I honestly don’t know how to write about this subject anymore.
A series of weekend articles in the M-Live newspapers has prompted me to write about mental illness one more time. Their focus is on the relationship between untreated mentally ill people and their deadly threat to our police officers.
Not meaning to minimize the threat to those in law enforcement, I want to concentrate on the actual people who are mentally challenged. I say we’re not giving them a fair shake. In fact, I contend that we’re dropping the ball.
I hear some Democrats say, “Fix the damn roads!” My response is, “What about people?”
Fact: 257,000 Michiganders suffer from severe mental illness.
Fact: Michigan has closed all but four state psychiatric hospitals.
Fact: These hospitals have a 200-bed waiting list.
Fact: Michigan ranks 47th in the nation when it comes to beds available.
I hear some Republicans say, “Protect the unborn!” My response is, “What about those already born?”
Fact: Michigan’s population consists of more than 2-million kids under 18.
Fact: Suicide is one of the 5 leading causes of adolescent deaths (mental illness).
Fact: Michigan has one (1) state psychiatric hospital for kids.
Where am I going with all of this? Just bear with me for a sec, because I’m going to shift our focus to prisoners. History has shown that, when we don’t have enough psych wards, the mentally ill eventually go to prison. And here’s what I can say for certain: Locking up the mentally challenged is NOT the answer!
I realize that we’re beating the same old drum, here, but we have to keep doing this until someone hears it and does something about it. We have more than 38,000 people in our state prison system, and Department of Corrections reports that 25% have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. That’s over 9,000 prisoners! (Our staff estimates that the actual figure is closer to 50% who are struggling with mental issues.)
The prison system employs nearly 400 people to deal with this: mental health workers, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors…a drop in the bucket. The rest of the day-to-day challenges unfairly fall in the laps of the corrections officers, who have had little or no training in how to handle mentally ill patients.
Our office routinely handles complaints of abuse and mistreatment of mentally struggling Michigan inmates.
It’s another challenge for our new state administration and our current state legislators. Previous administrations and legislatures haven’t done such a hot job. Can we look for change, for improvement?
We’re not talking about numbers. These are real people, with names and family members and friends. They’re crying out to you and me for help.
How will we answer?