If you talk to anyone who works in the mental health system, they will tell you they are sick and tired of those people who say we need more help for the mentally ill. It sounds good, but these people never pull out their wallets when it comes time to pay for needed services. What these health care professionals would like to shout is “show me the money.” The fact is, until the actions of Americans match their words, people with treatable mental illness will continue to go untreated.
There was no better example of this than a story that appeared on 60 Minutes. Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds was stabbed by his son who was in the middle of a mental health crisis. Deeds had tried to find a hospital bed for his son the night before the stabbing because he knew he was a danger to himself or others. Despite the fact he was a state senator, there were no mental health beds available for his obviously disturbed son. His son ended up killing himself.
As often happens, people including politicians do not realize the severity of a problem until it happens to them or someone they love. To his credit, Deeds has become a tireless supporter of those who need mental health treatment.
Yet there are others who still have not seen the light. When John Elway was recently asked why he was a Republican he said, “Well, it goes to what my beliefs are,” Elway said. “I believe that we’re giving the opportunity to succeed or not succeed. I don’t believe in safety nets…”
Where was Gus Deeds opportunity to succeed? If there had been a safety net the night his father searched for a psychiatric ward, Gus may have had a chance to get well and realize his potential. Sadly, that was not the case.
In Maine there is an attempt to have EMS and other health care workers have access to Naltrexone, a medication that can help save the life of someone overdosing on opiates like Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Heroin. Amazingly, Republican Governor Paul LePage is against the program because he believes it will make drug addicts feel invincible. As his own public health officer says, there is no evidence that supports this conclusion. His belief is born out of ignorance.
Many people consider addiction a personal weakness or moral defect because they believe an addict can simply stop. However, like other diseases you can’t just stop much like you can’t stop having cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. These all have periods of remission which unfortunately are often followed by periods of relapse. The more we learn about the brain the more we know that addiction is a brain disease. People who don’t have it can’t understand because their brain works differently.
It’s so easy to prove on a simplistic level that an addict doesn’t have a weakness. Truly addicted people live horrible lives shrouded in fear, guilt, and loneliness. If they could just stop, wouldn’t they? How does the person who believes it’s a weakness or moral failure account for the addicts who with help get sober and become upright moral citizens? Is it possible that their morals became corrupted due to their disease and not because of some inner need to become immoral.
When a person is ill with a mental health issue or an addiction (which is a mental illness), they need help. They need a safety net. Republicans should be all for that since treatment is far cheaper than emergency room visits and incarcerations. However, mental health needs still go unmet. From 2009 to 2011 states reduced mental health funds by 1.6 billion dollars. Already, only half of the people needing mental health services receive them.
It’s time for America to act. Only through electing politicians who are concerned with the betterment of all people and not just the able bodied and wealthy will we be able to stand tall as a nation. A country is not judged on how well it treats it’s healthiest citizens, but on how it treats those citizens in need.