Sometimes, when I think about the mental health system in our country, I get really upset. And when I say sometimes, I actually mean always. Why is it that when someone needs medical treatment for a physical illness or disease, they can get immediate attention but when someone willingly reaches out for help with their mental illness it can take days, weeks or months for them to be treated?
Today, I was reminded of a situation I was a bystander to 6 years ago when someone close to me needed to get into a mental health facility but couldn’t. I remember the struggle back then, the family searching for days only to find there weren’t any open facilities in their state at that time. Finally, when they did find a clinic with enough beds that could take the individual, it was hours away in a neighboring state and was available, but for a small fortune. Of course, the family did what they had to do for the sake of the individual, but I remember being so confused why it would be so hard to treat someone who very clearly needed the help. Today, I was faced with a similar situation – someone in my life is going through a similar struggle – and I remembered all too clearly my first run-in with this issue.
In my home state of Iowa, I knew this was an issue. I used to volunteer for a non-profit called Please Pass The Love that was consistently advocating for better mental health laws in the state, including more beds in their facilities. Just two years ago, the governor of Iowa chose to close two of the state mental hospitals meaning that, in a state that it was already difficult to find space for mental health patients, there were now even less beds available for those in crisis. Doesn’t make sense, does it? And the state is doing little to nothing to help rectify the situation; earlier this year a local newspaper wrote that it could still take hours, even days, for someone with a mental illness to get the care they need.
Unfortunately, this is something that is common in states across the country. From Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Minnesota and California. Even if an individual is lucky enough to find a bed and get admitted, they will likely be held for 72 hours and then released, often times with heavy suggestion to move on to a long-term facility, but then the struggle to find availability, not to mention the cost of many of these facilities, starts the cycle all over again.
There’s not much I can do from behind my computer but to help educate you and others around you. If you feel inclined, and I hope you do, write your legislature, volunteer with a local mental health organization, or at least share this post. If we can all band together, get educated, and push for a better mental health care system, maybe one day it will actually get better.