The Circle Game of Blame While People Remain Desperate for Treatment

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Criminal Behind Bars

As the need increases for mental health and substance abuse treatment, facilities that provide such treatment are closing their doors.  Just this week, I heard a news story about thousands of people in Alabama who are currently receiving treatment, but have been told that in less than a week, Alabama Psychiatric Services will be shutting down all of their facilities across the state.

It is here that the blame game commences.  Situations such as the one in Alabama have played out before, and the cycle of blame is becoming all too familiar.  Facilities shutting down blame the insurance companies for lower reimbursement rates that make it impossible for them to continue to provide mental health treatment.  The insurance companies blame the Affordable Care Act that has forced their hand into providing coverage.  The Affordable Care Act allowed for states to expand Medicaid, however, many states, including Alabama and Oklahoma, have refused expansion of their state Medicaid systems due to concerns about future costs.  The Mental Health Parity Act, which simply states that the brain is part of the body and insists on equal treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues, gets blamed by the insurance companies as well as a reason that they are unable to fund this type of treatment for their members.

Finally, and completely unjustly, the blame is heaped upon the individuals with mental illness or disease of addiction as they find themselves in jail.  Our prison system has become the new treatment facility with the small details that these individuals wouldn’t be there had they received treatment on the outside, and, in many instances, they aren’t even receiving treatment once incarcerated.  On a day like today, the number of people in our jails has gone from 224,000 in 1983 to 731,000 in 2013.  This statistic was shocking to me when I read it in a NY Times article about this very issue.

We are hitting rock bottom as a country.  Just as I would say to an individual at their lowest point, we have nowhere to go but up.  This crisis point can help move us toward change.  We must continue to advocate for people with mental illness and addiction.  We know these are diseases of the brain, and we know how to treat them.  Where we encounter those who are not motivated by compassion for our fellow women and men, we must appeal to them with simple economics.  It makes more sense on all levels to provide treatment over lockup.

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