More Mental Asylums Could Be Coming to The US

The last school shooting in Parkland, Florida is just one in a string of mass shootings that dates back decades. Now, President Trump is calling for more mental asylums to handle mental care of some of society’s most vulnerable people.

In a report by the New York Times, some experts in our mental health care system agree having more institutions could help the country as a whole, but not necessarily prevent mass shootings.

New Mental Asylums

The term mental asylum conjures up frightening images of a bygone era. Patients screaming and people being locked up with no end in sight. But the call for new mental asylums would be drastically different, say experts. They would be modern and transparent and people behind the idea say they may have a real use in our society.

“When people are going back and forth from prisons to hospitals, that’s a sign they might have benefited from longer-term treatment options,” said Dominic Sisti, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who was co-author of a 2015 paper subtitled “Bring Back the Asylum” in the journal JAMA.

He goes on to say that resources for many mental ill people in the U.S. have all but “dried up” and mental asylums could help.

However, Jennifer Mathis, the director of policy and legal advocacy at the Bazelon Center, sees a different side to the call for mental asylums. She litigates on behalf of those with mental disabilities and told the NYT the idea is “offensive.”

“It took a lot of effort to move away from the practice of warehousing people,” she said. “Locking people up long-term is no treatment at all. The idea that we could be going back to those days – we did this before, and it failed and failed badly – it’s crazy and discriminating.”

The Potential Cost

Besides the disturbing past of some of this country’s mental institutions, there is another problem to consider. The cost of committing the mentally ill to long-term care. According to the article, money is lacking and the national budget usually dedicates the minimum it can to mental health.

The paper highlighted a mental asylum in Massachusetts. The $300 million facility needs $80 million to operate annually. The average length of stay is 28 days, and the average for continuing care is 85 days. The bottom line is that these state-of-the-art modern facilities are not cheap.

The money would be well spent according to advocates of the system. Around $150,000 to house just one patient. But critics say a “community care” approach will only run about $30,000. Community care is what the majority of people seeking mental health care have now. It’s a combination of out-patient support and care from several facilities. The problem, however, is if people do not have access to even community care, what happens? It’s something mental health experts, Congress and voters will have to struggle to answer.

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