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Why Closing U.S. Psychiatric Hospitals Caused a Mental Health Crisis

8 minute read


The last thing you want is a shortage of mental health facilities as the number of patients diagnosed with mental health disorders increases. But, that is exactly what is currently happening.

As mental illness continues to have catastrophic effects on the lives of millions of people across the country, the closure of mental health hospitals only exacerbates and prolongs the problem. Understanding mental health is not only important for you at an individual level, but also for everyone in society as well.

Mental Health Today

Mental illness is far more widespread than most people realize. Chances are that it impacts you directly, as millions are currently diagnosed with a mental health disease in this country.

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The numbers continue to grow. Many types of mental health diseases are currently recognized including:

Anxiety disorders

Mood disorders

♦ Schizophrenia

♦ Personality disorders

♦ Obsessive-compulsive disorders

♦ Impulse control disorders

♦ Post-traumatic stress disorders

Mental health disorders can be caused by genetics as well as environmental influences. Our fast-paced society puts us at greater risk for mental health complications because human beings today worry and stress more than previous generations.

Society also has many vices which negatively impact our mental health, such as tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and drugs. On top of this diet, lack of exercise and exposure to mental or physical abuse also contribute to your mental health.

Making matters even worse, there is a stigma attached to mental health. Having a mental health disorder is seen as something to be ashamed of, and people often avoid getting treatment simply to avoid the bad image.

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People don’t want to admit they need help, and others deny themselves medical attention because mental health is thought to be scary and almost taboo. This view interferes with people getting help and contributes to a mental health crisis that is already getting out of control.

Numbers Increase as Facilities Decrease

The closure of mental health hospitals over the last decade has increased steadily each year. The trend is driven by a desire to desensitize psychiatric patients that started back in the 1950s and 60s.

The thought was that a number of patients could actually do well in the community, and, as more were released, the facilities were dissolved. The fact that the government would then have more money to use elsewhere encouraged a bias to develop over time.

Now there are not enough beds to house the patients in real need of psychiatric hospital treatment.

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In response to the dwindling number of facilities and the growing need for treatment centers, community-based care options were developed. Unfortunately, as successful as these movements have been, there are still a large number of psychiatric patients that are unable to get the structured care they need.

The result is that these individuals find themselves homeless or even in prison, as they have nowhere else to go.

Correctional facilities have sadly become the de facto option for individuals with psychiatric health problems, and they are by no means funded or equipped to give these people the treatment they need.

In addition to this, most mental health hospitals do not accept insurance, so low-income families are unable to get in. As the medical bills pile up, homelessness rates start to increase.

Regular hospitals, specifically emergency rooms, also get many visits from mental health patients, but they are not the ideal place for these individuals either.

Yes, they have the medications and psychiatrists on hand, but the chaotic and changing environment is not meant for those battling mental health issues. In addition to this, they can only keep patients for a 72-hour window, and then the person ends up right back on the street.

With increased shootings and other crimes being linked to individuals with mental health disorders, the lack of mental health facilities has come under scrutiny. There is no definitive connection between mental health disorders and violence according to experts, but the lack of structured support for psychiatric patients is getting noticed.

As long as a negative stigma surrounds mental health and the political will to fund new facilities is absent, millions of individuals are not going to get the help they need.

Change the View; Fix the Problem

Back in the 60s, psychiatric patients were released into the community when deemed fit. What we failed to realize is that many of these individuals may have only been doing so well because of the structured care they received in the hospital.

Once back in the community, they may not have fared so well. In addition to this, just because some patients were released, it did not mean there were not others that needed care.

By closing facilities as they released patients, those individuals still suffering in society and future patients will be deprived of the health care they need. As mental health patients are left to their own devices, the suffering increases.

Many cannot afford help, and their condition worsens, leaving them homeless, in jail, or worse. This creates a negative feedback loop: The worse the mental health crisis, the worse the stigma of mental illness, leading to further deleterious effects on the mental health crisis.

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Long-term recovery and a stable, structured environment are necessary for many mental health conditions, and this requires mental health hospitals. People need to have more access to these facilities without the restrictions of space or money in order to get the help they truly need.

Patients with psychiatric disorders need to have medications on a regular cycle as well as therapy sessions. Some advanced cases are not able to take care of these themselves, which is where psychiatric hospitals come into play.

More funds need to be made available to establish more psychiatric hospitals, so as to properly accommodate and house the mentally ill population.

Keeping them off the streets, out of jail, and getting the treatment they need is the only solution to the current mental health crisis. With proper treatment programs, many individuals with psychiatric problems can return to the community and contribute to society.

The Bottom Line

Like most physical ailments, mental illness can be successfully treated. Recovery is always an option, but the right tools and resources are required, even if management of symptoms is the best outcome.

As the numbers of mental health cases continue to rise, the need for specialized hospitals will also rise. Without these hospitals, the mental health of the country is in jeopardy.

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