It’s not just emergency rooms; it’s jails too. Decades ago, we wrongly warehoused the severely mentally ill. In the1970-1980s we abandoned that approach. In part, this was due to civil liberties lawsuits. It was also due to cultural change brought about by films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the development of antipsychotic medications that left many people able to function with basic life skills. Therefore, we switched to halfway houses and community mental health support for those who live on their own. We shut down large psychiatric hospitals all over the country. With the persistent underfunding of mental health services; however, we have allowed emergency rooms and jails to become a major provider of services to the mentally ill.
This current approach is a terrible use of resources as well as bad public policy on many other levels. As a society, we should strive for dignity among all people who live here. The modern approach does not fix the problem. It is like a food bank approach to poverty. It can be essential in saving lives or extreme misery on a bad day, but it does not reduce the likelihood of bad days.
We are late into a period of economic recovery and expansion. This is the time for us to think about using our resources to improve how we solve problems. Think of it as human infrastructure work. We are spending the money to help people anyway. We might as well do it better.
Kudos to the Bridge and the organizations and individuals it covers in its article series for reminding us we can do better.
Read the full article in the Bridge, “Michigan emergency rooms are jammed. Identifying mental illness can help”.