From lobotomies to electric shock therapy to keeping patients in drug-induced stupors locked inside facilities to languish until a merciful death, the United States has pretty much failed the mental health system.
Decades ago, movies, documentaries and articles exposed the horrific conditions of facilities built to treat mental health patients. Instead of making improvements, the government’s answer was mostly to just shut them down and mainstream patients back into society.
The result was, for the most part, patients returning to families who couldn’t handle them in the first place or living on the streets, whether by force, necessity or ignorance.
Outpatient treatment existed but who was making the patients keep appointments? Who was driving them to see a doctor? Who was ensuring they take their meds? Judging from what we know about mental health patients, I’d say there was very little follow-up or tracking.
There was also the problem of the meds themselves. Doctors have to regulate the dosage and monitor side effects. A patient who doesn’t like how meds make him feel will not take them, regardless of the intended outcome.
So we have a segment of the society that clearly needs to be medicated in order to function and a sub-section of that society that requires inpatient treatment, possibly for life.
The system failed my father, although I do not blame anyone but him for the choices he made. He was diagnosed schizophrenic and had serious mental health issues. The solution for him during the early to mid-1950s was electric shock therapy.
It didn’t work. He aged into adulthood but didn’t really mature. He had brushes with the law and I found a baby picture of me that included a notation for a jail cell location on the back.
I am certain he never took medication during my childhood and never got treatment or counseling after he married my mother. However, after my parents divorced, he sought treatment and met his second wife in a mental health clinic.
The mentally-ill has become the butt of jokes that people would never make of someone with a physical disability. People are quick to say, “He’s nuts,” or “She’s crazy,” or “That guy went postal” when there is a mass public or school shooting or when someone kills his or her entire family.
It’s not funny and it’s scary to live with the mentally-ill who are undiagnosed or untreated. My siblings and I walked on eggshells around our dad. I feared he would kill us in our sleep. I was grateful we never had weapons in the house. That fear was very real.
There is a saying about Southern families, that they never ask if there is insanity in a family, they just ask which side it’s on. It is accurate to say that nearly every family has at least one mentally-ill member. Some are more open about it, others are ashamed.
If mental health issues affect you or your relatives, do something about them. Symptoms don’t just disappear although they may seem periodically dormant. Research the funding in your state. Contact your lawmakers if you think there isn’t enough being done to treat the mentally-ill. Volunteer to help, if you have time. Make a contribution, if you can afford it.