Mental Health in the United States

By: Ellen Albritton

Across the country, states are experiencing severe budget crises. Deciding which programs and services will get cut in order to balance the budget is often a battle dramatically played out in the media. Less common is media coverage following the cuts to social services, so we often fail to hear the stories of those individuals whose daily lives are deeply affected by the policy decisions that our lawmakers debate so heatedly. This story in the New York Times sheds light on the current experiences of people with mental illness in Texas, as well as what may happen to these vulnerable individuals if  proposed cuts to mental health are passed. These proposed cuts in Texas could lead to a 20% cut in funding to community mental health centers. However, these facilities are already falling fall short of being able to provide for everyone in the community suffering from mental illness.

For many people in the United States dealing with mental illness, their best chance at receiving medication and treatment for their illness is within the walls of a prison. As the article states, “the jail is the largest mental health institution in the state.” What does the incarceration rate of people with mental illness tell us about the way we view the mentally ill regarding community? Why do we still view mental illness with so much stigma? What is preventing us from extending our notion of community to include these vulnerable members of our society?

There is a full spectrum of crimes for which people who are mentally are incarcerated. These range from violations of minor local ordinances to very violent crimes. How much can we hold these individuals personally responsible for their actions, especially when there continue to be fewer and fewer treatment and support options available to them? What about their right to self-determination? Those suffering from severe mental disorders may pose a threat to themselves or to others. Do we have the right to disregard their self-determination and forcibly medicate or forcibly admit them to a mental health institution? Finally, does the stigma surrounding mental illness lead to more allowances for overriding self-determination than is reasonably necessary for public safety?



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One response to “Mental Health in the United States

  1. amcerlean

    Ellen, I had been reading this article as well, and it is disheartening that mental health services continue to take blows with the budget cuts that are occurring across the nation. Another interesting point brought up in the article is the fact that while the government is making these budget cuts to save money and redistribute it elsewhere, the taxpayers end up paying for the incarceration or ER visits of these people with mental health disorders who cannot receive treatment.

    In psychology, there is a biopsychosocial model that holds that an insufficiency in biological, psychological, or social health can harm the sufficiency and stability of the other two areas– somewhat similar to Powers and Faden’s idea of the six dimensions of well-being. Neglecting to care for the psychological portion of this triad due to budget cuts can create problems that manifest physically (e.g., cardiac issues, self-harm) or socially (e.g., increase in the homeless population, overcrowded jails). So not only do the budget cuts support the stigma and make these people seem unworthy of care, but they also create even greater financial burdens for citizens.

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