Battling patients stuggle under broken system

by Lindsey Hubbart

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the epitome of a tragedy, and I can only pray that nothing close to the magnitude of it will ever happen again in our country. The only way we can prevent these types of despicable crimes is if we come together as a society and address multiple pressing issues, including gun control and violence in the media. One critical issue which been overlooked is our broken mental health care system.

A study cited in USA Today by the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave our country an overall grade of a ‘D’ on our mental health care system. No state received higher than a grade of ‘B.’ According to psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, many mental health patients don’t have access to proper care. He writes, “a mentally ill young man with a known propensity for violence, or even a history of serious violence, is likely to receive just an hour a week of counseling (if that) by a social worker.” He likely will not be able to see a professionally trained psychologist for more than a few minutes, if at all. If his condition progresses and he is “admitted to a psychiatric hospital, he will likely be triaged quickly through an often-incompetent ‘tune up’ of medications that might accomplish nothing and then be sent back home as soon as he ‘contracts for safety’—simply promising a social worker that he won’t kill anyone.” Dr. Ablow lists multiple reasons why our mental health system is failing.

One of the primary reasons is that there are not enough resources available for a patient to find the root cause of his or her mental disorder. Assuming the patient even has insurance, most insurance companies will not cover the trained professionals who can do that work, or will only cover it meagerly. Additionally, inpatient care facilities are dwindling rapidly, and the ones that still exist are extremely expensive. According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, “the public health system has lost more than 3,200 psychiatric hospital beds, almost 6% of the total…Another 1,249 beds are in danger of being lost, as states grapple with tight budgets.”

Another problem is that there is hardly any, if at all, communication between police departments and mental health professionals regarding potentially dangerous patients.

Does this sound like adequate care for someone with the potential to cause violence? Absolutely not. Dr. Ablow also lists potential ways to fix the problem, including requiring insurance companies to pay for inpatient hospitalizations and training psychiatrists in techniques beyond just prescribing medications. He also suggests requiring mentally ill criminals to commit to outpatient treatment and establishing intermediary units for patients who have finished an inpatient hospitalization but aren’t ready to go home. However, this is just a start.

We cannot let the lackluster care continue much longer or we could end up in the midst of another tragedy such as Sandy Hook.

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