A visitor posted this comment last night:
Nowadays, the mentally ill live with family or independently, and drugs are supposed to keep them safe and well. Would it be better if the mentally ill are instead kept in mental institutions? There is a lot of potential for abuse in institutionalizing the mentally ill; as was depicted in victorian novels, so that would be a big concern. I am wonder if some mentally ill people would actually benefit from being in a mental institution, rather than staying with their parents or independently. Or would it be a case of punishing all mentally ill people for the crimes of a few? Your thoughts?
I think it deserves a detailed response.
I won’t mince words or try to be politically correct – we all know there are some people out there that ain’t right in the head. We mostly stopped using terms like “lunatic” and “retarded” because of the stigma associated with those words, but the problems they describe still exist.
Regardless of what terms you use, they describe problems with the brain. Those problems may be genetic, organic or caused by some kind of trauma, but whatever the cause some portion(s) of the person’s brain does not function properly. Some of those problems may not manifest themselves until adulthood.
Once upon a time crazy people were thought to be possessed by demons. There was no treatment for people with brain impairments and they were either cared for by their families, allowed to fend for themselves and/or driven off. Somewhere during the 19th Century we started warehousing them in “insane asylums”.
During the 20th Century we started keeping them in “mental hospitals” and drugging them to keep them docile. This was considered a big improvement. Some of them were experimented on with electric shock treatments and/or brain surgery. The quality of care in these places was somewhat less than ideal. Sometimes it was cruel and sadistic, and other times it was merely heartless.
Somewhere around the 60′s and 70′s the bleeding hearts on the left teamed up with the penny-pinchers on the right to close many of the mental hospitals in favor of “community care.” The unintended result of this was a sudden and dramatic rise in the homeless population and the number of mentally ill inmates in our jails and prisons.
We live in a nation that places a high value on freedom. But some people simply aren’t qualified to exercise that franchise. The extreme cases are the easiest – people who are completely incapable of caring for themselves or who are an obvious danger to themselves and/or others. The less obvious cases are more problematic.
Some people are high-functioning/mildly impaired – they are capable of caring for themselves but they are a little “slow” or “off.” We allow these people the full rights and privileges of citizenship and the exercise of freedom as long as they stay out of trouble.
Now here is where it gets tricky. Some people are capable of functioning with a little help – supervision, assistance, treatment and/or medication. Some people need quite a bit of help. Some of them refuse to accept any help.
We can lock people up even if they haven’t committed any crime if they are a danger to themselves or others. We can place people under a guardianship so that they can be allowed to function under supervision. Some people are beyond help. The question is where do we draw the lines and who decides? At what point should the state intervene?
Families are often the first line of assistance. But sometimes families are unwilling or incapable of meeting that person’s needs. This is especially true with impaired adults with elderly parents. In some cases the family is part of the problem.
There are other issues as well, like substance abuse. Whatever problems the person has are gonna get worse if they abuse alcohol or drugs. Take a functioning but impaired person who stops taking their medications and starts using crank and they can turn into a real problem.
Often the only help these people get comes when they get arrested for some crime. While they are locked up they get clean and start taking their meds again. They are model prisoners. Then they are released under supervision by probation or parole officers. They do just fine. Eventually the supervision ends, they stop taking their meds and start using drugs again. Then they end up in jail. It’s a vicious cycle that repeats itself over and over during their lifetimes.
So what is the right answer? Fuck if I know. No matter what we do bad things will happen. Some times there is no right answer.
BTW – I was not addressing sociopaths, pedophiles and other special cases like that. When those types are identified they need to be permanently locked up because they will always be a danger to others.