It is older generations that leave behind valuable lessons. However, it is a society in general that fails to learn from those lessons until it is too late. My grandmother, if she were still alive, would be 101 in a few days. She worked as a psychiatric nurse for the now-closed Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina for over 33 years. She loved her job because she had compassion and empathy for people. Many of her friends and relatives were concerned for her daily safety working closely with unpredictable seriously ill mental patients. However, she would eloquently put it, “someone has to look after these people.”
To me, that statement alone is paramount to many of the discussions surrounding criminal justice reform, mental illness, and compassion in society today. Decades ago politicians decided to close nearly all state-managed mental health facilities. Later it was insurance companies that began reducing policy coverages for underlying mental health assessments. Then that trickled down towards expensive medications that those with a mental illness cannot afford or ensure regiments are taken promptly to keep them off the streets. The bottom line is nobody is looking after the mentally ill. Well, at least not in a sense we were once accustomed to. Today, mental health is governed and managed by your local police or law enforcement department. Rather than adequately fund a psychiatric clinic, hospital, or increase our nursing shortages American culture feels that police can best manage the mental illness crisis.
When I read the newspaper and learn about another random school shooting, I quickly identify where such chaos and carnage could have been prevented not with gun control, safer schools, unique alert systems, or police presence. Instead the lack of mental health accessibility, counseling, facilities, and qualified individuals to identify these individuals are restricted by polished police cars, fancy badges, uniforms, guns, and police registries. A simple comparison of a mental health clinic versus a police station looks like night and day in America. Perhaps it is time to spread out that police funding to other departments to help citizens go back towards helping people and those with mental illnesses. Jails and solitary confinement facilities are not a proper way to treat mental illnesses.
Additionally, society must stop second-guessing individuals trying to use mental illness claims as a way to skirt criminal justice. It is time to allow qualified and licensed doctors to make that assessment. If someone is a danger to society, then let a someone with a medical license, doctorate, and a hospital residency instead of an individual with a two-week jailer course and basic first aid/CPR.
Lastly, psychiatric facilities are not institutions where we lock individuals up and throw away the key. They are treatment facilities that utilize plans of action to assimilate people back into society. After all, these are people and human beings too. The stigma of mental illness is typically identified negatively within society. That is because we fail to see or witness first hand the overall successes and rely on poor data or circumstances of particular individuals that enter and exit habitually. Our overall vision of mental health encompasses those where psychological effectiveness is not working rather than the whole. This is where we must halt rhetoric such as throwing away a key because doing so doesn’t provide a treatment plan or an ability to remedy mental health issues. Instead, it is a recipe to pass on the problems to future generations because there was nobody to look after them.