Should institutionalization be brought back?


One of the recent subjects that has been circulated is the return of the mental asylum or institution. Before the 1970s, it was common for those who suffered from mental illnesses to be committed to an institution for however long their doctors believed necessary (or the money to pay for it was available). For most, it meant a life sentence in what amounted to a prison.

In recent years, involuntary commitment has returned as an idea and has, in fact, become legal in most U.S. states where evaluation detention can be required by a doctor. This forces the patient into up to 72 hours of institutionalization for a mental evaluation.

The trouble? Those who are committed involuntarily are often not those who really need help, but are instead those who are somehow "suspicious."

Already, more stories of people who are targeted for their political views or free speech activities have surfaced than those of people who have any real mental illness. With about one in four adults suffering from some kind of diagnosable mental illness, commitment becomes a crap shoot in which those who do not like someone for any reason can almost assuredly find a reason for sending them away.

In the 1950s, this was often a way for people in power to get rid of the "pests," legally, as once those persons were committed, the mandatory drugging they received would make them appear crazy, perpetuating the lockup.

In fact, surveys and studies have shown that mandatory institutionalization actually reduces mental health treatment rates, as those who need help the most shy away from it for fear of being locked up.

Instead, most mental health professionals argue, what is really needed is more accessible, voluntary mental health care. Removing the high costs and negative stigmas for mental health care will open up services to those who need it most and encourage them to access it.

The trouble is that the easiest and most politically expedient way to deal with problems in this country is to attempt to lock them up and hide them behind big, sturdy walls. After mental asylums fell out of fashion in the 1960s and disappeared, prisons and homelessness took their place.

It's about time that we wake up to the fact that walls do not cure problems; they only attempt to hide them. We must face our issues head on and deal with them expediently and with courage and heart. Like the person facing mental health issues, we must acknowledge that there is something to treat and then actually treat it instead of attempting to cover it up so we can try to ignore it.

Admitting that there is a problem is the first step. We must admit that we have a mental health care crisis and then face it. Otherwise, we'll just keep sweeping them under an already lumpy and disheveled rug.

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