Shooting underscores need for serious debate about mental health policy
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Liza Long, a mother in Boise, Idaho, has blogged about dealing with her mentally ill 13-year-old son who has threatened to kill her or commit suicide. When Long asked a social worker for options, she was told to have the boy charged with a crime. Sadly, post-crime incarceration has become the main venue for mental health treatment. In 2010, the Treatment Advocacy Center reported there were about 3.6 seriously mentally ill individuals in Oklahoma jails or prisons for every one in a hospital. Nationally it's estimated those with serious mental illness comprise about one-fifth of inmates.
All these statistics suggest it may be time lawmakers re-evaluate statutes governing involuntary commitment and debate better funding for mental health treatment. The ACLU may oppose the first, and the latter may require diverting funds from other areas of government (although it may reduce prison costs). Still, the debate should commence.
While there may be a financial cost to increasing state mental health treatment, situations like the Connecticut shooting indicate the price for nontreatment may be far higher and paid in the blood of innocents.
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