Unlike gun policy, America's handling of the severely mentally ill has changed profoundly over the course of the past 50 years. The deinstitutionalization movement emptied the mental hospitals. Even for the few psychiatric beds that remain, laws severely limiting involuntary commitment make it nearly impossible to get treatment for those who refuse. HIPPA and other federal privacy regulations make it impossible for family members of the mentally ill above age 18 to exchange information with treating physicians. And Medicaid and SSDI have enabled the mentally ill to subsist without contact with families or communities who might get them the help they need.
As Dr. E. Fuller Torrey of the Treatment Advocacy Center has noted, Assisted Outpatient Treatment, which ties government benefits to compliance with treatment, has shown success in reducing hospital admissions, criminal behavior and homelessness among the mentally ill.
Family members of the mentally ill report the frustration of being unable to get treatment for their family members even when they have threatened violence. Reform of civil commitment laws to permit 72 emergency interventions, even over the objections of the patient, would correct this. Our laws have swung way too far in the direction of libertarianism when it comes to mental health treatment. This serves neither the mentally ill themselves nor the larger society.
If Obama were sincere about Newtown, he would consider these overdue reforms. But apparently he doesn't care about dead children.
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