Letter: Mentally ill won’t go away

Every once in a while the media, politicians and the public get interested in our country’s mentally ill population. It is so sad that it typically takes a Columbine or Sandy Hook to draw attention. There is a lot of buzz about resources for the mentally ill now, but it will fade away with time and in the din of more-potent political constituencies that are like bleating baby birds, unperturbed by the world outside their own prickly nests.

I understand it’s a competition; the sordid stuff of politics in a world of limited resources. But politics is about the tyranny of majority rule; not the pragmatic prioritization or resource allocation. The terrible economy, gun control and entitlements are the more politically potent topics.

Reductions in funding for mental health resources save money in the short term but ultimately drain the economy as neglected mentally ill citizens are more expensive to treat in jails and in the few hospitals remaining after the latest trend of deinstitutionalization. This was preceded by years of reductions in adult community mental health services and near elimination of juvenile psychiatric hospitals and detention centers for our youth.

Lafayette’s Early Childhood Services and Supports program was recently cut. Mental health centers that formerly addressed anxiety disorders, situational depressions and personality disorders (a frequent variable among perpetrators) are now limited to treating only major, chronic mental illness. These were the programs of early intervention.

Psychologists know the profiles and early warning signs of individuals with the potential to become violent actors as early as the age of five. Today there are far more mentally ill people in jails than in psychiatric hospitals, and that disparity will surely grow, along with the senseless acts of violence.

Stan Rynott

forensic social worker

Lafayette