The Corner

Treat the Mentally Ill

While everyone is arguing about a map on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, we should be talking about better ways to get treatment for the mentally ill. From the website of the Treatment Advocacy Center:

Ten years ago Monday, January 10, the shooting death of college student Laura Wilcox, 19, by a man with untreated mental illness made headlines in California and inspired passage of “Laura’s Law ” in California. The law authorizes court-ordered treatment for individuals with severe mental illness who meet specific legal criteria.

Over the weekend, a college-aged gunman with reported mental health issues made headlines when he opened fire on US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd gathered around her in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, allegedly killing six and wounding 19 others. The Congresswoman was shot through the head.

What links these headlines besides the bloodshed is official indifference and inaction. Ten years after Laura’s death, the law she inspired has been implemented in only 2 of California’s 58 counties. In the years leading up to the deaths in Tucson, Arizona distinguished itself as the second-worst state in the US for criminalizing mental illness and providing needed hospital beds. In this environment, more preventable tragedies are not a matter of “if,” says Treatment Advocacy Center founder E. Fuller Torrey, MD, but “when.”

DJ Jaffe wrote in the New York Post about this today, and both Mona and David Brooks — as Yuval mentioned — touch on it as well. It’s something I’ve written about in the past. Letting so many of the mentally ill go untreated is cruel and reckless.



Starred commenter DonnaDiorio had a good post, responding to another commenter on this issue:

It is easy to see that you have no personal experience with the heartbreaking circumstances that families are put in today because of the mental illness patient’s rights laws.

It is almost impossible to get help for people like Andrea Yates or Jared Loughner unless they volunteer for it, and rarely does their mental illness allow them to volunteer.

Even families have trouble getting help for patients. Even when there is a long, well known history with a mentally ill person, the system still often fails to pay attention to family members who try to intervene to get help for the person. The system has the rights bar set so high that it protects only the system from being blamed for the failure when horrible incidents like Yates or Loughner take place.

The debate should be finding the correct balance between patients rights and public safety. We must have a course correction because it is not only the public and families who are being hurt by the current state of laws, but so are the mentally ill being hurt and left untreated with no hope of intervention.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: 

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