Washington Times: Opinion: David Keene: A Better Way to Help the Dangerously Mentally Ill
This post was originally posted at The New Democrat on Blogger
This may be the first post on The New Democrat about an article in the Washington Times. I'm not sure. The Times is one of two small right-wing newspapers in Washington, D.C. They are small compared with the progressive Washington Post, one of the most important big city news papers in the country, if not the most important. The Washington Times, even with their supposed reporting, sounds, a lot of times, like the FOX News of print, a partisan political operation trying to pass themselves off as a news organization but really just repeating stuff from Republican or Tea Party sources and reporting things that really aren't news.
But today, David Keene writes what could be called a "compassionate conservative" piece about mental health care in America and what is wrong with it. We lock up people who otherwise would be classified as mental patients who should be institutionalized but, since they were convicted of committing felonies, we put them in prison. The prison staff isolates them in indefinite solitary confinement so they can't hurt anyone. This is understandable, from the staff's viewpoint but it treats the symptoms instead of addressing the underlying problems that cause these people to act out in the first place.
We have an underfunded mental health care system in America that results in a lot of damage to society, including the loss of innocent lives. We have mental patients who are on the street when they should be institutionalized for their own good and for the good of society, not in prison but in real mental hospitals or, at the very least, in outpatient care with medication and regular appointments with caregivers. This is self-inflicted wound. We've shot ourselves in the feet.
We have the resources in this country to fully-fund mental health care. We should've done that as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Even some Congressional Republicans who, at the time, were in the minority in the House and Senate believed that we should have addressed this problem. Even with all of the shootings, post Gabby Gifford in Tucson, we have failed to act and, as a result, our country is still in danger of more shootings by mentally disturbed people who have no business being in possession of firearms.
I'm in favor of background checks to make sure that anyone attempting to buy a firearm does not have a mental health or criminal record but that, alone, won't solve the problem because as long as there are mental patients on the streets with access to firearms, either through the legal or black markets, we will remain at risk of further gun violence in this country.
Along with background checks on gun purchases we need to make mental health care part of health insurance for both private and public insurers. People in mental hospitals should be eligible for public assistance while they are institutionalized to cover costs that their health insurer doesn't cover. We need to make sure that, in the future, mental patients are not released because their hospital can no longer afford to treat them.