Salon had a great article about our mental health system last week that spawned some letters nearly as interesting as the article itself. Our Crazy Mental Health System by Marissa Kantor is an interview with author Pete Earley. He wrote the book, "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness." Anyone who's ever dealt with the mental health system in our country can relate to his frustration. I once watched an elderly client starving herself and her social worker said we could do nothing about it legally. We've decided that freedom is truly worth dying for if you're mentally ill. Too bad the severely mentally ill don't have the clear, rational mind any longer to make an informed decision. (Interesting, isn't it, that we don't think a rational 17 year old is old enough to make certain decisions for his or her self but a delusional 70 year old is?)
No, we'd rather see them in jail or on the street than care for them. Yes the old mental hospitals were awful. But more awful than being beaten to death on the street? Or freezing in below zero weather? And how long are we going to allow the failures of the past to stop us from trying to do it right?
But until we overcome our own crazy attitudes about mental illness, our virtual phobia of even discussing or thinking about it, we aren't likely to demand that our tax dollars be spent on solutions for the mentally ill. In our society, if you're sick you must have asked for it somehow. What a reassuring thought for those who still possess health. Until they lose it.