Monday, January 10, 2011

Mental Health in America & The Catholic Principle of Solidarity

Political rhetoric surrounding the Arizona shooting has stirred up quite a bit of criticism. Everyone is looking for someone to blame, and the major political voices in America don't want it to be them. They would like to dismiss this as the singular act of a madman.

Politics and legislation do have some level of responsibility, however. Over the past several years there has been a recurrence of violent attacks against innocent individuals by people who are undeniably mentally ill. Laws that impact a person's civil liberties and "right to privacy" have impeded the process of identifying, treating and protecting mentally ill individuals from harming themselves and those around them.

The link below is a research article by Prof. Gerald Grob that addresses empirical data collected regarding the decline of mental health institutional system in the wake of post-war modernist thinking in the field of psychiatry and the Federal and State governments. Here is an excerpt:
The presumption was that outpatient psychiatric clinics could identify early cases of mental disorders and also serve as alternatives to mental hospitals. The empirical data to validate such assertions, however, were lacking. Indeed, a study of about 500 patients in three California state hospitals during the 1950s found most of them unsuited to treatment in clinics.
The research is very telling in that there appeared to be no sound rationale to completely de-fund and de-institutionalize while expanding the community-based programs. The decision was made merely on rhetoric with no data to support the extreme shift, and left many who needed care within such facilities unsupported in the community. Of course, the old institutional settings needed to be revamped and were not without their problems. But according to the information in the research, that could have been easily accomplished with proper funding and better overall communication between community programs and institutional settings.

Regardless, what America faces now is a serious problem. Society has a responsibility to help protect both innocent individuals from becoming victims, as well as, the person with mental illness from harming himself and others. Those with mental illness are still our neighbor, and understanding the Catholic principle of solidarity, society must love them enough to get them the help they needs to be fully free, fully human.

Prayers are offered for the full recovery of Rep. Giffords, and for all those who were injured or killed as a result of this tragic shooting spree. We need a clear and determined path to early detection and mandatory treatment with direct oversight for those who display dangerously unstable behavior.


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