Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mental health "care" in the U.S.

Last week in Albuquerque, a man who was reportedly mentally ill went on a shooting spree that ended up with five people dead. A medical professional had called police to request that he be taken into protective custody because he was a danger to himself or others. Before the police found him, he shot a Department of Transportation highway repair worker and two employees of a motorcycle shop. And when the police did find him, he shot the two officers who had come to take him into custody.

According to press reports, this man had a long history of mental illness. His neighbors told reporters that he was a pleasant man, a gentle soul – when he took his medication. When he didn’t take his medication, he got scary, which (my guess now) is probably why somebody involved with him professionally called for police help in getting him rounded up and into a controlled situation.

The American health care system is already in a shambles because it is run by for-profit insurance companies and HMOs that are more interested in saving money than in making the most effective health-care decisions. When it comes to mental-health care, the system is even more of a joke. It’s as if any chemical imbalance in the brain is something that can be overcome by the patient thinking right.

I don’t know details about the patient involved in the shooting spree. But I do know about a student I had. To preserve his privacy, I’m not going to give details. But I will say that he had a severe mental disorder that disrupted the classroom. His family had medical insurance, but that insurance didn’t cover mental illness, and his working-class family definitely didn’t have the financial resources to pay for the treatment he needed. He couldn’t even qualify for a publicly funded treatment program until after he’d been cited for the incident in my class. I wish him well in his treatment. I can clearly see that he is an extremely talented and intelligent writer, and I want to see him succeed. It’s just a pity that he couldn’t get help for his mental problems until he became a problem himself.

In New Mexico, and also throughout the nation, there are many reports of mentally ill people who commit crimes, but who could have been helped beforehand if only the resources were in place. I wonder, how many unnecessary deaths might be prevented if we had a good way to get mentally ill people into the treatment programs they need?


Blogger Doctor Pants said...

You opened up a big bag!

Okay, let's see.. We have an attitude in the US that says, "If you work hard enough you can accomplish anything." Applied to specific areas of life it works fine. It makes us a strong nation. But when it comes to mental illness this idea should not apply. Unfortunately it does. Depression is the best one. We believe a depressed person is lazy and, if they just tried hard enough, they could be happy.

Then there is the connection aspect of mental illness. No one truly knows what causes it. Sure, we have certain common variables.But what really causes it?

Which leads me to what we do treat. It's well documented that heart "disease" and stroke are a product of our animal fat ingestion and our poor American diet. So McDonalds is helping your local hospital make money. Mental illness is not a product. There is nothing you can ingest which will bring on metal illness. It's just what happens to you. Mental illness also affects productivity. A mentaly ill person may have problems going to work. Who, with profit on their mind, wants to open up that "free money" bag?

on and on..

Fri Aug 26, 03:53:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Mental health care has never achieved the status and respectability, and hence insurability, of conventional "pill and scalpel" medicine. Maybe that's in part because treatments for mental illness run the gamut from successful, well-established protocols for some mental illnesses to treatments that may not be much more predictable or provable than bad witch doctoring.

Or perhaps it's because a lot of folks get creeped out by the very thought of mental illness and would rather not have to think about it or confront it.

Or perhaps it's because many mental illnesses are less well understood and less treatable than garden-variety illnesses and many diseases.

Tue Aug 30, 12:51:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Andrew said...

After working in this field for 5 years, I realized how much work still needs to be done. In attempting to keep a patient in care, we must prove that they are actually ill. A Doctor, Clinical Therapist, Nurse, and Residential Treatment Counselor could all and collectively be overruled by one person, that had a bachelor degree in something and sitting in an office in another state. This would determine if the insurance would pay. In addition, the treatment facility being non-profit, extra money to keep the patient was scarce. We would watch kids leave and would wonder among ourselves how long it would be before we read about them in the police log. Sad reality.

Thu Sep 01, 10:59:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous said...

I agree the American health care is in shambles and has a major crisis. I hope someone will work to improve health insurance for all.

Thu Dec 15, 11:36:00 PM MST  

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