Here We Go Again: Reducing Mental Hospital Beds August 19, 2012Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Mental Hospital, mental illness, Schizophrenia, Uncategorized.
Tags: Delusions, Hallucinations, Mental Hospitals, mental illness, Schizophrenia
Here we go again: more psychiatric hospital beds are disappearing in Washington State. How do I know? Not from anything in the news. It’s because I got a phone call from a 75 year old woman whose 54 year old schizophrenic son is being released from Western State Hospital. She called because she was desperate to find housing and help for her son before he is released, which will be soon. She explained that she is an old lady and can barely care for herself, much less her son, who has been at Western for many years.
At Western, he has case managers and people who make sure he takes his medication as well as living support. He never learned how to shop or care for himself because his symptoms were so severe that they required him to be permanently hospitalized. I’m guessing that even with proper medication, he isn’t symptom-free or he would have been released years ago. Even with proper medication, delusions and hearing voices is fairly common in hard-to-treat cases like his. Once out of that protective environment of the hospital, she is concerned that when he stops taking his medication, his symptoms will increase and he will become unmanageable. She is looking for housing for him that will also provide help in adjusting to life on the outside. And she doesn’t have much time.
This situation is tragic. They’re taking a man who has spent most of his life in an institution getting the help and support he needs in order to function, and throwing him outside to fend for himself. Had there been any adjustment support for him, she wouldn’t be so desperate. Programs like those he needs are overfull. He won’t be able to get into those programs for years because they’re at or over capacity right now. And with the State releasing more people like this man, more people will fall through the cracks. The State hasn’t funded stop-gap programs for people like him. There simply isn’t anywhere he can go. Who knows what will ultimately happen to this man?
Although I understand the need to balance the State budget, balancing it on the backs of the more vulnerable population is unconscionable.
Contrary to popular opinion, 99.9 percent of people housed in institutions like this aren’t dangerous when released. So we shouldn’t be afraid of him. In fact, statistically they are the ones who are more likely to be assaulted and victimized because they’re not equipped to survive outside their institution. Turning a man out who has been taken care of most of his life will not make his quality of life improve. In fact, the type of living situation that he was in had allowed him to have his “home base” at the hospital, able to freely come and go at will. The point of the hospitalization was to keep him taking his medication allowing him to live with and manage his schizophrenic symptoms. If he is left to his own devices at this late stage of his life, he will likely discontinue taking his medication, which will mean the symptoms of his illness, barely contained anyway, will return in a big way. I’m not saying he will be a danger to others. I’m just saying that hearing voices and other negative symptoms will likely return in a big way without proper medication and supervision. Clearly, his case must be particularly difficult because had he had an “easy” case, he would have been released years ago. He’s there because that’s where he needs to be.
His institutionalization is very different from involuntary commitment, so his release shouldn’t scare anyone from the standpoint of him being a threat. Far from it. He is allowed to come and go at will, but his base is always at Western State Hospital. He goes on outings and to visit his parents, but he never stays there for any length of time. He always has to return to Western so they can give him the care he needs. He hasn’t gone grocery shopping or done the dishes or any number of things we are all used to doing in order to survive. If left to his own devices without any education in performing these relatively easy tasks, he will risk his well-being to the point of being dangerous. Just turning him loose out into the world will be a hardship. His 75 year old mother won’t be much help, and because of his symptoms he can’t live with her- especially once he’s off his medication.
They say the mark of a civilization isn’t how they treat their rich. It’s how they treat their poor and vulnerable population. And from the way this gentleman is about to be treated, it’s clear that we’re not exactly the best civilization in the world.