TW: Mental Illness

NPR had a great story today on an unintended result of cuts at the state level to mental health programs, which has sadly gotten little/no press coverage. As a result of these cuts, many clinics have closed, and now thousands of those struggling with mental illnesses are funneling in and out of prisons that are ill-equipped to help them.

In the Chicago area, Sheriff Tom Dart has done a lot to try to handle the needs and safety of the inmates with mental illnesses and has been called innovative, but even he admits that what he's doing isn't enough to help those who need help.

"On the one hand they're speaking so highly about what you're doing," he says, "but it's depressing as hell when they tell you you're the leader. I feel as if we're doing the bare minimum, and we're the leaders? No, this is not good."

Dart also made a couple of other great points that illustrate the problem with cuts to mental health care that are leading to those who struggle with mental health.

"Here you have a population clearly identified as mentally ill, and you're releasing them to the street with nothing," he says. "This isn't left or right, conservative or liberal talking. What do you think is going to happen?"

"Clearly our society had determined that the state-run mental hospitals were abhorrent, that my God, our society cannot tolerate this, we're much more advanced than that," Dart says. "I just find the irony so thick that that same society finds it OK to put the same people in jails and prisons."

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The reporter for the All Things Considered story interviewed an inmate who had deliberately committed crimes to get his antipsychotic medications, as the clinic he used to get it at was closed and, short of deliberately committing a small crime to be brought to the county jail, he had no way of getting the medications he knew he needed.

For those of you who haven't seen my comments in the past, I've struggled with mental illness in the past (an unclassified mood disorder) in the past, so articles like this resonate with me. The NPR reporter closed her story with a disturbing fact: about 1/3 of the 250 new inmates in holding at the Cook Country Jail every morning are struggling with some form of mental illness. It still boggles my mind that we couldn't find money to help keep mental health clinics and programs open, yet can give massive corporate welfare and tax cuts to companies to keep them in the state.