The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was originally and idealistically portrayed as a liberating, humane policy alternative to the restrictive care in large state supported hospitals. It was supposed to help these individuals regain freedom and empower themselves through responsible choices and actions. Due to many funding issues, stiff opposition from communities, and ill-equipped patients, who are unable to live independently, this idealized program, has not always been a blessing for the communities or the patients. In the early 1960s, President John F.
Kennedy signed into law a bill that began the movement known as deinstitutionalization. The purpose of the new law was to put an end to the tendency to warehouse people with mental illnesses, as well as those with developmental disabilities, including the mentally and physically handicapped. The idea was to move the less severely mentally ill from those large institutions into the community, where local treatment centers would be established to provide them with medical, psychiatric, and social support they need to be able to live and function.
Some believe that deinstitutionalization has been and continues to be successful. Perhaps one of the brightest spots of the effects of deinstitutionalization is that the mentally ill have gained a greatly increased measure of liberty (Curtis, 2008). Some persons, despite their illnesses, have realized a certain degree of normalization in their daily activities. Some live independently, and some are productively employed, achievements that were relatively rare in the days before deinstitutionalization.
For these people, deinstitutionalization must be regarded as a positive development (Warner, 1995). Deinstitutionalization, which has now become a synonym for neglect, was supposed to be about creating a new system of services and supports that would allow people with mental illness and mental retardation to thrive in their communities outside of hospital settings during all of the times when they did not need hospital services (Sheth, 2009).
An estimated 4. 5 million Americans today suffer from the severest forms of brain disorder, schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness and out of 4. million 1. 8 million, or 40 percent are not receiving any treatment on any given day, resulting in homelessness, incarceration, and violence; one of the reasons for this condition is a failure of the deinstitutionalization policy (Fact Sheet, Treatment Advocacy Centre).? The U. S. Department of Justice estimates that over a quarter of a million mentally ill individuals are currently incarcerated in the U. S. state and federal prison system constituting between eight and 17 percent of the entire prison population (Martin, 2011).
The deinstitutionalization policy, which has been improperly implemented, is acting like a misguided missile, causing the helpless and defenseless inmates of the mental hospitals to beg and roam on roads and footpaths; to take refuge in shelter homes and beggar’s homes; to starve on streets and eat from garbage bins; they are jeered in society and physically, verbally and sexually assaulted in alleys; they languish in jails and suffers in prisons; They shiver in cold and simmer in heat; they sleep on a bed of earth with a blanket of sky.
We have shifted problems of mental hospitals to the streets, jails and shelter homes. While making backyards of our mental hospitals beautiful, we have made our streets ugly. The process of deinstitutionalization has turned deadly. There seems to be some truth in a saying that deinstitutionalization caused people to die with their rights on (Sheth, 2009). The deinstitutionalization movement of the mentally ill had a noble aim, but failed to achieve it. The solution is complicated but it is not however, unattainable.
Train the police officers and emergency responders on how to identify the mentally ill patients and direct them into available treatment facilities. The government can also fund jail and prison programs that screen, evaluate and treat mentally ill inmates. Establish mental health courts, more mental hospitals with adequate staffing, start more day care centers, and have more adequate affordable housing. These solutions, of course, all require funding from a government with spending that is already out of control and on the brink of bankruptcy. But the truth is, by helping the seriously mentally ill, we help ourselves.