Yesterday morning I was reading the financial news on CNN, and I came across an article on mental illness.
Although it is a tragic story, I thought, “Wow, if mental illness is news in the financial section, then we have come a long way regarding stigma, and education.” I felt upbeat and hopeful about our progress.
By the afternoon, this article hit my newsfeed on Facebook, In Maine there is a bill being put forward that would treat the most “difficult” patients in a mental health unit in the state prison. Let me be clear about what the bill is saying; people with a severe mental illness who are considered the most “difficult” but that did not commit a crime would be housed in prison.
If this bill passes, it means that we have gone back decades regarding civil rights for the mentally ill. In reality, the very fact that this bill was drafted by public officials speaks volumes to how some people view the mentally ill. Someone with heart disease or cancer would never go to prison because of their diagnosis. For some people, this seems a perfectly reasonable option for the mentally ill, though.
You can see a timeline here of how we have treated psychiatric disorders in the past. In 1840, the mentally ill were housed in prisons along with criminals. Dorothea Dix became an advocate for the mentally ill and was instrumental in getting asylums funded and built.
Since the closure of most psychiatric facilities, we have seen an increase in mentally ill people living on the streets and in prisons.
As someone with a severe mental illness, it isn’t hard for me to imagine myself in the same position of thousands of others with the same diagnosis.
What is going on here? It should be everyone’s concern that people who haven’t committed a crime can be locked up. Everyone in America should take an interest in that. But are they?
No, some people are trying to make it happen.
Prison photo available from Shutterstock