CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

January 13, 2013

Caring for the mentally ill


The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — The events that happened in Newtown, Conn., could happen in any town in America thanks to the broken national, state, and local policy we have on caring for the mentally ill. According to the 2004 U.S. Census report, 57.7 million (one in 17) individuals have some type of mental disorder. Additionally, one in 10 children live with a seriously mentally ill caregiver. Thankfully, most mentally ill people are able to live a normal life with treatment including counseling and/or medication.

Some of the more serious mental illnesses (SMI) include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals that have traumatic brain injuries (TBI) have similar symptoms as those with mental illness but require a different treatment approach. Regardless oFthe cause or diagnosis, we need more community resources providing treatment to both the SMI and TBI populations so we can all feel more secure in our schools, malls, movie theaters, etc.

In many of our communities SMI individuals lack the care that they need due to a lack of mental health resources. These resources are lacking because they are overlooked by society and/or are insufficient in comparison to the number served. Families who have a mentally ill member often struggle with how to help and are left feeling hopeless and overwhelmed.

During 2005, more than half of the jail population had a mental health problem. These figures show the problems that not only do we currently face with mental health issues; but the problems that we will continue to face as long as those suffering from mental illness do not get the treatment then need and ultimately find themselves as members of the inmate population. Jailing those suffering from mental illness is not the solution when with proper care they can be productive members of society.

The State of Alabama lacks long care hospitals for the mentally ill unless they are of criminal nature. Most mental health hospital stays are limited to six months, while the individuals are placed back on their medication. Find hospitalization for the mentally ill is a challenge because it can take hours or even days to find a bed for them, leaving their family or the legal system to care for them (neither of which are trained to do so). Many hospitals do not even treat the mentally ill, usually due to financial restraints. Many of the mentally ill only have Medicare or no insurance at all since they are usually unable to function well enough to maintain employment without proper treatment. Hospitals are put at a financial disadvantage if they treat those without a payment source, putting the burden on non-profit agencies which are not able to help everyone in need due to limited resources of their own.

The key is to provide more resources for the mentally ill and support for their families. Funding and staffing is vital for not only our community but for the State of Alabama and our nation. Please support our mentally ill by contacting our local and federal representatives. You can contact state senator Paul Bussman at p bussmanffibellsouth.net, representative Mac Buttram at mbuttran-i@att.net, and our Congressman Robert Aderholt at Phone: 202-225-4876. I believe that most people do support the mentally ill in theory, but do not know exactly how to support them in reality.

Edward Potter, MSCJ