Archive for November 4th, 2013

by lizard

The Missoulian editorial board thinks it’s time to start talking about mental illness. Since newspapers still have significant power in framing what issues we talk about, it’s good to see some awareness being generated by the Missoulian.

The editorial is just barely scratching the surface, though.

Focusing on the cultural barrier of “silence” is an easy one for a newspaper, because simply by virtue of printing this op-ed, they (the editorial board) are making a much bigger stride in addressing that particular barrier. A much more significant factor, I would argue, is the socio-economic factor—put more simply, who pays?

I wrote a post in September about how the system is failing those with mental illness. That post links to an article describing the decades-long shift from treating mental illness in asylums to warehousing people suffering from mental illness in jails and prisons.

The problems with jailing people in psychiatric crisis are myriad. In fact, there was an incident in Missoula County’s detention center 7 years ago that the Missoulian did a really shitty job covering. Jay Stevens even wrote a post about it at 4&20 Blackbirds, which you can read here.

The Missoulian’s editorial ends with this:

There’s every reason in the world to start talking about mental illness. The more it’s brought into the open, the more those who have some form of mental illness will feel encouraged to bring their problems out of the shadows – and get help.

Yes, let’s bring this problem out in the open, including what happens to the people who can’t pay to get help. Let’s talk about state funding, and health insurance, and co-occurring substance abuse barriers, and judge’s who think treatment courts are cadillac programs we can’t afford (don’t vote for Jenks!). Let’s talk about why more officers don’t have crisis intervention training, and why it takes so long for a mental health professional to respond to psychiatric crisis in the ER.

And let’s talk about how jails and prisons continue to be warehouses for people with mental illness.

Some of us have already been talking about this, because things are not improving. The need seems to be increasing, especially among the population highlighted in the op-ed, veterans, but the resources are not keeping up with the need. I’ll say it again, denying Montanans medicaid expansion continues to be one of the cruelest, costliest decisions made by Republican ideologues who really don’t get it. Or if they do, they don’t care.

Luckily there are people within the system who know better than anyone what’s not working, and what needs to happen to improve things. Crisis can be a catalyst for change. I just hope when it comes to the more difficult parts of this conversation, the Missoulian will continue to help inform its readership about the many barriers to getting help.

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