The Crazy Priority of Mental Health

Back in 1963 the Community Mental Health Act was passed. The bill was one of the boldest attempts to deal with mental health.  It moved people out of inpatient psychiatric hospitals and put them back in the community where mental health centers and other programs were to make help for the mentally ill affordable and readily available to all.

Let’s see how we’ve done in the past 50 years in putting the action into this act.

  • Up to 30 percent of homeless people are thought to be seriously mentally ill.  That’s five times the rate in the general population.
  • Approximately 10 percent of US homicides are committed by untreated severely mentally ill people.
  • Chances that a perpetrator of a mass shooting displayed signs of mental illness prior to the crime: 1 in 2
  • Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mentally ill people incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails more than quadrupled to 1,264,300.
  • The percentage of inmates with mental health problems in 2004 were 44.8% in federal prisons, 56.2% in state prisons and 64.2% in local jails.  Since 2006, mental-illness rates in some county jails have increased by another 50 percent.
  • For every $2,000 to $3,000 per year spent on treating the mentally ill, $50,000 is saved on incarceration costs.
  • Prisoners with mental illness cost the nation an average of nearly $9 billion a year.
  • In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. In 2010, there was one psychiatric bed for every 7,100 Americans—the same ratio as in 1850.(You heard me right – 1850.)
  • Severe mental disorders cost the nation $193.2 billion annually in lost earnings

The Associated Press wrote the following in regard to the Community Mental Health Act of 1963:

Kennedy said when he signed the bill that the legislation to build 1,500 centers would mean the population of those living in state mental hospitals — at that time more than 500,000 people — could be cut in half. In a special message to Congress earlier that year, he said the idea was to successfully and quickly treat patients in their own communities and then return them to “a useful place in society.”

But only half of the proposed centers were ever built, and those were never fully funded. [emphasis added]

Meanwhile, about 90 percent of beds have been cut at state hospitals, according to Paul Appelbaum, a Columbia University psychiatry professor and expert in how the law affects the practice of medicine. In many cases, several mental health experts said, that has left nowhere for the sickest people to turn, so they end up homeless, abusing substances or in prison. The three largest mental health providers in the nation today are jails: Cook County in Illinois, Los Angeles County and Rikers Island in New York.

The Community Health Act of 1963 was not able to accomplish much because we as a nation have some pretty crazy priorities and those priorities seldom include the mentally ill.  We should be ashamed of ourselves.

– Bernadette

Sources include National Coalition for the Homeless, NMH Hunger and Homelessness Survey7; the US conference of Mayors “Inmate Mental Health”; and the National Institute of Mental Health.

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3 Responses

  1. This post is quite an eye-opener. You are right. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

  2. I would like to double like this post. We do have our priorities mixed up.

  3. Thanks for your vote that we need to re-think our priorities. And thanks too for commenting.

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