Posts Tagged ‘mental hospitals’

Anyway you look a the recent shooting in Tucson, it is a tragedy. I suppose all Americans can agree on that. However, as the nation gets over the shock and grief of the murders, I suppose we will soon begin pointing the finger of blame. I’m here to help.

In order to understand what happened in Tucson, it is necessary to recall a little U.S. history concerning the treatment of people with mental disorders. At one time, many years ago, the U.S. government was actively involved in providing care for people who had severe mental problems. There were mental hospitals in most states that were funded by the Federal government. It was a rare sight to see someone staggering along the sidewalk, mumbling to themselves. Today, that is commonplace. Why? Because of a fundamental difference in philosophy among Americans. We have, in this country, pretty much two camps. One camp sort of believes that we, as a society, should all work together for the common good. This group believes in high quality public education, government support of health care, and so forth. The other group is the rugged individualists whose philosophy is pretty much “you are on your own”. They believe that people should take care of themselves and they don’t want their tax dollars being used to help someone who did not provide for themselves.

At one time, the people who believed that government existed to help the people were in power. They created a system of mental hospitals to provide the type of care for the severely mentally disturbed that families just could not provide. This was the American way for many, many years. But all that changed in the late 20th century. A severe blow was dealt to this system when, under President Reagan, the Community Health Centers Act was repealed. This was the beginning of the end of Federal involvement in mental health care. Times and attitudes were changing. The people were voting more for States Rights than for a strong Federal government. Eventually, the responsibility for the care of mentally ill people transitioned to the individual states to handle as each state saw fit. The move has been a disaster.

When the Federally funded mental hospitals were closed and the Community Mental Health Centers were no longer funded we began seeing something new. There were homeless people wandering in the cities. They were obviously mentally ill. They were unable to care for themselves. It is that way today. Perhaps 30% of the homeless people are severely mentally ill, unable to care for themselves, unable to cope with the system or life on the streets. When winter comes some die on the streets of exposure. And we do nothing, except look away.

So, what does this have to do with the shooting in Tucson? During the past 40 to 50 years many of the Republican dominated states of the American West have clamored for states rights – and they still do. During this time they have obtained more and more authority and become more independent of the Federal government. They make their own rules now. However, with this new-found authority comes new-found responsibility. The State of Arizona has its own policies on how to deal with the mentally ill.  It has its own policies on who can own a gun. It has its own policies on how much ammunition one can buy. The State of Arizona also has the responsibility to keep its citizens safe. It has the obligation to ensure that it is not negligent in allowing dangerous people to have the opportunity to commit murder and mayhem.

The State of Arizona failed, not because it couldn’t protect it people; it failed because it didn’t. If Arizona had a system of mental hospitals for the severely mentally ill the young man who caused so much harm would have never had the opportunity to do so. All the signs were there, but there was no system in place in Arizona to take action. The mental hospitals don’t exist anymore. Mentally ill people are now integrated into society. Why? Because it is less expensive than caring for them. It was a business decision by President Reagan and many other Republican leaders. Ultimately, it is a question of philosophy. What kind of country are we and what are our values? The truth is we are a divided nation. So we leave these questions to the individual states.

The court case will probably go on for a long time. There will be endless analysis of who said what and who did what. Even the parents will be called in and interrogated. Why didn’t they stop their son, they will be asked. As if they could imagine this would happen.  The finger-pointing will begin, as it always does. Some will say it is Sarah Palin’s fault. Some may blame Glenn Beck for inciting hatred on his TV show. Some will blame Rep. Giffords for not taking sufficient precautions. Some will blame the young man’s school and teacher for not taking stronger action. And everyone will be heading for cover, trying to avoid blame. However, the blame belongs to none of these because they didn’t have the knowledge or the power or the duty to prevent the disaster. There is only one entity that can be rightly and legally blamed because it failed in its duty to its citizens in so many ways.

Blame Arizona.

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