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Newtown: What Keeps the Mentally Ill from Recovering in America?

In wake of the Sandy Hook murders, we need new, longer-term solutions to severely inadequate mental health services.

There is a new discussion of violence in America and a lack of mental health resources as a result of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. We wring our hands and say “something must be done” when a young man can unrepentantly open fire on 20 innocent, precious elementary school children, murdering them along with six school personnel and his mother.

I have a suggestion from my experience in talking with some of the leaders of grassroots mental health organizations. Let me give you the real picture of mental illness.

Michael was yelling and violent and had to be escorted into the mental hospital by policemen. On the intake form, the question was asked of his mother, Liza, “What are your expectations for treatment?” His mother wrote “I need help…This problem is too big for me to handle on my own” (Huffingtonpost.com).

I can’t count how many times I have heard this statement. Here’s how it goes: “My son/daughter is mentally ill and refuses to take their medication. They have no where to stay except with us. They are disrupting the household—my marriage, the safety and stability of their younger siblings, and there can be no peace. I love them but don’t know where to put them, out of my house, into care, where they can get help.”

Let me make clear here that not every mentally ill person has the capability of violence. Most mentally ill people are not violent. Also, not every mass murderer has a mental illness. We don’t know for sure if Adam Lanza had a serious mental illness.

There is an unfair stigma about mentally ill people that I don’t want to advance with this article. Most mentally ill people are simply regular people with an unfortunate chemical brain deficiency that needs correction--just like hypothyroidism or juvenile diabetes needs treatment.

During the ‘70’s, there was a movement to close mental institutions, and there was a mass exodus of mentally ill people back into normal society. Part of this mass release was possible because the medications got better, and many of the ill could go back and live independently. 

The image of mental institutions, whether right or wrong, was one of poorly cared for patients, all having involuntary movements due to older antipsychotic medications, that were beating their heads against the wall over and over again for no apparent reason. 

Closing these institutions had negative consequences. There are few options currently for the mentally ill. The parents of mentally ill children cry out every day, “Where can my child go to heal? What if he doesn’t get better? Where will he stay? What will happen to my child after I’m gone? Who will take care of him?” 

In our day, the number of beds in the mental hospitals has decreased greatly. There are precious few residential treatment centers and barely any mental institutions. The solution is not jail or the streets where many mentally ill people end up.

It’s great that society believes in and wants your ill son or daughter to be independent, expressing their American freedom, but the reality is that they need your care and help at their sickest! They cannot take care of themselves. They can’t hold down a job! Stop letting them out of mental hospitals too soon with the belief that they will be fine with simply a prescription and a pat on the back! They
need a place to stay other than these poor parents’ houses. Parents and relatives do not have the knowledge of trained medical and emotional professionals!

The suffering, we don’t hear. It is silent, ignored and underground due to the stigma associated with mental illness. We don’t realize there’s a problem until something tragic like Sandy Hook happens. Longer-term care solutions are utterly essential but budget cuts have made finding help worse.

Here’s my suggestion: build and invest in nonprofit “mental recovery centers.” These centers would be nonprofit and would be able to get grants and private funding. Wouldn’t you give to help alleviate the suffering of fellow Americans and improve the welfare of our nation?

In addition, the government would need to support these centers due to the exorbitant costs involved in restoring a mentally ill person to health. With our economy already under great strain, we cannot assume or expect that the government will be able to pull the full weight of creating longer-term solutions, however.

That’s why a nonprofit structure is so important. Having said that, wasn’t one of the original reasons for the creation of government to care for the disabled?

It takes time for a mentally ill person who has endured so much suffering to heal. A place to heal with access to a good psychiatrist, a good psychologist and a spiritual counselor is vital.

As my friend likes to quote from the Bible, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37). She likes to say that all three areas need healing: the heart, the soul and the mind, to be well. The mind needs the medications, the heart needs emotional healing, and the soul needs restoration.

There is so much hope for healing with today’s newer medications. The greatest barrier to healing is convincing the mentally ill person to take the medication. They often refuse due to unpleasant side effects, stigma, or agnosognosia. Agnosognosia is the lack of ability to recognize you are sick--they just don’t know that they are sick.

It’s time for us, as compassionate people, to alleviate the suffering of the mentally ill. It’s also in our interest to stop any damage a mentally ill person could do to themselves, family, or society as well. Giving them a stable place to heal, medically, emotionally and spiritually, would fill a glaring gap in service.

Right now, the mentally ill have no place to go after their brief stay at a mental hospital but to a relative’s house, the streets or jail. A life that has potential to be fruitful, should be fruitful. Jail is not a solution. It is an inexcusable evasion of the problem when there's so much hope for healing.

Give generously if someone is brave enough to build a “mental recovery center.” Many people have heightened awareness of the lack of services for the mentally ill from today’s tragedies, and I bet you it would get support. This additional time and place to heal could lead to an unfathomable number of people finding victory over their illness!

Most importantly, help a mentally ill person get to a psychiatrist. They need to rely on your help when they can’t take care of themselves or can’t see that they need help. 

Beyond this initial step, it is up to us, America, to provide them a place to go to recover. Support the desperately needed solution of nonprofit mental recovery centers.” Longer-term care is the answer to the problem.


© Anne E Rood. This article may not be changed or copied unless by permission of the author.



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Robin Porter January 03, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Hi Anne, Great article! In your next one, I'd like to read about a real-life example of a non-profit recovery center, or a blue-print of one through the eyes of someone who's starting one in their community. Thank you for getting the word out! Cheers, Robin
Mary DeGaetano January 04, 2013 at 03:47 PM
Kudos Ms. Rood! Your article is right on target. I am a retired Psychiatric Nurse of some forty years and I have witnessed the shrinking Psychiatric care in America. I worked in Psychiatric hospitals in Georgia, New York, Tennessee and Chicago in that period if time. The movement to close down all the longer term care facilities was the worst thing that could happen. In addition to that happening Medicaid and Medicare benefits for the mentally ill have shrunk to the bare minimum making it difficult to even get Outpatient care for people who don't have insurance. Even folks with insurance have had their benefits cut to the bone. This in a nutshell is the crux of the problem. Mental Health Care needs a major overhauling in both respects. Doctors and Psychologists get paid a pittance for taking care of Medicaid and Medicate patients and this needs to change as well. Thank you for calling attention to this Mental Health Care crisis. I pray something will change in the near future.
Rebecca Motasal January 06, 2013 at 07:03 PM
Thank you!!
Jana Spalding January 14, 2013 at 08:37 PM
To answer Robin, there are Wellness Recovery Centers all around the country. In some places they are called Drop in Centers, and they are often run by people in recovery from mental illness and/or addictions. People in recovery who want to help others recover are known as peer specialists. Centers that also provide medical treatment are known as Living Rooms. Locally each such center struggles because support services are not always reimbursed by Medicaid, Medicare or insurance. True health care reform in behavioral health would include reimbursement for support services, housing, transportation, career counseling, and outreach that will meet people where they are instead of requiring them to go to clinics. Local communities can do this-it is way more effective And cost-effective-than jail.

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