April 12, 2006

US: Mentally ill suffer deadly neglect

An sad, but well-written story out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

With a promise of community care, psychiatric wards were unlocked 30 years ago. Today, the sickest patients live in squalor.

Tony Hall roasted to death in the stifling heat of an unregulated rooming house.

Street thugs murdered David Rutledge.

John Collins died after falling from his wheelchair, down the stairs of the unlicensed, mouse-infested group home where his Milwaukee County caseworker placed him. For months after Collins' death, someone kept using his food stamps.

Thirty years ago, a Milwaukee County lawsuit sparked a nationwide revolution in mental health care. Patients living in locked psychiatric hospital wards were released to live in freedom with the aid of new drug treatments.

An investigation by the Journal Sentinel has found that hundreds of today's sickest patients suffer in the city's most broken-down neighborhoods. Some are dying; others are preyed upon by opportunists and neglected by the people responsible for their care. They are not able to fend for themselves, and no one else is taking responsibility for them, despite being paid more than $10 million a year in tax dollars to do so.

In the first comprehensive accounting of Milwaukee's severely ill mental patients, the newspaper found:

• Hundreds are living in illegal group homes and rooming houses - many of them filthy and dangerous, some deadly - which have sprung up as stealth mental hospitals to replace county wards.

• City building inspectors have failed to identify and close down these illegal homes. And they have never reported illegal group homes to the state licensing agency.

• County caseworkers, responsible for their clients' well-being, regularly send them to these houses and apartments, despite knowing how filthy and dangerous the buildings are. This is a direct violation of a federal court agreement.

• State group home inspectors generally don't investigate homes unless they are licensed. As a result, unlicensed, illegal group homes escape scrutiny.

Click here to read the full story


It is not only Milwaukee.

Let me tell you all a story of another poor boy in the USA. He went to school,But he could not acheive what they wanted of him. In class he heard murmers and said he heard the thoughts of people around him. There was no help for him. He simply couldnt function in that setting.At 17 in and out of trouble, With no help. He dropped out of school. His mom put him out. He looked for work... he found none of any kind. At 18 He was tring to find any way to get by. A hand to give him a foot up. He cried. But there was no help for him.
He got arrested for stealing stale hamburgers from a McDonalds garbage dumpster in the dark of night. But there was no help for him. He served 6 wks time and he cried Please help me. But still there was no help for him. Turned out again to the steet, He looked for work... he found none of any kind. And he cried and he cried. Please Cant any one help me? But still there was no help for him. He wondered farther hours from home, and he cried. Please Can't any one help me? At 19 His girl got pregnant. They stayed with freinds or in parks & He looked for work... But still none found, none of any kind. And he cried untill the crying became inconsolable. And still there was no help for him. The murmers got louder Help Me, He cried. And no one listened. His pain and anguish louder And suddenly those murmers became screams. Help me he cried. When he went to the hospital. The voices scream at me, they hate me and want me to hurt people. To hurt my self, my sister my parents and freinds strangers on the street. When he went to the hospital. But again they sent him away. you dont have insurance. Still there is no help for him. Days later he choked His sister near to death. She put him out. And the screams became Louder still! More insistant and still there is no help for him. Again tonight he went to the hospital. Help me please help me...Im afraid I'll hurt my fiance or our baby, and again they sent him away. Still there is no help for him. He has no insurance. He has no home. AND THERE IS NO HELP FOR HIM. WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR SYSTEM?????? He will kill himself or some one else. And then... there will be no help for him...EVER Because THE SYSTEM IS FLAWED

Posted by: Rose at April 24, 2006 03:29 AM

you have posted the story on several different places.

it is not true that there is no help for this person. what is true is that county agencies offer free psychiatric care, medication and counseling to handle practical day to day problems, and a case worker to help obtain services, to the homeless mentally ill.

it is also true that these illnesses require medical treatment. they are medical conditions of the brain. they do not respond to love and hugs, any more than a broken leg or diabetes does.

the person, if they refuse to seek out or accept the help that is available, will not be hospitalized or required to take medication against his will. the choice to refuse medication is often made by the individual out of paranoia or suspicion caused by the disease, or an inability to understand they are ill.

this is where the system fails to provide practical help for very ill people.

i disagree that 'there is no help available'. i assert that there IS help, but that due to the very nature of the illness, many people refuse to accept that help or seek it out. after that point, very little will be done by any agency.

where people get into care, it's usually by an extremely persistent and concerted effort. even at that, many people will still avoid help. the mental health agencies often know the best way to engage a person, build trust, and slowly and gently encourage them to get help, which is often all they are legally able to do.

Posted by: slc at April 27, 2006 09:08 AM

Dear writer:

There is only one solution to the problem of an archaic, broken and deplorable mental health system.
How about we do less talking and writing and kretching and do more protesting and marching in every state capital and at 1600 Pennsylvannia Avenue?
We need *more demostration* along with this "education."
Dorothea Dix started educating back in the 1800's and we are *still* educating?
It is time to complete the work of Miss Dix and start voting with our protests and the drumming that coincides with it.

