Our Neglect Of The Mentally Ill

Mental Health Services

Austin Gus Deeds was unable to get the help he needed:

The day before he apparently stabbed his father at the family’s home in rural Bath County, the son of Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds underwent a psychiatric evaluation but was not admitted to a hospital, because no bed was available. Deeds was listed in fair condition late Tuesday after his son, Austin, stabbed him in the face and chest, then shot himself in what investigators suspect was an attempted murder and suicide.

Suzy Khimm puts this tragedy in context:

Across the country, the number of psychiatric beds has been steadily declining as hospitals moved away from institutionalizing patients and budget cuts have taken hold. The number of hospital beds in freestanding psychiatric hospitals has dropped 13% between 2002 and 2011, according to the American Hospital Association.

But the need hasn’t declined as quickly, and there haven’t been adequate alternatives to pick up the slack. Between April 2010 and March 2011, about 200 Virginia residents were deemed to be “in imminent danger to themselves or others as a result of mental illness or is so seriously mentally ill to care for self and is incapable or unwilling to volunteer for treatment.” But they were nevertheless released from custody because mental facilities didn’t have the capacity to admit them, according to a 2011 report from Virginia’s Inspector General.

In many major US cities, bed shortages have prompted emergency rooms to “warehouse” the mentally ill in holding rooms and hallways, where they languish without treatment. One Seattle woman who tried unsuccessfully to commit her mentally disturbed son in 2011 was told there were no beds available; he killed himself days later.

Tomasky weighs in:

Try this statistic on for a shocker. The per capita state psychiatric bed population in 2010 in the United States was identical to the figure for 1850. Yes, 1850, around when the very idea of caring for mentally ill people first started! Then and now, the number 14.1 beds per 100,000 population.

Between 2009 and 2012, states cut $4.35 billion from mental health services, which eliminated nearly 10 percent of all beds in just those three years. This is while 10 percent more people have been seeking services. I remember when I covered state and local politics in New York, mental health services were always among the first things on the chopping block. No constituency with any political power at all, just a bunch of do-gooders pleading for officials to do the right things. Which in fairness a lot of them want to do, but most don’t end up doing.