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How About an Infrastructure Program for our Mental Health System?

Jeff Campbell

Posted on February 15, 2018 13:41

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With the unveiling of the President’s infrastructure program, let us not forget the state of our mental health system, or the woeful conditions of many government run mental institutions.

Decaying facilities at Central State mental hospital in Virginia

In recent years, there has been much talk of improved treatments and facilities to care for the mentally ill, but far less in terms of action or results. While there has been some progress, our mental health system, remains underfunded, understaffed with outdated and overcrowded facilities, many built pre-1960s. So how did we get to today’s inadequate behavioral health treatment?  

For much of the early 1900s the mentally ill were viewed as simply weak or not having the proper spiritual guidance. They were, more often than not, sent to asylums where they were physically restrained and given treatments that amounted to torture and where lobotomies were often performed.

In the 1950s, new psychiatric drugs were introduced, including Thorazine, which was reportedly administered to millions of patients diagnosed with mental disorders to keep them calm. By 1955, there were over a half million people housed in archaic state mental institutions.

To combat the harsh conditions and overcrowded facilities, President Kennedy, a long-time supporter of mental health reforms, pushed through the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 that provided funding for mental health research, mental health professional training, and expansion of community-based programs to bring patients out of state institutions and eventually back into living productive lives.

By 1977, the overall population in state institutions had dropped to under 200,000 patients, and the facilities continued to age and deteriorate. In the 1980s under the Reagan administration, sweeping cuts to mental health services and funding were instituted, leaving the burden for mental health improvements largely to the states, but with drastically reduced funding aid. One of the end results was the loss of more than 40,000 beds in state facilities and more of the mentally ill on the streets, homeless.

The mental health system underwent continuing change and controversy in the 1990s and 2000s with the Supreme Court Olmstead ruling which attempted to give better protection and community-based treatment access to the mentally ill as disabled persons.

The Obama administration’s Justice Department Civil Rights Division aggressively investigated state mental health systems nationwide, and many institutions were downsized or closed altogether. During this time, with downsizing, closures and underfunded inadequate care, the prisons across the country continued to see a surge in the mentally ill entering the prison systems.  

With the latest statistics showing that nearly 20 percent of Americans have a mental health condition, that most still lack needed access to care, and that we have a continued shortage of providers and facilities, we need a coordinated comprehensive plan to finally bring our mental health system up to adequate standards.   

To be clear, I am all for rebuilding and caring for the ailing and outdated infrastructure of our country, but, let us not forget that we need more effort and funding in caring for the internal workings of our people and their families that struggle with mental health issues every day.

Jeff Campbell

Posted on February 15, 2018 13:41

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Source: KSDK

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