The Mental Illness Discussion Needs Substance

by lizard

Mental illness is an incredibly difficult issue to even approach, but avoiding the issue increases the likelihood of awful things happening. In Missoula an elderly woman was beat to death with a chair by her 25 year old grandson. In Orange County, California, a jury somehow came to the conclusion that police weren’t acting criminally when they beat a homeless schizophrenic man to death, despite graphic video evidence (which I haven’t watched and won’t link to).

Getting angry at the police in the Kelly Thomas case is understandable. That said, it’s a broken system of support and treatment that makes violent interactions with police more likely.

I know Missoula likes to think of itself as “progressive”, but when it comes to mental health services, we are way behind. I wrote this post last December in response to a Missoulian editorial, because the members of the editorial board said they wanted a discussion. That discussion is sputtering along with an article that touches on something Idaho is going to try because it seems to be working in Billings: crisis centers:

Idaho is looking to neighboring Montana for inspiration in the creation of a trio of crisis centers designed to serve the state’s mentally ill.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter are asking the Legislature to approve a $5 million budget for the centers.

That’s enough money to get them up and running in three cities by the end of the year.

The facilities are planned for Boise, Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene. They are patterned after the Community Crisis Center in Billings, Mont., which has proven successful in the years since it opened in June 2006.

Idaho mental health advocates say the centers will keep more mentally ill people out of Idaho’s jails and emergency rooms.

That’s the whole article. Pretty bare-bones, if you ask me.

We desperately need a substantive discussion about mental illness so people can be informed. Maybe then we, as a city, won’t waste time watching our city council debate, pass, then reconsider unconstitutional ordinances.

At Intelligent Discontent, Sheena Rice reacts to 3 high school kids committing suicide in her hometown, Butte America, in a post titled Montana’s Failure in Addressing Mental Illness.

It’s unfortunate the stories we hear about mental illness usually occur after something tragic has happened. Because of confidentiality, the stories of daily struggles and successes are much more difficult to tell. I’m not sure those in the service provider realm can effectively advocate for the necessary funding without some examples of how our current approach to addressing mental illness is failing miserably.

And to be effective, the examples need to be more specific. Stories like this one and this one don’t even tell half of it.

  1. So why don’t you do something about it? I hear you complain about mental illness each week. What have you done?

    Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and run for office, join a non-profit, or do something besides spilling out words that, judging from your comments, no one cares about.

    Why are you wasting your users’ time?

    • JC

      Well, I know Liz got at least one vote for mayor (you’re welcome!). And if you knew him, you wouldn’t attack him like this. Ease up Greg. Don’t shoot the messenger…

    • lizard19

      I am. and you? I see you making the online rounds, even commenting on Missoulian articles. that’s helpful.

      JC: thanks for the vote of confidence!

  2. Big Swede

    50% of mental illness is the results of substance abuse.

    That’s always lost in the discussion.

    • JC

      Ever hear of a thing called causality? That seems to be lost in your discussion. The two definitely correlate. But which may cause the other, or if they co-occur what are the contributing factors — like genetics and/or childhood trauma and adverse stress in the household — has not entered the general conversation yet?

      Instead we continue to get insinuations that people deserve what they get because mental illness and addiction is a moral problem. Which is why our society is totally unable to come up with a better strategy than to “just say no” and “after three strikes you’re out” in “the war against drugs.”

      You’d think that the presence of a burgeoning private prison industry unlike anything else in the civilized world would give a conservative some pause. But noooooo… we must punish those who are not like the others…

      Thanks for keeping the conversation alive, BS. Your comments point to the heart of the problem. Just not in the way you think they do.

  3. steve kelly

    A good start would be recognition that mind and body are connected. Wake up AMA. And thanks JC, I just finished Mate’s latest book. Great insights.

  4. d.g.

    It all happens on Pine Street Mondays at 7 p.m. The Three Minutes That Change Missoua. Testimonial at City Council is televised (albeit MCAT) (Keila of the Missoula is a Gildna Radner caricature in print and will not cover anything of substance) but getting on the public record can change history. The new alderpersons are not yet jaded nor hypnotized by Engen nor have they invested their generous wages to a point beyond which they can have principles…………so NOW is the time to step from behind the computer monitor and honestly do something 420!

    • lizard19

      first, I’m getting a bit tired of commenters who don’t know what I do trying to tell me what to do.

      second, speaking to council on Mondays is not the end-all-be-all form of persuasion, especially considering the votes are usually known well before any vote occurs.

    • Big Swede

      At least Johnny owned up to it.

      Quote (opening line): “I hurt myself today”.

      Tormented soul, laid to rest.

      • lizard19

        that’s a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song, FYI.

      • JC

        Tormented? Hardly, unless you believe Joaquin Phoenix’s hollywood-style portrayal of him. Sure he was a recovering addict, and as such had a lot to offer the world. But his life and relationship with the love of his life — June Carter — was not what I’d call tormented. Unfortunately, Walk the Line did a great disservice to his legacy by ending soon after he got clean and sought redemption.

        And he was as radical of a persona as any hippy coming out the 60s, it’s just because he appeared to be a country artist that folks didn’t really pay attention or give him due for what he really cared about: the plight of the underdog.

        Johnny Cash is one of my all time heroes. I’ve probably got two dozen of his songs in my repertoire. And I’ve been watching some of his old shows for fun. Here’s a great documentary about his life, “Half Mile a Day”.

        “The future is not questionable, for me it is a path of light. Lit by those who enrich my life.” — Johnny Cash

        Hardly the words of a tormented soul.

        And as to “owning up to it,” why does any addict need to publicly “own up?” Again, you make addiction and mental illness into a moral problem. Therein lies the problem…

        • Big Swede

          The act of becoming a addict certainly isn’t moral.

          principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.

          Unless you want change the definition of the word. Mental Illness in many cases is the results of immoral behavior.

          As far as Cash is concerned I’m thinking his life was tormented, hence the popularity and significance of his last recording.

          Games back on I’ll research that one later.

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