Shortness of Mental Hospital Beds February 3, 2010Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, mental illness.
Tags: Mental Hospitals, mental illness
Society seems to think that if we eliminate the places people can go for help managing their mental illness, then we can eliminate the illnesses themselves. We can say to ourselves “Look! The places we used to treat mental illnesses at are all gone! That must be because there are no more mental illnesses requiring hospitalization! Yay!”
In 1973, Washington State shut down Northern State Hospital in Sedro Wooley, which is about an hour’s drive from Seattle, due to budget cuts. Back in its heyday, Northern housed 2,700 patients. Despite the substantial increase in population from 1973 to the present (almost 40 years), there has been no increase in the number of mental hospital beds. In fact, they keep decreasing.
Shutting down the facilities is society’s way of trying to make the problem go away. If there’s nowhere to treat the problem then the problem must be gone.
It’s interesting to look at the presidential familial histories of the presidents in office when certain actions were taken regarding mental illness. For example, when John F Kennedy, whose sister was lobotomized, was in office in the early 1960’s, the secrecy of mental illness was blown wide open. Mental hospitals were built, programs for mentally ill were implemented, cruel practices like lobotomies were stopped, and mental illness finally came out of the deep recesses of the closet.
Then, when Ronald Reagan, a man with no public ties to mental health, took office in the 1980’s, politicians were looking to shrink government and reduce spending. With the advent of new medications, the people governing the nation got the (wrong) impression that mental hospitals were suddenly passé, no longer needed because new medication took the place of hospitalization. The general idea behind the shuttering was that the new drugs made hospitalization obsolete, and that those housed in the facilities were fairly long-term residents who would be better served outside the state-run hospitals rather than inside them.
The sad truth is vastly different. The true effect of this bed shrinkage is felt most clearly on two groups of people: those needing long-term care and those looking for short-term care . People seeking short-term care need specialized supervision and care in order to get their medications started or under control under strict medical supervision. They and their families suffer from the shortage of hospital beds. They go untreated, unable to get to a place where they can manage their illness.
Those needing short-term care but not finding it soon turn into those needing long-term care. Unable to find long-term care either, they take to the streets. We know them as the homeless population.
The medical community acknowledges that there is a need for more beds, but the reality is that there is no movement afoot to do anything about it. Especially in this cash-strapped time, there is no room in our budgets for building new mental hospitals, despite our increased population. That’s sad.