It’s Groundhog Day for the Mentally Ill in the United States

Art by Rob Goldstein
Judas Kiss

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

And 1999

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?






25 thoughts on “It’s Groundhog Day for the Mentally Ill in the United States

  1. To be fair (to humanity) subsequent eras of people are always fixing & fine tuning previous good intentions or failed policies. That’s just history. Your summary of a very complicated issue is interesting. Mental health issues, from my understanding, suffered & benefited from many different ideas, legislation & policies during the 60s. Some horrific, some good. None of this is solvable. I would say, just be grateful that there’s always an effort. Always looking to the government is never a good idea. Not even for direction. Especially, in the matter of mental health.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry…but I don’t understand your answer. How do we provide treatment and housing for severely disabled people without the government? In a democracy WE are the government. Why is looking to ourselves to discuss and find solutions to life threatening problems a bad idea?


      1. I didn’t say anything about finding solutions to problems being a bad idea. Looking to government to solve problems is usually a bad idea. Psychiatrists & Sociologists aren’t endemically with the government. The best treatment facilities aren’t with the government. Even the worst facilities aren’t with the government. That’s all I’m saying. Looking to the government to solve all your ills isn’t a good & isn’t what government is supposed to be, in this country, whether people understand that or not. Which is why, when people do look for solutions with government, it usually doesn’t go well. We’re not a socialist society & existing entitlements are not guaranteed, are not natural to our society & not necessarily helpful.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The state and federal governments once ran the State Hospitals. Those States with high standards of care offered treatment and rehabilitation and those states that generally treat the poor and disabled as undeserving didn’t. The problem with the State Hospitals was lack of consistency. The solution is to restore funding to mental health and find a way to mandate real treatment in compassionate settings that are consistently regulated by the a Federal Government.


    2. Thank you for your comment but I deeply disagree. First, I don’t accept the idea that the problem of the homeless mentally ill is unsolvable. This problem did not exist when I was a child and young adult, so the nation must have been doing something right. In a democracy the people are the government. We make government specifically to solve problems that are too big for any one person or group of people to solve. I don’t agree with the idea that the people are not allowed to use their government and their money to solve difficult problems and to improve their lives. I would not have the education to write this response without pubic education. So if we had this problem solved we can solve it again by using our government.


      1. All throughout the history of mankind there have been homeless mentally ill. Everything conceivable has been done to “cure” this problem. Actually, the most repressive societies have temporarily taken care of the problem by sweeping people off the streets into mad houses & camps. There are indeed problems in our human societies that have no solution. But the effort to overcome the problems is a good thing. Which was the gist of what I said.
        No. We have government to provide for the common defense of the country & community & to enforce the rule of law to codify common moral offenses, i.e., murder, incest, assault & the rest of it all. Think what you please, but these are the facts. We don’t have government to solve our difficult problems. Our mindset is that the people, individually or in groups solve the problem, in several ways.
        Public education “isn’t a problem” & is an exception that society decided was necessary for the common good. It’s one of the necessary social programs that Americans have deemed necessary, at everyone’s agreement.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was born in 1991 I’ll be 25 in September. I grew up in a family where some of my family members have a mental illnesses and I was taught to not treat them any different from the way I wanted to be treated. I love and respect all people it angers me when ignorant people treat those with an illness badly. I believe in loving and respecting people for their hearts and being good to all no matter what no one is perfect and no one is a mistake. Blessings and happiness to you my friend thanks for sharing this post.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It is. My children are all in their thirties. They are award of social pathology…they probably see more of it than most (being firefighters.) But I tried to raise them to be aware…they try to help as much as I do and they are just as outraged as I am. Maybe I did something right.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You know…I have stopped using Flickr for social networking because I don’t have time to play head games with the stalker.

        Now consider that the stalker has publicly refused to leave a group founded by me.

        She basically took something away from me; she did it in public, and somehow she has managed to convince a significant number of members that SHE IS THE VICTIM because I asked her to leave my group.

        All of that aside, about two weeks ago ‘someone’ trolled the group by banning a bunch of members. I have no interest in trolling the group…Hell I founded it.

        ! Yesterday I discovered that the stalker left comments on the streams of people I don’t know in which she states how happy she was that she to un-ban people and that I had finger-pointed her as the troll yadda..yadda..Yadda.

        Actually, what I said when I was asked about the mass banning was: “I’m sorry. Someone is trolling the group.”

        Now If I found a comment like that about someone I don’t know from a group admin who remains in a group she was asked to leave I would think: “Oh wow bitch! You trolled the group and now you’re trying to blame the group’s founder! What brass!”

        But apparently people are willing to ignore what they can see in order to protect this hot-house flower from the evil man who expects her to meet basic civilized standards of conduct (i.e when you are asked to leave another person’s space you leave because people have the right to set boundaries.)

        Narcissists are cold blooded liars and CON-vincing.

        And your husband probably knew how to make you look like the irrational one.


    1. It’s puzzling…This isn’t even about learning from our mistakes. This is about the fact that our media has noted and been noting the terrible consequences of the mistake of deinstitutionalization for over a generation. In fact, we compound the mistake in such a way as to lead a questioning mind to ask if the ‘mistake’ is intentional. And if it is intentional then America doesn’t have to worry about losing her soul. Donald Trump is the right leader for a nation of people that murders its elderly and disabled.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey Robert my friend!!
        I believe it to be intentional isn’t most of what our government does intentional? from what I have learned and read and found out about our government and how “they” act or able to get things done or not done is always for lack of a better word planned..Sure they may look at these studies and the pros and cons but they really don’t care…. way tooooo many with mental illnesses end up in jail “they” just want them off the streets or keep them on the streets more chance to die of disease,accident,drug use getting to hot or cold you name it out in the real world…when in jail differs from being on the streets.. lack of attention for care of the illness and no medication makes the stay longer(in jail) when they need to be in the right placement and get the full treatment for the mind ,body and soul for the person..They need a place to call home rather it be living in assisted living of some sort or in patient (I am sorry I believe we have enough resources that we have no reason for someone to be homeless just like no reason for a starving child in today’s world ) We have so many houses that are boarded up empty I am sure if you took how ever many that home would hold and picked up that many guys/girls who wanted to live and fix it up you would have lot less on the streets I know they have organizations and people to help with the cost and to teach them how to fix it up…But does our government want this..NO!!..I believe they want them on the streets all of us with mental illness,drugs,aids,hiv, you name it. It’s a lot cheaper for them to die on the streets then it is to care for us……That is the truth..”THEY” know what “THEY” are doing and doing it to us all…. Groundhog Day for mental illness is hell..some days it feels like you are living the same depressed day after day(for me with depression at times)
        I am sorry I got off subject and did carry on way to much…..These subjects just hit me while I was reading.. Sorry again my friend…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you Suzette.

        The brutality that we see on our streets might make sense if we lived in a resource poor nation but we don’t. I have no problem with getting ‘them’ off the streets if that involves re-opening custodial care hospitals that are staffed by trained and compassionate people. I was quite familiar with the State Hospital System in South Carolina and know for a fact that it wasn’t brutal…And how can anything be more brutal than dying from psychic pain, exposure, and hunger in front of a busy Supermarket in San Francisco?

        It’s absolutely absurd that this nation allowed a failure in it’s social policy of this magnitude to persist for over thirty years.

        The fact that the U.S. is a wealthy nation that could have corrected the problem almost as soon as it was noticed leads me to believe that what we are seeing is a covert eugenics based social policy. In other words, an act of political will enabled by the silence of the voters.


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