Letters to the Editor

Redirect money to help the mentally ill

All of the recent articles about the boarding of seriously mentally ill individuals due to lack of adequate capacity for inpatient psychiatric care come as no surprise to anyone who has been working in emergency services or community health. I want to remind those who have been following this issue that the boarding issue applies only to those so acutely ill that they are being involuntarily committed to the psychiatric hospital. The problem of access to psychiatric care also applies to individuals who are voluntarily seeking psychiatric care or chemical dependency treatment. There is frequently a long wait to get access to a “voluntary bed” at an inpatient treatment center or psychiatric hospital. For addicts this can increase the risk of relapse during a fragile period of deciding to get help. For the seriously depressed or individuals who feel otherwise unstable, it can lead to suicidal or self harm behavior that is a cry for help from a system that prioritizes access to psychiatric care to those who are actively “a danger to self or others”. And access to ongoing care by a psychiatric professional for our community members with Medicare and Medicaid is often just not available. How do we expect to prevent the social problems and physical illnesses that are associated with untreated mental illness if we do not provide resources to those most in need? Maybe we need to re-allocate money that is ear-marked for jails and prisons.

Sara Holt-Knox