Posted by: Emil Colangelo at December 24, 2006 08:53 PM

I'm sorry but i'm sad to say this is true- Mental Health Services are no longer available for free in my area anyways. I cannot see a psychiatrist or any mental health professional or not even a counselor. The only treatment I can get is medication from the average "family type" physician and this is after applying for california medical services provider (CMSP). So obviously the government does'nt seem to think mentally ill people have as bad of a problem as a physicall illness. I have a mental illness and trust me it is just as bad.

Posted by: nameless at February 16, 2007 09:59 PM

I would like to add to my message above that although there is no mental health services available in my area for free, they do have help for someone in a crisis situation. How they define an actual crisis situation and how many times someone can be seen for a crisis situation I do not know.

Posted by: nameless at February 16, 2007 10:13 PM

My son has schitzophrania and progressively getting worse. I have him at my house when I can but when he steals from me I have him leave. It's a roller coaster. The system tells me that if he is a danger to himself or others then I can admit him..which is only a bandaid because they don't keep him but a week. Why does our system wait till it's that severe? It's costing hundreds of dollars each year because he constantly goes to emergency care. Why not give these people the help they deserve? He needs in-house care and some supervision. I can't provide him with what he needs. There has got to be another way....I'm frustrated but I'm not giving up.

Posted by: Emmett at March 15, 2007 11:52 AM

How can anyone, unless they are loaded with lots of money, say that there is at all a system of care for MI in our country? I have actually moved around and shifted states a number of time to look for better services for my friend and house partner for whom I act as caregiver. It seems to be the same everywhere.

The real problem is that the only thing that is readily available are pharmaceuticals. For 28 years my friend has been a victim of the pharmaceutical industry. I myself truly believed all through the 90's that we were on the verge of a real breakthrough. Then I looked into the reality behind the science. My friend was always just given another or a higher dose of medication for the increased agitation and superimposed psychosis caused by the overmedication. He has been described as the most dysfunctional of people with a schizo label, but NEVER did he lose his hope and belief that a medicine would help him someday. He endured horrible side effects, but took all his meds willingly and faithfully. I have seen many other patients accused of relalpsing because they stopped their meds, and I know it was not true. I saw a young woman who visited us, take every pill but stress out over losing her apartment when her lease came due. She relapsed over the stress of the homelessness. Those myths about people being too sick to know they are sick might have some foundation but are mostly exagerations encouraged by Big Pharma.

Now I know that some meds do help sometimes, but what the hype and glamorizatin of them does is turn the attention away from the fact that what is needed by people with mental illness is a home, food, warmth and comfort, safety, medical care, and people--friends and companions-- what we all need, a place in a community.

We are not talking about "hugs," although those are not to be under-estimated. We are talking about a basic human right for dignity and respect for the physical necessities of the human body.

Even if a person refuses meds, he or she should be given these basic life essentials. In a community of safety and neighborliness, the needs for meds diminish considerably, and with gentle mentoring by others, the person will be inclined to seek professional assistance.

I am not fantasizing this. I have fostered community for psych labeled people for years. I have actually seen this at work, where caring peers help the person feel secure enough to make better decisions. It should not be that shelter and aid is given only on the condition the person is "medication compliance". What kind of society are we?

I completely agree with Meg Kissenger. But we all have a part to play in improving the plight of people with "mental illness." Simply creating "a system" is not the solution. Creating more human-friendly communities is the solution for them AND for all of us. But our role is in helping people with challenges recognize their gifts and take their part in community. Often times you here about the "consumer movement." Consumer is a stinking work for any of us. We don't do for them. We do with them. Interdependence and connection is how to solve this delimna. We can't just expect someone else in "system" to get them off our back.

We have to become part of the vision we want for the future, and in doing so we will build communities that are easier for all of us to function in.

If anyone is interested, for five years I have been trying to start a retreat center in the South on 40 acres+, in which artists, environmentalists, and a core group of people with psychiatric challenges live in a co-housing village together, in which residents, including those with challenges, have their own small homes and microbusiness to run the community, the gardens, and the retreat center. There will be common space for gatherings and community meals one or twice a week. Everyone moving there will own their own lot but the acreage would be put in trust. People with disability can get housing loans very, very low and subsidized. They can also get assistance for self-employment and actually make over the limit and still keep their disability if they get assistance with this process the way people with developmental disabilities have for years. What it takes is people willing to see these "invisible" members of the community create opportunities for inclusion and community participation...so that people with psych labels are not "back-warded" to isolated over-heated apartments where no one ever checks on them until they smell a dead corpse.

I am probably still four years away from this enterprise, but it will happen, and it will happen faster if I find a person who wants to work with me towards a common goal. I already have a nice network built. Just write if you share my vision. We will go from there.

PS. My friend, although left with cognitive deficits (probably caused by the years of meds, sometimes 6 at a time) is on nothing but 2 mg. Respirdal and a small dose of Lamictal. It has taken two years to reduce the meds, and he is vastly improved. We hope to take the Respirdal down over the next year as tolerated. Not sure about the Lamital

thank you,

Posted by: jean at July 2, 2007 06:03 PM

Jean, Im ready to help...I sent you an email! :) My son is in the hospital now and it is his third time...we need places now and they need to be places that treat the whole person and nurtures their mind, body, and spirit.

God bless

Posted by: Victoria at August 9, 2007 07:26 PM

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