Valdosta Daily Times

May 25, 2013

How should we handle the mentally ill?


The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — Nearly 20 percent of our state’s population suffers from a form of mental illness, with around 4 percent suffering from acute mental illness. It’s a significant health issue in Georgia. While there are resources available, they are limited and getting more so with the recently announced closure of Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville.

Around 20 patients per month are sent to this facility, just from SGMC. These patients are the ones needing acute care, who are a danger to themselves and others. While a facility to help these patients will be built in Valdosta in the near future, many questions remain about the safety and security of the patients and the community.

It’s admirable that the ADA and the Justice Department want those who can function in society to have that opportunity, but the ramifications for those who are a danger is unsettling. They may be perfectly fine in these smaller community-based facilities, but keeping dangerous individuals in local areas instead of segmenting them in larger facilities seems more, not less, expensive and less, not more, restrictive.

Given the amount of violent acts in this country perpetrated in recent years by those with acute mental illnesses, including the shooting of the congresswoman and others in Arizona and the recent school shooting in Connecticut, our nation’s mental health care system is far from ideal.

In both of these mass-shooting cases, the parents of the shooters had tried for years to get their children treated, living in fear daily of what they might do.

Knowing that the community-based centers may allow for closer monitoring is somewhat reassuring, but not all small communities may be as diligent as Valdosta. And while other state facilities will remain open, their future under the Justice Department’s ruling is in question.

Reform in the system may be needed, but how far does our society want to go in ensuring the rights of 4 percent of the population balanced against 96 percent?