We have never managed the mentally ill
When Ronald Reagan emptied the asylums, not a few people thought that was a good thing. State mental institutions were poorly run, poorly funded, and scandal-ridden. Stories of abuse were compounded by experts who came to the conclusion that mental health could not happen in this environment. For the most part, they were right. We were warehousing a problem that we could not solve.
A pill to fix everything
The pharmaceutical revolution promised mental health in a bottle, and the whole nation bought into the dream. But it was just that. Deinstitutionalization became a national movement. Thousands of people who clearly in need of supervision were released. It was a catastrophe. They now live on the streets.
Crime on the streets
Almost as soon as mental patients were released into the general population, horrific stories about them began to proliferate. Un-managed and un-medicated, they became victim and prey on the streets of big cities everywhere. The problem has persisted for so long that police departments try to avoid them, unless forced to act. The mentally ill are well-known in hospital emergency rooms. They swamp social services. In effect, society has pretty much given up on them. Until they make trouble.
The new asylums
If you watch an episode of the popular MSNBC series ‘Locked Up’, you are for the most part watching the mentally ill. The final solution is to use our prisons to warehouse the mentally ill. Our prisons have become the new way to control a population that has never been effectively controlled. And since a lot of our prisons are now commercial ventures, we have created a new and profitable method of dealing with the problem. Profitable for the companies that manage these new institutions. We now spend more than ever before. The warehouses are now more expensive, and more dangerous for the mentally ill.
Mental health care is saddled with two problems: It’s expensive and inaccessible. A 2012 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that more than 18 percent of American adults suffered from some form of mental illness in the past year.