Mental Health Care in Crisis

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryIn the rural town of Mount Carroll, just 25 minutes from the Mississippi River in northwest Illinois, is a health clinic which provides services for people who are mentally stressed. Well, sort of help them. There is only one psychiatrist on duty at the clinic, and even then that person is only there two times a month to examine patients. Some of the patients are recovering from opioid addictions, while others are dealing with stress that either caused depression or a nervous breakdown. The psychiatrist might examine them for minutes, and then prescribe medications or advise what therapy is available. Usually more advanced therapy is available only in Rockford which is 54 miles from Mount Carroll. This is the closest destination for those who are mentally distressed, and this distance may be prohibitive for those who have to work and be with family for support. More often than not their health care coverage will not pay for this.

Most of those who are mentally distressed are not harmful to themselves or others. However, people who either go un-diagnosed or cannot get the proper care they need could easily snap and become a threat to themselves or others. This happens too often in this country, and mixed in with weapons it becomes extremely deadly. U.S. President Donald Trump has strengthened more rigorous checks for those obtaining a firearm. This is a good first step. Yet what needs to be done is to deal in my view with the root cause of why certain people turn dangerous. Mental illness is a very, very serious epidemic. In good part it is due to the fact that there really is little to no help for those who really need it. This is going on the premise that individuals and their families see that it is an issue (which many do not), and if so where can they get help? In too many cases it can and does lead to criminal acts, and even then it may not be recognized as mental illness. Back before the 1980’s, institutions existed where people who were a danger to themselves and others could get help. Then in the 1980’s people with mental illness were dumped out into the streets, and in too many ways we are still feeling the negative effects of this policy decades later. The mass shootings we are seeing now are simply part of the equation. We have to recognize that health care is not only a right, but that it is a safety precaution to protect society. We have to recognize that mental illness is like any malady such as a heart condition, a debilitating disease, cancer, etc. Only then can we hopefully stop the mass killings.

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