Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mental Health System Broken in America

Supreme Court to Decide on Arizona's Ability to Exact Vengeance

The system in need of the most reform is certainly the treatment of mentally ill people in the United States. The Washington Post had a very good editorial about the problems facing mentally ill people. We do not provide parity with other health issues, so that if diagnosed with a mental illness there is a limit to the treatment that one can receive paid by a health care insurer. A broken leg is covered usually with a small deductible until the point at which it is healed, but a brain injury is covered with a deductible for a few months. Then those who cannot work because of a mental illness are forced to spend years trying to prove to the state that they are in fact not healthy enough to work. At the end of this long journey is poverty for life.

No where in the United States does disability assistance raise your standard of living above even the pathetically low federal poverty level. If you receive gifts--your allowance is lowered. If you keep too much money in your bank account--your allowance is lowered. If your parents die and leave you money--your allowance is lowered. In some communities, if you stay in shelters--your allowance is lowered. It is one thing to lower a wealthy individual's government assistance, but we are punishing poor people for having a small amount of money. This is criminal and obscene for a society of our wealth.

In most states, those who are poor receive no help for their mental illness unless they are a threat to themselves or others. This was the situation facing the family in Flagstaff. Their son, Eric Michael Clark, had not demonstrated any threat to himself or others, but he was seeing a city full of aliens. I happen to agree with the young Clark that the very conservative retirement communities in Arizona are in fact full of aliens from a planet without compassion, but I am not sure if violence is the answer. He then killed a police officer after his family begged the authorities to have him committed. The State of Arizona, who did not want to provide assistance to Mr. Clark, because he had never demonstrated that he was a threat to others now wants to kill him after he did show he was a threat to others.

This level of intolerance toward those with a legitimate health problems is disturbing and actually a frightening mirror on society. Are we so afraid that mental illness will afflict us that we condemn those among us to a life of poverty, force a struggle with a mammoth bureaucracy, constant running away from the stigmatization, and then we kill those with the most severe mental illness? My, how the pendulum has swung from the time we were fighting over equal rights to a time when we are fighting over killing the mentally ill, walling off our southern border, and should we torture people as a country?


Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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