I discovered an essay in the Los Angeles Times while doing research for a recent post on mental illness and euthanasia.
The essay is dated 1987.
No mental health month is complete without pointing out that our media noticed the failure of deinstitutionalization decades ago. Read on:
Many of the people living on Los Angeles’ streets lack health as well as homes. They were put there by social policy, legacies of the mid-1960s when California was a laboratory for reform–and they sit there as another reminder of reform gone awry.
In 1967 the California Legislature passed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS) which changed the state’s mental-commitment laws to limit involuntary detention of all but the most gravely mentally ill and to provide a “patients bill of rights” regarding treatment.
With the help of conservative Republican Assemblyman Frank Lanterman of La Canada (who liked to tell the American Civil Liberties Union that he had championed the rights of mental patients long before it did), the bill was pushed primarily by a group of young, liberal activists on the Assembly Office of Research staff. It was sold to Democrats as a civil-rights measure and sold to Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan as a savings–community care, without the long-term costs of custodial care in state hospitals, would cut California’s mental health care costs.
Other interesting snippets from this essay published nearly THIRTY years ago:
What the reformers didn’t know–or didn’t understand at the time–was that neither local governments nor private agencies would provide sufficient community services. That is where Lanterman-Petris-Short truly failed.
One mental health professional who helped draft and move the original legislation said, “In our zeal to move people out of very restrictive, very inhumane places, we forgot that there were a whole variety of supports that were being provided (by institutions) and we neglected to find adequate ways of replicating them . . . we had a simplistic notion that basically what you could do is take people out of the institutions, move them into the community and provide outpatient mental health care. But what we forgot is that institutions provide people shelter, food, health care and a whole variety of other basic human needs.”
As the political and economic climate continued a conservative shift, a trend the reformers hadn’t expected, state and county programs offering community services were cut back. For a while federal agencies, often by default, undertook major responsibility for maintaining housing, job training and counseling programs. Then federal cutbacks in such appropriations and the Reagan Administration’s shift to block grants for mental-health funding exacerbated the problems that LPS didn’t address–more shrinkages the reformers failed to predict.
How is this possible? Why is it Groundhog Day for the mentally ill in the United States?
Here is the entire essay published 29 years ago: March 22, 1987 California: Good Aims, Bad Results
Oh, and if you think this was an isolated moment of clarity here’s an essay from 1991:
August 25, 1991 When Jail Is a Mental Institution
November 23, 1999 Rights of Mentally Ill Pitted Against Public, Patient Safety
And it goes on….
How many people have died from neglect on the streets of the U.S. since 1987?
How many people have died from this failed social experiment that our government should have fixed thirty years ago?
Is it cynical to think that the United States has a homeless population because that’s the real agenda?