Better care for the mentally ill is crucial for our society

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Regarding the April 6 editorial “Worthy of Support: Murphy’s Mental Health Bill Faces the Critics”:

The recent tragic homicidal deaths of two children by an emotionally disturbed mother should serve to emphasize the necessity of adopting changes in our country’s mental health care policies.

The House bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist, would provide more treatment facilities for individuals whose mental illnesses place them and others at risk of serious harm. Over the past several decades, with the closure of Mayview and Dixmont hospitals, there are only a few general hospitals in Allegheny County that undertake extended care for such patients. Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic is the only facility that provides long-term care for seriously ill, potentially dangerous psychotic individuals. As a result of these closures, there are many people not able to take care of themselves who are literally homeless or in jail for crimes that were directly attributable to their mental disorder.

It costs approximately $40,000 a year for each such individual in a county or state prison institution. Aside from the ethical and moral concerns about incarcerating people who desperately require skilled psychiatric care, the financial drain on our county and city budgets is quite substantial.

Just like physical ailments of various kinds that cannot be successfully treated or even stabilized with medication that eventually require surgical intervention, so are there many mental problems that cannot be properly dealt with by the various psychotropic drugs many physicians frequently dispense (and which, by the way, are responsible for the burgeoning horrendous drug abuse epidemic throughout our country). Some of these individuals need to be hospitalized and then followed as outpatients at facilities that are specially designed to take care of psychiatric patients.

A rich, technologically advanced, civilized country like the United States has a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to provide basic medical care for mentally challenged individuals. Such a humanitarian approach also happens to be essential for the safety of the society in which we live.

CYRIL H. WECHT, M.D., J.D.
Squirrel Hill


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