Despite advances in medicine, mental health care is still unable to keep up with the mental health needs of society.
For the most part, research has always focused more on physical ailments than mental ones. Infant mortality, chronic illnesses, and infectious disease have seen vast improvement as far as life expectancy is concerned, but the question that everyone keeps dancing around is “what progress are we making with mental health care?” and to that end, the answers are much slower in coming.
Mental health care is our responsibility too.
Should the roughly 1 in 3 people who get a disease such as cancer or heart disease be banished or punished for their illness or should they get the treatment they need?
Obviously they should get treatment, but many communities still do not know what to do with mental health challenges and are vastly ignoring this extremely visible crisis.
The mentally ill are 8 times more likely to end up incarcerated than they are to end up in a mental health facility. Some are waiting for a bed to open in a mental health facility. Others are the victims of a system based on circular logic that begins with an arrest, eventually moves on to a release, and almost always ends by repeating the entire process over again. Needless to say, that’s an expensive and wasteful approach to mental health care that puts even greater burden on the communities who would just as soon bus their mentally ill to the next town.
Institutional care is a good step, but it’s a very incomplete one. The mentally ill need an ongoing collective community effort to support them.
Those who are most likely to slip through the system are those who never received proper mental health care to begin with. Indigents who feel they have no purpose (and most certainly have no resources to deal with mental health issues) and career criminals may self-medicate or use other unhealthy means of survival.
Leon Rios created the first Community Collaboration in Texas to help people needing mental health care get the treatment, jobs, and resources they need for a better quality of life, not just mere survival. His approach includes reintegration efforts for those who are on their way out of the system, as well as initiatives to prevent others from getting into the system to begin with.
The process itself involves screenings to ascertain specific issues and needs, as well as potential support systems. Professionals within the community identify the needs and match them with existing resources so that upon release, the individual in question is not in “sink or swim” mode, but is instead surrounded by several “rafts” that can help him or her find a valuable role in the community.
At first glance, this may look as if the only function is to relieve the burden on the state. The truth is far more optimistic than that. For many of these individuals, this collaboration is their first chance at anything close to a “normal” productive life---something that doesn’t just relieve burdens on the state, but increases productivity in the community. And hope. This method offers hope for mentally ill within the community, but also hope for other communities who might model their efforts.
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