With all of the talk about Adam Lanza, I thought I’d share some experiences with the mental health system in America. I’m not a professional, but as having grown up with a family member with a mental illness I have first hand experience about the gross negligence of our current system.
Contrary to popular belief, there are very few mental health hospitals in America. Of the mental health facilities there are, most are not equipped for nor are insurance companies willing to pay for commitment (even in severe cases) beyond a week.
But before we even get to that, there is an even bigger problem: getting a mentally-ill person to a hospital. You see in America there are a number of laws that “protect” mentally-ill patients. I don’t know all of them by name and I’m not going to try to quote them all, but the long and the short of it is unless an adult hurts themselves or someone else there is very little the police or doctors will do.
Often times the answer is “Go file a petition with the court to have the person committed.” This is what Nancy Lanza attempted to do for her son. There are some serious problems with this process, however. It is not quick. Even an emergency hearing can take upwards of a couple of weeks. And the definition of an “emergency” (at least in Michigan) is that the person must already be in a hospital. The average waiting time for a court hearing to even begin discussing the situation is around four weeks.
Keep in mind that to even begin the court proceedings you have to already have significant evidence proving that the person is mentally-ill. So after the person has already reached an unsafe level you have to wait another four weeks for the courts to act.
Gas On The Fire
If this wasn’t bad enough, the courts force you to pour a whole tank of gas on the fire. According to Michigan law (and it may even be Federal law), you as the petitioner are legally obligated to serve the entire petition to the allegedly mentally-ill person. This petition includes all of the information you’ve collected detailing how they are unstable, incompetent, and even dangerous. So, now you have a person already dangerously unstable whom you must now tell you are trying to forcibly commit to a mental hospital. But not only that, everything you’ve told the court you’re REQUIRED to tell that person. So now you have a dangerous, unstable person who can’t reason or distinguish reality being told all the reasons they are that way.
This is the point where Nancy was...an from recent reports why Adam snapped.
Let’s rewind a bit though and address the issue of the hospital itself. Many hospitals do not have a psychiatric ward. I have taken a severely mentally-ill person to a hospital only to have the hospital release said person out on the street. This is after the person abandoned their vehicle, walked 30 miles through the night, and walked into a strangers house to use their phone. Without delving into even more details, said person was certifiably psychotic…or was he?
Both the doctors and security at the hospital said that it wasn’t their responsibility to decide whether a person received treatment and that there was “nothing they could do”. In fact, even his own psychiatrist who admitted that he needed to be hospitalized, said “There’s nothing I can do.” Imagine my surprise when looking through court documents and legal information about the process I found a nifty little form at the top of the county probate courts website. What was it? A one page form that would allow ANY physician (not just a psychiatrist) to declare a person mentally-ill. Not only that, but if a doctor filled out this form and had it delivered to the court, the mentally-ill person would be picked up by ambulance, same day, and taken immediately to a mental hospital. No hearing. No questions. Straight to a hospital where they could be safe. Yes, that simple. That easy.
Problem is: most doctors don’t want to be liable or responsible. So instead of doing what they know is right, they instead leave it up to the family to take the lengthy process that they know puts the mentally-ill person in danger.
But it doesn’t end here my friends. Oh no. Even once the person is in the hospital that same mentally-ill person who can’t check themselves out of the hospital or legally make any decisions about anything else in their life, has every right to revoke the doctor’s privilege to talk to anyone they choose. This means that even if the mentally-ill person is committed there is a highly probable chance that the only people who know how the person is acting can’t even discuss the issue with the doctor. So in many situations doctors are going in blind and treating blindly, and are on a very, very short clock made by the insurance companies.
Treatment in most psychiatric facilities includes pumping the person full of medicine and running them through some counseling sessions. After a few days (mind you it usually takes more than a week just to see if a psychiatric medication is effective) they are released to the street. Getting that person back into the hospital is sometimes marginally easier, but can also be significantly harder because they’ve been declared “treated”. Just imagine how furious a person would be with a mental illness that suffers from boughts of rage.
Mentally-Ill, Not Stupid
Could our system get any worse? Of course it can! Most mental illnesses don’t actually affect a person’s intelligence. In the case of many illnesses it hampers their ability to recognize reality from their malformed thoughts or self-control, but they still retain their intelligence. This means a highly intelligence or shrewd person with a mental illness can actually talk their way out of a mental hospital if they learn how to answer the questions correctly. My family member did this multiple times and even bragged about. And over the course of several commitments, not one hospital would listen to our warnings that he was capable of doing that. We’re not talking about just Michigan, or just one doctor, but several doctors and several hospitals in several states over several years.
One last notch to add to our list of absurdities: if you don’t have mental health insurance all of this costs THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS making it near impossible. And unless your health insurance has mental health insurance built in, you’re now under the mercy of the mentally ill person to decide whether or not they want to purchase it. Meaning you foot the bill if they don’t… and if you can’t? …
So my friends. Can you understand how the horrible events in Sandy Hook and even Colorado took place? Our country who prides itself in having some of the best medical treatment in the world gets a D- in mental health. Our system is broken. Terribly, terribly broken. Family members of mentally-ill people are not usually the terrible guilty parties they are made out to be. Often times they are completely helpless.
You can’t make a person 18 years or older get help. If they refuse they can do whatever. They can even legally leave the country. There is nothing the government will do until that person becomes violent.
That is why Sandy Hook is no surprise to me. Thankfully, my family member wasn’t violent. But for those who have a violent family member suffering from severe mental illness like Adam Lanza… my heart goes out to them. Our system doesn’t work like it should. It doesn’t work at all.
Until we fix the system, these shootings will continue to happen.