If anyone ever wonders why there are untreated children with mental illness in their communities, then wonder no longer. Here is an article from my local paper that explains why a neighboring community refused to open a day treatment center that would offer services to children with mental illness. Keep in mind, when children with mental health issues are not treated, the results are mentally ill adults. So, the next time a person with mental illness does something awful and the news sensationalizes it for the world to see leaving “sane” people scratching their heads, wondering aloud, and spouting off judgments like, “What kind of crazy-ass person goes and does something like that to innocent people,” please remember that it’s “sane” people who are depriving innocent children of these services in the first place by blocking the permits that would allow community-based programs to help the most vulnerable young ones in their own communities. Stigma, ignorance, and just plain ol’ NIMBY (not in my backyard) are what motivates these actions. It’s great to help the depressed, schizophrenic, manic, or eating disordered as long as they live somewhere else. Maybe in Africa or something. Send a check. Get a tax write-off. Brag about it at your book club or your small group. Heaven forbid you might actually see a child with mental illness in your own town! What if your child meets one? Isn’t it bad enough that the autistics seem to be taking over the public schools? What now? You have to put up with those manic depressives? What about those schizophrenics? Don’t they have multiple personalities? Aren’t they violent? You can’t have that in your community! They might kill you or get in the way of your sledding fun!
Though Golden Valley’s police chief told the council she was comfortable with the LifeSpan proposal, during citizen testimony some neighbors said the 5- to 18-year-olds who would be in treatment at the site pose a danger.
One man warned that neighborhood children sledding on a hill behind the building could be at risk. He called LifeSpan’s description of its program “gentle and sugarcoated.”
“This is not a time to be PC,” he said. “Everyone is at danger … they have problems that pose a risk to other human beings, and we are those other human beings.” (Star Tribune: Golden Valley Rejects Plan to Treat Mentally Ill Children)
This attitude is common. This is why children and teens who experience mental illness, by no fault of their own, are exiled and alienated. Grace has one friend. One. She can no longer attend her own church youth group. Why? She is weary of being shunned and treated like she has a communicable disease. What this man said at a public meeting, however, is representative of many people–mentally ill people are a danger to other human beings.
NO!!! NO!!! NO!!! DAMMIT, NO!!!
Ignorance, stigma, and fear are dangers to other humans because the ignorance and fear of the people who prevented this project from being approved will now prevent hundreds of children and adolescents from getting the treatment they need so that they can go on to be successful as adults. These programs don’t exist just to serve the children. They educate and support their parents, too, and the caregivers of children with mental health needs must be supported because we live in the trenches. When the storms break in the lives of our children, we take a beating. These facilities provide support networks not only for the kids but for the caregivers as well enabling entire families to be successful! Communities are not entities unto themselves. They are composed of neighborhoods and businesses, and these neighborhoods and businesses are made up of smaller groups which all come down to families. If families are supported and set on a successful trajectory, then entire communities are moving in better directions. Communities cannot thrive where self-interest is god.
Here is the irony:
- When children and adults living with mental illness cannot get mental health services, they often end up using more health care resources, such as emergency rooms.
- Treatment works and while recovery is possible, long delays occur—often years—before people get help. There is an average delay of 8.5 years between the onset of symptoms and the beginning of treatment for people living with schizophrenia. When treatment is delayed, conditions may become more severe and more resistant to treatment. A psychotic, manic or depressive episode may result in lasting cognitive impairment, emergency room visits, hospitalizations—even incarceration or suicide.
- As a nation, we lose one life to suicide every 15.8 minutes. The vast majority of those who die by suicide live with mental illness—often undiagnosed or untreated.
- Protection and strengthening of state and local mental health services are needed to save lives. For people living with serious mental illness, life expectancy is 25 years less than that of other Americans.
- One in four adults experiences a mental disorder in every year.
- One in 17 adults lives with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.
- One in 10 children lives with a serious mental or emotional disorder.
- 50% of lifetime mental illness cases begin by age 14, 75% by age 24. Treating cases early could reduce disability, before mental illnesses become more severe.
- Patients with diabetes and co-morbid depression have health care costs that are 4.5 times higher than those without co-morbid depression. Despite their prevalence, mental disorders in people with chronic health conditions often go undiagnosed and untreated.
- As community mental health services decrease, hospital CEOs report a dramatic increase in the average length of stays for patients requiring emergency, psychiatric admission.
When people are deprived of the very community-based treatment programs that are so badly needed, we see more illness, more deaths, intractability, and rising healthcare costs.
What happens when people are given access to proper treatment through community-based programs and support?
- Assertive Community Treatment, (ACT) is a proven, cost-effective, coordinated team approach that combines intensive treatment and support services. In Oklahoma, the number of hospital days dropped 73 percent and days in jail fell 64 percent within a year after one group of 229 individuals living with mental illness was admitted to an ACT program.
- Collaborative, team-based care in treating older adults for depression have demonstrated both lower rates of depression and severity of symptoms and lower use of medical care services.
- People with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders have high rates of recovery when integrated dual disorders treatment is provided. Integrated treatment leads to dual recovery and reduces costs, yet in 2005 only 8.5 percent of 5.2 million adults with co-occurring disorders received treatment for both problems.
With all the evidence supporting community-based programming and treatment not to mention all the evidence delineating the results of not providing these much needed services, why would a community go to such lengths to see to it that an organization which exists solely to provide care, treatment, and services to children and teens with mental health issues be blocked from doing so in their neck of the woods?
Now that’s the magic question, isn’t it?
George Carlin might have been a foul-mouthed, controversial comedian, but his dirty mouth also pronounced some profound things. I think I’ll let George Carlin comment on this situation from here on out because, honestly, I think he might be right. People might be ignorant. People might be afraid. Frankly, it might be something a little more base than all that.
“We got something in this country. You’ve heard of it, it’s called “nimby”. N-l-M-B-Y, “Not In My Back Yard!” People don’t want anything, any kind of social help located anywhere near them. Try to open up a little home for some retarded people who want to work their way into the community, and people say: “Not in my back yard!” People don’t want anything near them….especially if it might help somebody else.” George Carlin, Jammin’ in New York, 1992