: What reforms are needed?

A: We need to re-examine civil rights laws that require a person to become dangerous before we can help them. Involuntary commitment laws that require "imminent danger" ignore that a person can be very, very sick and harmless. This results in people who are psychotic roaming our streets, helpless. It also results in people becoming dangerous because they are not being treated.

We need to offer persons with severe mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, access to services that are based on their individual needs. For some it may mean access to jobs and housing, and for others, access to clubhouses and places where they can socialize. Along with affordable medications, these programs help a person recover and rejoin society. Some 20 percent of persons are not helped by medication and remain ill — even if they receive services. We must find a way to help these people live dignified lives and not abandon them on our streets.

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