GEORGE E. REYNOLDS: Perpetuating Stereotypes About Mentally Ill
I would like to thank The Pilot for reprinting the "Dangerous Mix" article from The News & Observer of Raleigh on Jan. 14.
It is an excellent article that highlights several of the critical issues resulting from North Carolina's ill-conceived rush to reform the mental health system.
However, I am concerned that the focus of the article, at least in the headline and first several paragraphs, is on the danger to the frail elderly population in nursing homes and not the lack of proper housing and treatment for the mentally ill.
Using the headline "A Dangerous Mix" and words like "troublesome and at worst deadly" is unfortunate.
Most people know elderly persons and can empathize with the dangers they face in these situations. However, many people know only about the consequences of this reform on the mentally ill from what they see, hear or read in the media.
While articles like this do heighten awareness of mental illness issues, they also tend to increase the "stigma" associated with mental illness.
How do you think people will respond after reading this article if you were to ask them, "Do you want a home in your community for the mentally ill"? Obviously, not every person suffering from a mental illness is violent, yet I believe that people will take from this article that people with brain disorders are dangerous. And unfortunately, recent headlines also seem to support that contention.
We will also never know how many of the incidents in the article could have been avoided if the people with brain disorders involved had received the proper medication and treatment.
It is amazing to me that everyone seems to agree that there are serious problems with this reform effort, and yet not much if anything is going to be done to resolve them.
As secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Carmen Hooker Odom should do everything that is required to ensure the safety and welfare of people suffering from brain disorders and that the proper treatment, medication and housing are available to them.
Comments by Odom, such as "the (dumping ground) characterization is a crude way of saying that we don't have that range of alternatives" and "we haven't seen the necessary commitment of resources, locally or nationally" are very discouraging, to say the least.
The question "why?" needs to be answered. There is probably a long list of reasons (excuses) why this reform should have been delayed, including a lack of funds, range of alternatives and necessary commitments,
Is this reform effort motivated by politics and not the real needs of the mental health community? Why does Dorothea Dix need to be closed so quickly? Is it because it is located on a prime piece of real estate? What is going to be done with this property? Can the local communities really provide the required housing and treatment? Are there enough local crisis centers and providers of services?
There do not appear to be any "safety nets" available except for Dorothea Dix and John Umstead Hospitals. While there is a new hospital being built in Butner, my understanding is that it will not have enough beds to meet current and future needs.
It should be unacceptable to everyone involved to continue the practice of placing people who suffer with brain disorders into the same facilities with the frail and elderly. The very least the state should do for now is postpone the closing of Dorothea Dix and John Umstead hospitals until there is enough commitment, money and resourses to fully implement the requirements of reform and ensure the safety and welfare of the mentally ill.
The media can be a very powerful advocate for the mentally ill, ensuring that mental health reform actually provides them with a better quality of life and not just another "dumping ground." They can help to generate the "necessary commitment of resources, locally and nationally" that Secretary Odom said is missing.
I respectively request that The Pilot and other media outlets join together and provide insightful and informative information on the plight of the mentally ill in North Carolina.
Some of the issues that can be reported on include but are not limited to: housing; lack of parity (even the Medicare system discriminates against the mentally ill by paying only 50 percent of costs); mentally ill in jails and emergency rooms; lack of incentive for good providers to service the mentally ill; and lack of qualified personnel, including doctors; constitutional requirements for reform (what are they?); crisis intervention team (CIT) Training for Public Safety personnel; and legislative priorities.
George E. Reynolds Jr., of Seven Lakes, is on the boards of the Sandhills Center for Mental Health; Developmental Disabilities & Substance Abuse Services; and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Moore County (NAMI-MC).
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