mental illness


In the United States, there is a large stigma regarding mental health issues. The Mayo clinic website explains this well.  However also implies that the age of stigma has passed.  It hasn’t. People seem much more comfortable saying they have diabetes or asthma than saying they have a mental illness.  For many years this has resulted in unequal treatment of mental and physical illness and in employment and insurance, but that may be changing, and it must.

An editorial in yesterday’s LaCrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune notes that:

[I]f we continue to let mental illnesses go untreated because of paltry insurance benefits and under-funding of public efforts at mental health care and intervention, we’ll continue to pay an escalating monetary cost — in law enforcement, in prisons, in emergencycare at the county level of people in extremis.

Last week, the congress and Obama administration passed new laws that are intended to bring equality to the treatment of mental health issues.  In a New York Times article, Robert Pear said this:

Insurers cannot set higher co-payments and deductibles or stricter limits on treatment for mental illness and addiction disorders. Nor can they establish separate deductibles for mental health care and for the treatment of physical illnesses.

Such disparities are common in the insurance industry. By sweeping away such restrictions, doctors said, the rules will make it easier for people to obtain treatment for a wide range of conditions, including depression, autism,schizophreniaeating disorders and alcohol and drug abuse.

Unfortunately, this may not be the case — at least not for everyone. The same New York Times author points out that:

The rules apply to group health insurance plans of the kind typically offered by employers. Federal health officials said the rules did not apply to the individual insurance market, where policies are sold directly to individuals and families. However, some states have laws that apply to the individual market.

Even if the laws apply to individual insurance buyers, it may not be enough. Robert Preidt’s article in BusinessWeek’s Health Day News from yesterday points out:

Fears about losing status at work and about confidentiality are among the main reasons that many American workers are more hesitant to seek treatment for mental health issues than for physical health problems, according to a national survey released this week by the American Psychiatric Association.

Very few of the editorials call for  what I think is equally necessary: equal and adequate treatment of mental illnesses in the prison system and administered by the courts.  Society’s destigmatized acceptance of mental health will take a lot longer.

I don’t know if an investigation will help, but I hope that there will be fewer suicides.  I bet that the recruiters feel guilty when soldiers they recruit end up dying in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Cornyn calls for hearings on Army recruiter suicides

U.S. Sen John Cornyn on Thursday formally requested congressional hearings to examine a recent rash of suicides among Houston-based Army recruiters, saying he believes the deaths demonstrate the enormous strain recruiters endure to sustain the country’s all-volunteer force. 
Or maybe they all have PTSD from being in the war in Afghanistan.
Four recruiters from the Houston Recruiting Battalion killed themselves between January 2005 and September 2008. All four were reassigned to recruiting duty after returning from tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. Recruiting has long been considered one of the military’s most stressful jobs, especially at a time when America is fighting two wars.

I write about prisons and prisoners a lot, so you might never know that it’s a really hard subject for me to write about, but it is. It’s not just numbers and statistics and information; it’s family. My mom is in prison, on drug charges, and would be much better off in a drug treatment program or in a psych hospital. But, like more than 1% of the adult population in the United States, she is in prison.

It’s even worse here in Texas, which leads the nation in inmate population. This is from Channel 10 in Amarillo:

Tougher state and federal sentencing is one of the main reason for the ballooning prison population. Legal experts say new laws will increase that population because punishment ranges are being extended every year. So people will get longer sentences. But some say it’s a problem that is much more deeply rooted in Texas history. For instance 1 in 9 inmates are of black males. With hispanics being a close second.

“Our system in Texas is absolutely broken that’s why all these people are coming out of prison now on DNA results. In 50 years we’ll look back and we’ll see our system incarcerated lots of innocent people. Former Texas Prison Board Chair Selden Hale said. Hale says he believes the numbers are more like 3 in one hundred blacks that are locked up and 4 and 100 hispanic.

I wonder if anyone really does want to change the current system.  Prisons are big business in the U.S. There is a private corrections industry in addition to the large number of federal, state and local jobs that revolve around guarding, feeding and monitoring prisoners. Someone suggested to me that prisons are our society’s way of NOT dealing with the poor and “stupid” among us.

In California,  

As the costs for fixing the state’s troubled corrections system rocket higher, California is headed for a dubious milestone — for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities.

Based on current spending trends, California’s prison budget will overtake spending on the state’s universities in five years. No other big state in the country spends close to as much on its prisons compared with universities.

And that does not take into account how many people are involved in each system. It’s even worse in other states:

Those states are (in order of spending the most proportionally on prisons in 2007): Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware. The state spending the least on prisons relative to higher education was Minnesota, where for every dollar spent on higher education only 17 cents was spent on corrections. The average for all states was 60 cents, nearly double the 32 cents spent 20 years earlier. Only three states saw gains in spending on higher education, relative to corrections: Alabama, Nevada and Virginia

This link allows you to

Click on a state to see how much its incarceration rate has grown, how its spending on prisons and higher education has changed, what proportion of its prisoners are drug offenders, and the racial disparity between its general and prison populations.

What does all this say about our society?  Nothing good.  Time for us to start thinking about people instead of prisoners, inmates or offenders.  Time to start thinking about helping people with drug problems instead of throwing them in jail for decades.  Time to start treating mental health problems instead of waiting until those problems lead people towards crime.  Time to start acting like a society instead of acting like prison wardens.

According to CNN, the man who took hostages at Hillary Clinton did so because of his “inability to get mental health treatment.” People in his town say that this has been a problem for a long time.

This country does not do enough for people with mental illness. There are not enough clinics, not enough hospitals, and too much stigma. Even in jail, there’s not enough help for people with mental health problems.

I hope that the government sees this as a reason to have more mental health care in clinics and elsewhere. But more likely they will use it as an excuse to just throw more mentally ill people in jail and not offer them any help at all.

Arrest ends standoff at Clinton campaign office

A man complaining about his inability to get mental health treatment held hostages for more than five hours Friday inside Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign office in Rochester, N.H., before surrendering to police. Police identified the man as Leeland Eisenberg. Five hostages were released unharmed. full story

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