Letter: The cost of not caring: a stigma set in stone

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The failure to provide treatment and supportive community services to people with mental illness — both in the community and in hospitals — has overburdened emergency rooms, crowded state and local jails, and left untreated patients to fend for themselves on city streets.

The USA routinely fails to provide the most basic services for people with mental illness — something the country would never tolerate for patients with cancer or other physical disorders.

Mental health is a separate but unequal system. We have a wasteland of people who have died and been disabled because of inadequate care.

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Although most people with mental illness are not violent, the USA’s dysfunctional, long-neglected mental health system is under a microscope because of mass shootings in which the perpetrators had serious psychiatric problems.

Stigma forces many to live in shame rather than seek support, even as their lives unravel. Yet patients who want help often can’t find it. Stigma even shaped the crafting of the Medicaid law more than 50 years ago, because Congress didn’t want to waste federal money on mental illness. People were operating under the belief that mental health was a black hole for money.

By denying hospital care to the mentally ill, Congress set two standards for health, effectively telling the country that the mentally ill are less deserving of a decent life than others. By forcing the mentally ill to live with sickness, confusion and disability, federal law reinforces the assumption that the mentally ill are incapable of leading functioning, safe and successful lives.

The federal government has set so many barriers to getting care, which they have done with no other type of illness, and it is wrong. There is no other area of medicine where the government is the source of the stigma.

If one were to have diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease, there is no stigma to that. But if our brain doesn’t work, why are people supposed to be ashamed of that? It’s just another organ. People will readily admit to taking medicine for high blood pressure, but if someone is taking medication for some kind of mental problem they are having, they are supposed to hide that.

The time has come to put an end to this stigma and let our voices be heard. People dealing with mental health issues need to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. I am unaware of a single person who has freely chosen to live with mental illness. All that I am asking is to give people with mental illness a reason to hope. If there is no hope, then America and society as a whole has failed to live up to the standards that our forefathers once envisioned. Where do you stand when it comes to issues regarding mental health?

Mark Jacobson

certified peer support specialist