Mental-health care is the true insanity

2011-01-16T00:00:00Z Mental-health care is the true insanityKathy Scott Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The debate over what triggered the horrific events in Tucson ranges from vitriolic rhetoric to excessive violence in video games.

The truth is that Jared Lee Loughner was emotionally and mentally disturbed, and regardless of what warning signs were present, very little could have been done to prevent the rampage in which he is accused.

Decades ago those who were so clearly mentally ill would have been warehoused in a state or private institution in the early stages of their dementia. Unfortunately, those institutions were often little more than houses of horror where inmates were at the mercy of underpaid and perhaps equally disturbed staff members.

Treatment was sporadic and rarely did people emerge from incarceration better off than when they entered. Several movies, novels and journalistic exposés sparked a revolution against what was obviously cruel and unusual punishment for a health issue.

But as terrible as it was, individuals with a history of anti-social or potentially violent behavior were isolated from society, even if that meant some of those so incarcerated were locked away unjustly.

As a more liberal, more humane attitude toward the mentally and emotionally disturbed emerged, the majority of state institutions and private facilities were closed or severely restricted in how long they could house someone. Just about the only individuals kept more than a few weeks or months were those who had already murdered or maimed, and even then there are cases where an individual who had been pronounced "cured" was released only to kill or rape or maim again.

In effect, when it came to isolating the potentially dangerous, the baby was tossed out with the bath water. Legislators withdrew funding for institutions, relieved that a huge money-cruncher was taken from their budgets.

The justification was that there were far better ways to treat the insane and emotionally disturbed using emerging medicines and treatments. However, the funding, personnel and monitoring of those released or those who would have been institutionalized in previous times never materialized.

As a result, the homeless population exploded because there was nowhere for these individuals to exist. Often their families were left on their own to cope as best they could. Additionally, legislation was adopted that allowed the individual to decide if he wanted treatment or even if he wanted to remain on medication. How crazy is that?

Arizona's budget crisis has recently resulted in extremely deep cuts in what little was available before the Great Recession. The Chicago Tribune quoted Tim Schmaltz, chief executive of Protecting Arizona's Family Coalition, as stating that some 14,000 state residents who earn too much to receive Medicaid have lost access to all mental-health services, except medication - which they may or may not be willing to take.

"You don't want to be seriously mentally ill in Arizona, unless you're very poor or very sick," Schmaltz said.

Perhaps he should have added that you don't want to be doing your Saturday shopping or visiting a politician, given that truly dangerous psychotics are allowed to roam without any restrictions.

Despite Loughner's apparently deteriorating mental state, absolutely nothing permanent could have been done to lock him away on the off chance that he would explode. It is only after a rampage that someone like him can be caged legally, and if he is indeed found to be insane at the time of the shooting, he could potentially be released if doctors deem him cured of his insanity.

His ability to purchase a gun, the vitriolic dialogue that permeates the media, the parenting he received aside, he did what he did because he could.

Kathy Scott is an educator and former counselor who lives in Nogales, Ariz. E-mail her at Kscott1969@msn.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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