Friday, December 07, 2007

How can my loved one get inpatient care?

The above question is commonly raised by families seeking treatment for someone they love. Unfortunately, the reality of treatment in the United States is that care too often only comes once they’ve committed a crime.

A recent study in the journal of Psychiatric Services looked at the psychiatric and criminal histories of individuals in a large urban county jail and what psychiatric services they received while incarcerated. Their conclusion? One that is not at all surprising – a large percentage of persons with a severe mental illness receive their acute inpatient treatment in the criminal justice system rather than in the mental health system.

The study’s specifics are sadly familiar: 75% of the random sample were diagnosed as having a severe mental illness; 92% had a history of nonadherence to medications before their arrest; 95% had prior arrests.

These terrible statistics bring to mind the comments of the Bazelon Center’s Michael Allen, who recently pondered whether it was worse for a person with a severe mental illness to be in a psychiatric hospital or in prison.

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