NYAPRS Note: A very timely on target message from Mental Health America’s new CEO, Wayne Lindstrom.
Opposing view: Don’t Link Violence With Mental Illness
Rather than forcing more people into treatment, dedicate adequate resources toward prevention
By Wayne Lindstrom USA Today OP ED January 11, 2013
Calls to make it easier to commit people for involuntary mental health treatment will do little or nothing to prevent violent acts. It will only scare people from seeking help voluntarily and fail to increase the number who are committed.
The premise that we can predict or prevent violent acts is unsupported. Even in the case of severe mental illnesses, mental health professionals possess no special knowledge or ability to predict future behavior.
The fact is people with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than is the general population. Continuing to link violence and mental illness only stigmatizes people and deters them from seeking care.
Paradoxically, making it easier to commit people to treatment will not lead to more commitments or more people getting care. A chronically underfunded mental health system, which has experienced $4.6 billion in state budget cuts since 2009, does not have the capacity to meet those needs.
When Illinois lowered its standard to allow the commitment of virtually every person with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, commitments decreased because of the continued reduction in public and private inpatient beds.
In Washington, a study of the state’s lowered commitment standard revealed fewer voluntary admissions and a rapid increase in the revolving door of discharges and re-admissions. In fact, the number of people who meet existing commitment standards in every state already exceeds the beds available for them.
It is highly unlikely we will increase the number of psychiatric beds. Nor should we.
Rather than forcing more people into treatment, we should dedicate adequate resources toward prevention and early identification of emotional disturbances in children and fund cost-effective community-based interventions that work.
Just two-thirds of those with severe mental illness and one-third with moderate illness receive appropriate services. When care is provided, there is a gap of up to 10 years between their first symptoms and first treatment.
Expanding access to care under the Affordable Care Act and mental health parity law will serve people better than changing commitment laws that will change nothing.
Wayne Lindstrom is the CEO of Mental Health America.