The state of the U.S. mental health system

May 6, 2013

The May/June issue of Mother Jones magazine has an amazing piece by Mac McClelland that examines the way our country deals with mental illness and the many connections to the criminal justice system.

McClelland writes from a very personal viewpoint — her schizophrenic cousin killed his own father in Sonoma County — and expands into a full examination and critique of our criminal justice and mental health systems.

California gets particular scrutiny, with a vast population of mentally ill individuals who are unable to get help until they commit a crime and end up in the criminal justice system.

“Ah, California. No. 1 in the amount of mental-health funding cut from 2009 to 2011, No. 7 in cuts as a percentage. Home to one of the largest jail/psych facilities in the nation, the LA County Jail. Where visitors can’t believe how many bat-shit-crazy homeless we’ve got. Where deinstitutionalization was pioneered under Gov. Ronald Reagan with the 1967 Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which made it vastly more difficult to commit people, and where the rate of mentally ill in the criminal-justice system doubled just one year after it took effect. Where, often, the severely mentally ill live in jail for three to six months because they’re waiting for a bed to open up in a psychiatric facility. California: where, says Torrey, the psychiatrist who warns about “predictable” violence like my cousin’s, “they led the way in [deinstitutionalization], and they’ve led the way downhill. They’re certainly leading the way in consequences.”

It’s an incredibly eye-opening piece and while it isn’t strictly Santa Cruz-centric by any means, it certainly brings up a lot of issues that are close to home.

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