We soon mark the anniversary of the shooting that wounded Rep. Giffords (January 8th) and others that day. We'll sooner see the anniversary of Sandy Hook in Newtown CT (December 14th), and too many others. After recently being reacquainted with a friend from the '70s who shared a horrific series of events that he endured as a child and a teen, it is painfully obvious that we need to address our failing and deteriorating mental-health systems, specifically research, to develop and use improved diagnostic tools to properly diagnose mental illnesses.
This friend's parents had their child institutionalized between ages five and seventeen, at great cost, merely to be rid of him. In addition, the private institutions happily kept him there without any medical basis or diagnosis while receiving large sums of money. The lack of substantive diagnostic tools to accurately diagnose mental illness and, at the time, the lack of regulation allowing two private mental-health institutions (in MN and IL) to admit and detain him for years with no documented diagnosis is inhumane and unthinkable. There were also no advocating agencies supporting patient rights, in this case the child, inappropriately institutionalized and labeled mentally ill, to ensure that he was being treated appropriately and fairly.
Misdiagnosis, or in this case, no diagnosis results in ineffective or inappropriate treatment, which further worsens the outcome. Yes, we have gotten better at diagnosing Autism and Asperger's syndrome, which is an improvement from the 1970s, when we were institutionalizing sufferers and essentially mistreating or not treating them at all, but we are still misdiagnosing bipolar and unipolar disorders. If we had diagnostic tools that could actually verify a diagnosis, we would be able to treat more effectively and begin to make progress with the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses. We have fewer available beds today in our hospitals and institutions for the seriously mental ill and we are incarcerating many in our prisons. Fifty years ago, we began the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and we transferred much of the fiscal responsibility to the federal government. During the last thirty to forty years, we have seen it become a very costly failure, costly in lives and dollars. The CDC stated the following in September 2011, comparing illnesses: "Mental illnesses account for a larger proportion of disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease."
We have too many instances of mass killings, mass murders/suicides, individual suicides, and a host of other violent acts that are perpetrated by people who have gone undetected or undiagnosed. When we look at the shooting that wounded Rep. Giffords, and others, the Sandy Hook mass shooting, and too many others, and when these instances are discussed and analyzed in our media, they are said to have been done generally by young males who are not that severely ill. When further investigated, family, friends, educators and others may have seen signs, but they went unmentioned or not investigated. We also hear too often that they are over eighteen and that families may not be able to do anything because they are of age and they have not been a threat previously to themselves or others.
Again, mental illness in this country seems to be misdiagnosed, undiagnosed and/or untreated and when treatment is attempted, many times it is done with over-prescribing medications that may be creating or exacerbating more illnesses. Something clearly needs to be done with what appears to be an epidemic of mental-illness issues having profound affects on our communities and cities. In regard to the horrific shootings in Sandy Hook, of Rep. Giffords, and the others, it is not that they occurred, but that they were preventable, and we continue to blindly turn our backs on a shattered mental-health system.