The imminent further cutting of mental health funds is the focus of this statement which I sent to the people who represent me in this state of California and in Washington. Sadly, I did not even get an acknowledgement that my letter was received. Currently, many homeless are mentally ill. We have an epidemic of public mass shootings and the burden that a mentally ill person places on families is disproportionate. Where is the glue that holds us together? Why is there no empathy, no understanding that mental illness affects us all? Why is it that cuts for people who make more than a quarter of a million dollars a year are so disputed, yet we are willing to compromise what little there is left of funding for mental health so the wealthy get wealthier? In the long run, they must realize that they, too, are affected by this.
The last tragedy to which we were witness, that of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, is a blatant example. No one is immune and we all have a responsibility to see that people who are mentally ill need family and community support. That community support can only happen when there is sufficient funding for organizations, public and private, and there isn’t a perpetual Damocles sword over them, as wave upon successive wave of cuts eliminates yet another program. How many more shootings must be endured in wealthy and poor communities alike? How many homeless women, men, young children, and adults, are we going to have to continue to witness? Have we become so cruel that as a nation we do not take care of each other? Have our hearts become so hardened that we are no longer affected by the distress of a mother who lost her child, so superficial that the only response we have is that their child is now an angel, as if some cruel and vengeful God were aimlessly plucking budding young lives to fill his celestial staff? We have, I am afraid.
What started as a well intentioned move to give the mentally ill some autonomy; an attempt to free them from the literal shackles of outdated mental institutions has become the degrading line in a soup kitchen, the anonymity of a gigantic homeless shelters that are so dangerous that people choose the streets instead.
It is not because there is no qualified staff or that those who work with the mentally ill have no compassion or empathy. It’s the fact that those institutions are often staffed by people with no training, while barely making a living wage. Institutions do not have the budgets to hire qualified professionals; people who have invested a significant amount of money and time, and yet find themselves at the end of a soup line, which they were trained to eradicate. I find myself in such a position. Staff so ill trained that they don’t know the difference between a case of depression due to loss (bereavement we used to call it) and lifelong schizophrenia. People with substance abuse problems are given medications that do not relieve their problem. We subject people to tremendous, and sometimes irreversible, side effects because the big pharmaceutical companies provide an incentive to prescribe; the condition is irrelevant.
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