The Cost of Not Caring: Nowhere to go

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The Financial and Human Toll for Neglecting the Mentally Ill

More than half a million Americans with serious mental illness are falling through the cracks of a system in tatters, a USA TODAY special report shows.

The mentally ill who have nowhere to go and find little sympathy from those around them often land hard in emergency rooms, county jails and city streets. The lucky ones find homes with family. The unlucky ones show up in the morgue.

“We have replaced the hospital bed with the jail cell, the homeless shelter and the coffin,” says Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a child psychologist leading an effort to remodel the mental health system. “How is that compassionate?”

States looking to save money have pared away both the community mental health services designed to keep people healthy, as well as the hospital care needed to help them heal after a crisis.

States have been reducing hospital beds for decades, because of insurance pressures as well as a desire to provide more care outside institutions. Tight budgets during the recession forced some of the most devastating cuts in recent memory, says Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10% of the total supply, he says.

The result is that, all too often, people with mental illness get no care at all.

by Liz Szabo, USA Today

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