Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Déjà Vu All Over Again

In 1848 Dorothea Dix helped to usher in an important era of mental health reform all across America. Witnessing the inherent cruelty of warehousing people with severe mental illnesses in prisons and jails, Dix observed:

“Humanity requires that every insane person should receive the care appropriate to his condition…. Hardly second to this consideration is the civil and social obligation to consult and secure the public welfare: first in affording protection against the frequently manifested dangerous propensities of the insane; and second, by assuring seasonable and skillful remedial care, procuring their restoration to usefulness as citizens of the republic, and as members of the communities.”
Today, nearly one hundred and sixty years later, 2,000,000 Americans remain untreated for severe mental illness. With the mass deinstitutionalization of public hospitals, our streets and jails have become de facto asylums. A recent report by the Treatment Advocacy Center confirms that there is a shortage of at least 100,000 public psychiatric beds across our nation. In the meantime, over 10% of our prison population consists of people with severe mental illness, and nearly 300,000 people with severe mental illness live among the homeless.