Mental illness. To some such a condition is taboo, and for others, widely misunderstood. Mental illness affects nearly 26.2% of the American population, or about 57.7 million people. Of those that are homeless, mentally ill individuals constitute approximately one fifth of the homeless population.
This trend of mentally ill individuals ending up on the streets began somewhere in the 1950’s. States such as California closed down many of the psychiatric hospitals that primarily housed mentally ill patients, and effectively moved them into various other care facilities such as nursing homes or even adult foster homes. With this also came the rise in homeless individuals, San Jose being a prime example.
In an excerpt from an article written by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey (link is in California), “California was the first state to witness not only an increase in homelessness associated with deinstitutionalization but also an increase in incarceration and episodes of violence.” This furthers the argument that with the closing of facilities, these individuals are more prone to becoming homeless, as well as being incarcerated.
Fast forward to today, we do have more of an awareness of mental health issues, and organizations such as Bell Let’s Talk and NCMHR, try to provide help and support to the mentally ill community. This may very well be one way to help these individuals, but it seems that the stigma surrounding mental illness may have indeed seeped into our government as much as it has into our society.
According to Mother Jones, the spending on resources for mentally ill individuals has been slashed, varying from state to state (you can see the info here). This means that the government is not spending enough on resources to provide the help and treatment these individuals may depend on.
Furthermore, when looking at the laws revolving around this issue, the desintitutionalization process began with the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963, which in turn pushed for the relocation of many individuals in psychiatric hospitals into other facilities (like what happened in California). This meant that admittance of individuals into these hospitals became more selective.
Moreover, with the more recent trend of shootings here in the United States, more emphasis is being placed on having doctors report mentally ill individuals that are a “danger” to others. This means that the patient-practitioner privacy becomes curtailed, unfairly targeting the mentally ill community. The problem is, mentally ill individuals are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than they are of committing them. (more info from this article here)
Going back to the original point, mental illness is a real issue affecting our society, and we need more resources to make sure that these individuals get the support that they need, physically, mentally, from the community and the government.
When there are programs like Servants Center exist, along with those that recognize the needs of this portion of the homeless community, change is not that far out of our grasp. What we need now, is the proper legislation to support the needs of these individuals, as well as the proper care to make sure they stay off the streets.
Mental illness is a serious issue affecting millions, and when we fail to provide these individuals with the support and treatments they require, we are neglecting and hurting a unique and misunderstood part of our communities.
Sometimes when I pass by a homeless person, I wonder why, why are they here on the street, and what could have been done to prevent this? Mental illness is just one aspect, domestic violence and abuse being another, as well as substance abuse coming in as a big contributor as well. I just focused on mental illness because of a conversation I had earlier, and I thought it was important to bring some sort of recognition to the issue plaguing so many.