In the nearly year and a half since I have been investigating America's broken mental health system — even with my 30-year background in clinical psychology — I have been shocked to learn just how much our country has failed those with severe mental illness.
Take Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old whose instability was known but went overlooked before he killed six college students and himself in California last month. Or take Gus Deeds, another young man who was in mental health crisis, but was denied extended inpatient care before he killed himself and stabbed his father, a Virginia state senator. There was Adam Lanzain Connecticut, Jared Loughner in Tucson, James Holmes in Aurora, Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard, and on and on.
Shooting Spree Inspires Call For Mental Health Reforms: Friday's stabbing and shooting spree in Santa Barbara has renewed the debate over how and whether to require people with serious mental illness to get psychiatric care. Many families and advocates for people with serious mental illness say the country needs to reform its standard for civil commitment, which allow people to be hospitalized against their will. Doris Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, said changing these laws could help provide treatment for people like Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old police say stabbed or shot six people to death near the University of California-Santa Barbara.??
All had untreated or undertreated serious mental illness. All were essentially known to the mental health system, had the benefit of early identification and intervention, and yet all spiraled out of control because the basic tools to help in a crisis were missing.
"The status quo is not just uncompassionate; it is inhumane."
While these are extreme cases, they highlight how our broken system does not respond until after a crisis when we could be doing something to stop it from happening. Even in the face of tragedy, we are too uncomfortable to acknowledge the facts because the last bastion of stigma in mental health concerns those with serious mental illness.
The facts are that mental illness is a brain disease, and, of the 9.6 million adults in this country with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major clinical depression, approximately 40 percent won't even receive treatment this year.
We have found it easier to focus both the discussion and public resources on gauzy programs for "behavioral wellness" and "emotional well-being" than to confront the painful reality that those with schizophrenia or severe psychosis are more likely to go without care (4.4 million), be homeless (250,000), be in prison or on parole (1.3 million), or are dead by or attempting suicide (1.38 million) than are in appropriate psychiatric treatment (approximately 4 million).