“The best government is the least government.” So said practically everybody. Catchy. Succinct.
And wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.
The reason is that government is able to provide certain things efficiently that individuals cannot, and failure to do so costs us all much, much more. Mental health is just one of those things among many. We are spending at least five times as much as we need to, and as we spend, we are doing almost nothing about the problem.
The current print issue of Mother Jones (May/June 2013) features an article by Mac McClelland, “Schizophrenic. Killer. My cousin.”, that starkly shows us how utterly stupid and misinformed our current policies are.
The policy of trashing crucial government programs to “save money” for that “best government” became dominant after Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and continues to this day, driving down the cost of government, but actually costing much more in other ways. State hospitals were closed. Patients were no longer involuntarily committed. But their treatment was basically ended. They were turned out on the streets by millions, and many of them quickly became homeless, their illnesses out of control.
The “least government” does not save money.
Almost a third of homeless people are mentally ill. They get no treatment on their own because they are not capable of managing their own lives, or even of taking their own medication. And it didn’t take long for many of them to earn a bunk at a less benevolent government institution for long periods.
About half the people who are incarcerated now are mentally ill. Half. That’s about 1,200,000 people, which is some 400,000 more than the entire population of San Francisco. Since it takes about $50,000 annually to house a prisoner, we spend some $60,000,000,000 each year—most of it unnecessarily—to house the mentally ill in prisons. Sixty billion, but very little treatment.
A third of homeless people are mentally ill.
McClelland points out that spending $3,000 on treatment for just one of these persons could save up to $50,000 annually, which is the cost of housing a prisoner. The insanity lies not with them, the ill, but with the rest of us. We do very little for these people who need help, and our failure costs us lots. We suffer this gross loss of our wealth and wellbeing because of the false belief that minimal government is always best.
How many more staring, white-eyeball mugshots of schizophrenic mass murderers do we need to see before doing something about it? They commit half of such slaughters, and half of them showed clear signs of illness well before the crime. Some 10% of all homicides are committed by the severely mentally ill.
How many more staring, white-eyeball
mugshots of schizophrenic mass murderers
do we need to see before
doing something about it?
People who suffer from severe mental illness need to live in a setting where their health can be reliably treated. Many, or even most, of them cannot be relied on to keep their condition under control by taking their meds every day. That means institutional care of some kind in many cases. We closed the mental hospitals, but we’ve provided nothing to replace them. Instead, we spend some sixty billion dollars a year to imprison the mentally ill unnecessarily, but we do not treat them.