by Kayla Moon | email@example.com
edited by Emma Dones
Imagine, if you will, that you are in a manic state completely unable to cope with reality. Suddenly, you’re grabbed, forcefully, by people you’ve never met and thrown into a small room with no windows. The doors are locked, and someone else begins to strip you naked, beating you if you protest. This is a short glimpse into the treatment of those committed to an asylum because they suffered from a psychological illness in 1840s America.
Modern science has yielded groundbreaking discoveries in understanding mental illness, however, despite this significant improvement, the treatment and care for mentally ill patients still resemble the horrors of the 1840s.
The homeless population is the most neglected community in America, and by analyzing that neglect, we can see just how ineffective our treatment is concerning mental health. Rather than demonizing the poor, let’s, instead, take a more open-minded approach. Of the data collected so far, numbers show that 30% of individuals who are chronically homeless could potentially be diagnosed with a mental illness. These numbers tell us homelessness is not merely caused by laziness or unwillingness to work but from an untreated psychological disorder or trauma of some kind. These individuals, who are forced to live on the streets through the hottest summers and depths of freezing winters not only suffer immensely from their environment but also fight a possibly more intolerable battle within their minds.
Our society has yet to build adequate structures of support for this community. It’s important to take an objective stance and observe how the methods of the 1840s still, frustratingly, correlate to the institutions of today. Often, when a homeless person has a mental health crisis, it is left to a police officer with little or no training in mental health to handle the situation. Brute force and weapons are often used, and 20% of the time the situation ends with officer-involved fatalities.
Rather than being placed in an asylum, the physiologically struggling homeless are thrown in jail. This sterile, institutionalized environment which consists of caging people suffering an emotional and mental crisis has yet to provide any rehabilitation success rates. That is reason enough to call for an end to these inhumane practices which only bring forth a horrendous way of affirming any preexisting conditions of mental illness. Homeless people who are in need of support are too often physically assaulted first and then thrown into a place which only serves to make their conditions infinitely worse. If we are to have any hope as to resolving this issue, we need to turn away from this system that is still, surprisingly, overwhelmingly supported.
Some homeless, those lucky enough not to be jailed, have access to county services where meetings are available with an intern psychologist. This system sounds like a good solution but is, in reality, entirely unhelpful. Take, for example, the stark differences between public services offered by the county and that which is provided by a private clinic.
The county office appears subhuman by comparison in the treatment and respect shown to its patients. When checking in, the individual is given a number and told to sit with 30-50 other people who are all on the bell curve of hysteria. In a private clinic, the individual is met with tea, magazines, inspirational pictures, and comfortable chairs with – at most – three to five others sharing the room. It is this kind of treatment from a private clinic that a mentally unstable person needs to receive to feel supported in their healing journey.
Whether homeless or living in poverty, the options for getting help with mental illness are severely limited. It ranges from physical altercations with the police, dehumanizing prison cells, or inadequate treatment that significantly differs from that of professional psychologist offices. From this, we can only conclude that the system in place for psychological treatment is broken and incorrectly utilized.
“The human, social, and economic impact of not treating serious mental illness is beyond calculation,” says the Treatment Advocacy Center.
Refusing to give aid to those with mental health issues has severe costs for all of us, even if we aren’t homeless or mentally ill. We must work to stifle the echoing horrors of the 1840s. This national trend of neglect needs to come to an end. Being a genuinely advanced and civilized nation means treating your fellow person with dignity and allowing them access to the resources that are needed. This is not a call to demolish the systems in place; this is a call to humanize them, expand, fund, and support them in their growth to help aid America’s national mental health crisis.