Where Is the Outrage for the Mentally Ill?

Each week seems to bring another outrage to Americans. Last year, we were outraged by the treatment of immigrants–of locking children in cages. A few years before that was the “me too” movement. Practically every woman in the U.S. had a “me too” story, and we were–understandably–collectively outraged. 

Most recently, Americans have voiced their outrage about the treatment of Black people by police. And rightly so. These police killings are unjust and indefensible. 

But there is another group who is discriminated against, marginalized, mistreated and misunderstood–yet no one seems to care. Few people express outrage–or even concern– except their families. 

For those with first-hand knowledge of brain illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia–the public’s ambivalence is baffling. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed in a police altercation. And nearly a quarter of people killed by police had mental illnesses. Yet no one marches for them.

Though the deaths of Daniel Prude and the 13-year-old boy with autism–whose families called police because of a mental health crisis–were covered widely in the media, the headlines largely centered on race and autism, not mental illness.  

We need a national conversation about how we treat people with mental illness. If a person is having a “mental health emergency”–usually a euphemism for psychosis due to a brain illness–the police show up instead of an ambulance. For many families, calling the police is the only way to get treatment for their loved one. Mental illness is a medical issue, not a criminal one.

For families of the mentally ill, getting adequate treatment for their loved one is extraordinarily difficult. Prude was discharged from the hospital after only three hours the day before he was killed. With a different kind of medical emergency–such as a cardiac arrest–he would never have been discharged before stabilization. 

Premature discharge is but one of the many ways discrimination is built into the health care system. Shortages of inpatient beds and psychiatrists, underfunding of services and lack of mental health parity are other barriers to treatment. 

Families of people with mental illness have long demanded change. But the lack of public outrage signals that it will be a long wait. 

2 thoughts on “Where Is the Outrage for the Mentally Ill?”

  1. Thank you for speaking out. Please write about a long standing federal law that was ibstrumental in the demise if thebstate hospitsls. It is the Medicaid IMD (Institutes for Mental Diseases) Exclusion. It is fedrrally sanctioned discrimination, that prevents the payment of federal monies to cover adult patients, who are otherwise qualified for Medicaid, who are trested in a psychiatric hospital.

    No other type of disease has this restriction in Medicaid coverage, and it is the facility in which they are treated that disqualifies them. If nursing homes have more than 50% of their patients with a primary diagnosis of mental illness (alzheimers is not considered a MI), they are considerrd an IMD and are also disqualified and so are 100% of their patients no matter their diagnosis. This has prevented the long term care that so many need.

    Since Medicaid was enacted in 1965, we have seen the decline of state hospitals and an increase in homelessness and incarcerations. The improper enforcement of the 1999 Olmstead decision was the final nail in the coffin, as was the requirement that a person be imminently dangerous to self or others in order to be involuntariky treated.

    The thing is, 50% of people suffering from psychosis have a cognitive disorder called anosignosia, which prevents them from comprehending their own illness, so they often refuse treatment and then they have to be considered a criminal before anyone can do anything.

    Please write about the Medicaid IMD Exclusion. It needs to be repealed. There are waivers stayes can apply for now, but that is a slow process. We need immediate lifting of this heinous law.

    1. Ilene, thank you for your comment. I absolutely plan on writing about the Medicaid IMD Exclusion and anosognosia. It is an inherently discriminatory law that never should have been implemented. I appreciate you submitting this idea.

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