Here’s a story that caught my eye recently.
It’s long, but worth reading. But for you busy people, I’ll summarize.
Two thousand unmarked graves were found on the grounds of an old hospital. Whose could they be? Civil war dead? Victims of an epidemic?
No. That section of the old hospital was an asylum, and the bodies were those of inmates. The insane. The developmentally delayed. The rebellious. Anyone the family wanted to hide and forget.
Of course, we don’t do that any more. No more locked, back wards. No more Snake Pits. No more Cuckoo’s Nests.
No, the asylums (pardon me, behavioral health residential facilities) have largely been closed and the inmates (pardon me, clients or residents or patients) released.
After their 30 days of insurance coverage run out.
To a group home that has a waiting list longer than the Mississippi.
To outpatient centers that hand out meds that may or may not have an effect or even be taken.
To the streets.
To a society that hates and fears them, lumps them all together as eyesores and NIMBYs, panhandlers, homeless and jobless, and spree killers.
Of course there are mentally ill people who are able to function in society on some level or another. They’re the ones who have likely never been in a locked ward. Those with understanding families, good insurance, nearby therapists, and a support system of friends. People who can hold a job. The ones who hardly ever shoot other people. People like me.
Still, the functional mental patients, your coworkers and neighbors and even family members are afraid to “come out” as needing help or getting help. They won’t even admit to taking Prozac, despite it’s being one of the most prescribed drugs in America.
Why is that? Because even if the asylums are gone, largely closed by lack of funding rather than obsolescence, the stigma remains. As a society, we have the impression that all people with mental disorders are psychotics or schizophrenics, lurking nearby just waiting for the chance to get their names in the papers and on TV.
We don’t lock up mental patients much any more. Now we’re humane. We give them apathy, invisibility, fear, and maybe a few drugs.
And the same old stigma.