I've been putting off writing about this book because it's so very difficult to even think about its topic, and even more to write about it.
It is difficult to find words to adequately disparage the state of mental "healthcare" in this nation. If you doubt that there's a problem, I invite you to any large city. Walk around and ask why there are homeless people on the streets. Speak to any police officer, anyone who works in a hospital, jail or prison. Ask her or him if they have problems dealing with the mentally ill.
Pete Earley is an accomplished investigative journalist and writer whose life has been touched intimately by mental illness. His son suffers from bipolar disorder. Early's experiences trying to get help for his son inspired him to investigate the treatment of people with mental illness in this country. He did a thorough job, and the result is mostly disturbing.
One of the most frustrating aspects of having a loved one with such a disorder is that no matter how obvious or egregious their behavior and delusions may be, there is no good way to get them into treatment if they resist. And it is not unusual for a person with delusions, paranoia, mania, or depression to resist treatment. Indeed, many who suffer with these diseases feel that there is nothing wrong with them. It's the old joke, "I'm right, and the world's wrong." Furthermore, the effectiveness of treatment is inconsistent and undependable, which has led some patients to conclude that they are better off avoiding the "system" entirely.
Early's research includes a brief history of the last few decades during which we have seen the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, and its consequences.
"Tragically, deinstitutionalization [was a ] disaster. ...patients were discharged without any effort.. to link them to ... services -- if, in fact, there were any. President Kennedy's promise of $3 billion to create a safety net turned out to be a cruel lie... Congress never got around to financing community health centers.
"Chronically mentally ill patients -- psychotic and bewildered -- began appearing on street corners..."
The book is a very well written, unsettling chronicle of what we have done and not done about the people among us who suffer from disorders of the brain. Earley touches upon the many inadequacies of the legal system, the general ineffectiveness of the "healthcare" system, and the incredible apathy that this nation exhibits toward this entire subject.
We may look the other way, or cross the street, to avoid a deluded person wandering by, talking to voices we can't hear. We may think that it is a problem that "other people" have. But every one of us is touched by this in some way. The sheer numbers of mentally ill people around us -- both diagnosed and undiagnosed -- should be enough to make this a certainty. But -- as Earley reminds us -- what exactly makes any of us "sane" people immune? Who can say that he or she will never suffer from a mental illness? And if that happens, how then will we feel about this problem?
It is easy for me to see how important it is that we address the plight of the mentally ill in a meaningful way, since I have people close to me who suffer. I see the inadequacy of care, and the lack of understanding in society. I work for an organization that provides behavioral healthcare, and see the immense resistance it encounters while trying to do its work. As a nation, as a state, we are not willing to pay to take care of these people -- instead we pay billions to deal with the consequences.
We cannot afford to be complacent -- anyone may be the next person to be touched by mental illness, and may become woefully aware of the awful mess we have created.
I urge you to read this very interesting book, no matter what you think your level of involvement is. Whether we look at the question from a spiritual or pragmatic viewpoint, we are "our brother's keepers."
Here is a terrific review of the book at Blogcritics.org.