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Locking People Up Is No Way to Treat Mental Illness []


By Norm Ornstein and Steve Leifman, Image: Getty Images, The Atlantic, May 30, 2022

Mental illness has touched nearly every family in America in one way or another. Recent reports suggest that the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this situation, particularly foryoung people and children, as well as forhealth-care workers. Despite the ubiquity of mental illness, our ability to help those who have behavioral disorders recoup lives interrupted by them is deeply inadequate.

One of us has encountered the broken system firsthand, through the experience of following a son who had a psychotic episode at age 24 through a 10-year struggle with his brain disease, which was intensified by anosognosia, hampering his insight into his illness. The other, a Miami-Dade County judge, has worked for more than two decades to transform the criminal-justice system and how it deals with those with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Together, we documented this effort in the filmThe Definition of Insanity, which showcased reforms that have saved both lives and money. Our experience proved to us that even a broken system can be mended.

President Joe Biden’s recent announcement of a new package of measures building on last year’s American Rescue Plan and aimed at tackling the country’s crises of mental health and substance use is extremely welcome, if overdue. The provision of services and treatments for and care of these conditions is antiquated, dysfunctional, and, in places, nonexistent. But throwing money at the situation won’t alone solve it. Without a comprehensive overhaul of the system, we run the risk of wasting not only valuable tax dollars but a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix it.

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*The documentary, The Definition of Insanity, follows a diverse group of people committed to the common goal of helping people with mental illness who enter through the courthouse doors. You can watch it HERE.

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