Mental health care underfunded in America

Lee McClelland

Violence has grown more prevalent in American society over the past 50 years. It is not uncommon to hear that someone has committed mass murder by shooting civilians in a public place; though it is shocking, the occurrences have become more frequent.

America hasn’t always been this way, so why this change? I examined the profiles of recent perpetrators.

The man who shot Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Jared Loughner, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and so was the Aurora, Colo. shooter, James Holmes.

Untreated mental illness is a reoccurring theme in these cases. Though Homes did seek treatment, he stopped going and weaned himself off of his medication, going through a noticeable transformation into a delusional state that led to the massacre at the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The National Mental Health Association released a report in 2003 categorizing mental health care in the United States as deficient. This organization rated Michigan as the most inadequate providers of care for the mentally ill out of any state.

In 1962, the federal government prompted states to develop community-based mental health programs and numerous mental health hospitals were closed in Michigan.

A licensed Michigan psychologist, Dr. Robert R. Walsh, has written about the effects of the closure of mental health hospitals in Michigan. According to his study, in the 1960s there were 19,000 patients being treated for mental illness in state mental hospitals. By 1995, there were only 1,600 being treated.

The community-based mental health programs are not doing enough, according to Dr. Walsh. They do not receive enough funding, and the service they provide isn’t adequate.

Without proper treatment, mental illness manifests itself in society in other forms than just higher funding for programs.

Dr. Walsh also noted in his study that between 1960 and 1995, the Michigan Department of Corrections incarcerated population grew from 9,622 to 40,510. This is due in part to harsher sentencing, but the Department of Justice estimates that between 15 to 20 percent of inmates suffer from mental illness.

Because mental illness usually affects behavior rather than physical appearance, people tend to associate diseases like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia with negative qualities.

People even use these diseases as insults by suggesting that someone whom is highly emotional is bipolar. This kind of collective ignorance places an even heavier burden on those who suffer from mental illness.

In Michigan, people have a constitutional right to receive treatment for mental illness. Article VIII, Section 8 of the Michigan State Constitution reads: “Institutions, programs, and services for the care, treatment, education, or rehabilitation of these inhabitants who are physically, mentally, or otherwise seriously disabled shall always be fostered and supported.”

While this is the right of Michigan citizens suffering from mental illness, many who seek treatment are denied treatment because they do not meet all requirements set in place by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), which is the primary text used by psychologists and insurance companies for the diagnosis of patients.

In community-based mental health centers, patients are often diagnosed in roughly 30 to 40 minutes, like an appointment with a general practitioner. Mental illness is not like a broken bone or cancerous mole in the sense that it can be easily spotted in such a short window of time.

Those that do meet the requirements to receive care are often given funding for medication and not the valuable counseling they need. For those who come from abusive homes, were subject to sexual abuse or live in extreme poverty, a prescription cannot erase the mental anguish of a hard life.

Like a cancer, mental illness can go undetected and spread through the mind of an ill person. It can consume them completely and end in suicide or a violent outburst.

There is no argument that can be made that funding for mental health care is too expensive, that the state or federal government cannot afford it.

Mentally ill individuals find themselves in prison or in halfway houses already. If they are not treated, then they still end up as a burden on the system. This is not their fault: it is ours.

According to a study published by the Michigan Association of Community Health Boards (MACHB), if the State of Michigan were to allocate more money for early-intervention care, then the state would save money in the long run.

Most of the funds used by organizations such as Pathways of the U.P. go to covering the cost of emergency mentally-ill cases.

The study pointed out that “In 2009, the average annual cost to the state per adult with an emergency status was $13,037 compared to $626 spent on adults with early intervention/moderate conditions.”

More funding for mental health care is estimated by the MACHB to reduce the number of mentally-ill individuals in jail by 30 percent and in prison by 15 percent by 2014, saving the state $5 million annually.

Mental illness can be debilitating. If you are suffering from mental illness, you should have access to help. As an NMU student, you have a resource right on campus that can provide mental health care and counseling—the Counseling and Consultation Services located in room 3405 of the C.B. Hedgcock building.

Advocating for mental health awareness and reform at the state level is a crucial step that Americans must take in the coming years.

Every American should have access to mental health care.