Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Killed by the only remaining safety net ...

Too often, when someone with a severe mental illness is arrested, the family is quoted in the papers saying something along the lines of “at least now he can get some help.”

The mental health treatment situation is actually so bad that some people are relieved when the person they love is arrested. But the reality is that jails and prisons weren’t set up to provide effective mental health care, and arrest often only exacerbates an already terrible situation.

Joel Seidel’s family was faced with an horrendous choice; allow him to remain in a dangerous jail where he might finally receive care, or release him back to the community where he would again refuse treatment. In the end, Joel’s family decided not to pay $150 in bail to get him released. Because they live in New Jersey, there was no other way to help him. That state's outdated mental illness treatment law makes it nearly impossible to help severely mentally ill people who refuse treatment. Hopefully that will soon change.

But it will be too late for Joel Seidel. He died in jail, kicked and punched more than 100 times by his cellmate.