Mental illness is on the rise in America, and this phenomenon is due to a multitude of causes. In fact, the World Health Organization says that mental health conditions “are increasing worldwide.” Some experts blame the pandemic, and, certainly, issues such as depression and anxiety have grown due to lockdowns, loss of employment, and financial instability. However, a peer-reviewed article published on news-medical.net offers that increases in mental health conditions aren’t solely due to increased anxiety and depression. According to their research, the most common mental health conditions also include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The same author also mentioned that substance abuse is on the rise as well.
In the 1960s, states began pushing to change the law so that individuals could not be so easily admitted to mental health facilities. This then led to budget cuts which caused many mental health facilities to close. To be sure, these closures weren’t necessarily a bad thing – stories of rampant abuse at these facilities became public, and there was an outcry for closures. Anti-psychotic medications were becoming more readily available, and patients were assumed to no longer need full-time care. However, the Journal of Ethics, published by the American Medical Association, says that now our country has a bigger problem. While intentions were good when many of these mental health facilities closed down, “the institutional closings have deluged underfunded community services with new populations they were ill-equipped to handle.”
American cities, particularly in large metropolitan areas, are seeing a growing uptick in crime, and when suspects are apprehended, the public hears time and again that the alleged perpetrator has some form of mental illness. According to the Mental Illness Policy organization, at least 140,000 seriously mentally ill individuals are homeless. Anti-psychotic medications won’t work for these individuals because even if they are housed in a facility for a short amount of time (usually thirty days or less), once they are no longer in the facility, they lose access to their medications. So, we come to the issue at hand – while those with mental illness should be able to access services (it’s the law, after all), there are innocents who have been assaulted or murdered at the hands of an individual experiencing psychosis due to untreated mental illness.
At any rate, those with severe mental illness need help. Yet, simply providing housing for the homeless with a mental illness isn’t the solution. The Psychiatric Times proposes a combination of solutions to assist these individuals. They propose integrated primary care, “street psychiatry,” and cooperation between mental health services and housing and rehabilitation services. It is suggested that there must be multi-disciplinary teams including housing specialists, vocational specialists, social workers, and case managers.
Often, the real solution on the street comes only when a mentally ill homeless person harms someone else. Then, the mentally ill individual ends up locked up, and that person may or may not have access to individuals who can correctly diagnose a mental health condition. Anyone who has watched Orange is the New Black understands that the mentally ill don’t always get proper treatment behind bars. Both Suzanne and Lorna received medication, but it didn’t stop them from psychotic breaks on occasion.
Herein lies the issue. We know that mental illness often leads to homelessness, and current crime statistics tell us that some heinous crimes about being committed by severely mentally ill people.
The law states that people with mental illness should be treated “in the least restrictive environment,” which, in a perfect world, would be in the home with loving family members.
We don’t live in a perfect world however, and now innocent people are being assaulted or murdered by individuals who are in need of treatment, consistent treatment, multi-faceted treatment. Jail isn’t the answer to solving this problem. Opening up mental institutions back up and shunning these individuals from society isn’t a fix either.
If communities are serious about helping the homeless, then we have to do more than simply book hotel rooms or erect housing for the homeless. These individuals need consistent treatment under the watchful eye of knowledgeable and compassionate people. They need vocational training, and they need a purpose. If Americans intend to truly solve the problem of homelessness, it’s truly going to require a community effort of consistent care in order to save innocent lives and help mentally ill individuals find a way off the street.