By: Josh Goble, Peer Health Educator
This past month marked the death of Gene Wilder, yet another wonderful soul taken too soon by mental health related causes. Gene suffered from Alzheimer’s, a currently incurable disease that doctors believe was the primary cause of his death. Unfortunately, his case is not an anomaly. In the United States alone, 1 in 4 adults experienced some kind of mental illness in the past year, whether it was anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, which equates to roughly 61.5 million people (NAMI).
In the United States alone, 1 in 4 adults experienced some kind of mental illness in the past year, whether it was anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, which equates to roughly 61.5 million people (NAMI).
In Gene’s case, he was one of 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and contributed to the roughly 33% percent of senior citizens that die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia (Alzheimer’s Association). Mental illness is truly prevalent in our society, and although mental health expenditures have risen by roughly 63% from 1986-2005, this has not necessarily been in the best interests of the patient (SAMHSA 24). A 2010 estimate by the SAMHSA Spending Estimates Project found that the percentages of mental health expenditures have gone up by nearly 400% for prescription drugs, while they have dropped by over 50% for inpatient care.
Proponents of such a shift will argue that, by deinstitutionalizing patients in favor of increasing the amount of costly pharmaceutical medications used, one can adequately protect the civil liberties and hasten recovery times. Unfortunately, this has simply not been the case. As our prison populations have skyrocketed over the past few decades, the percentage of the mentally ill finding time in correctional facilities has also increased. The Prison Policy Initiative estimates that roughly 56 percent of state prisoners and 45 percent of federal prisoners suffer from some kind of mental illness.
This is clearly indicative of a system in which prisoners are being sent to correctional facilities rather than mental health facilities, a move that would most likely increase the rates of recidivism among the whole prison population beyond that of merely the unaffected individuals—due to the prison’s inability to address the underlying causes of these crimes in the same way as a mental health facility. If we really want to solve our prison problem, while providing the mentally ill with the care that they need, then we must provide space for the growing population of mental ill individuals so that they do not find themselves in this absurd cycle of poverty and criminal neglect.
As our prison populations have skyrocketed over the past few decades, the percentage of the mentally ill finding time in correctional facilities has also increased.
Although this all seems terrible, there is a bright side. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the percent increase in Mental Health Counselors over the next 8 years will be almost 300% higher than that of all occupations. This is certainly a step in the right direction, as this increase will most likely result in easier access to the care these people desperately need. Unfortunately, governing.com states that Alabama in 2012 ranked 37th for mental health expenditure per capita at roughly $78 per person, with roughly $162 million of which coming from the state General Fund, a number that has dropped to an estimated $114 million this year, a 30% decrease (NAMI).
In conclusion, although there are still serious injustices that are being leveled against the mentally ill of our society, the increase in mental health professionals and the rise in social concern for this issue both have the capacity to limit the time we spend mourning the death of those taken too soon, decrease the prison population and the recidivism rate of inmates, and ultimately change this societal disorder from one of chronic neglect to that of active rehabilitation.