An apolitical idea for mental health care

I think most people would agree that our mental health care system is beyond messy.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Treatment Advocacy Center founder E. Fuller Torrey observes that half of the mentally ill individuals discharged from federally-run state mental hospitals do poorly upon their release. He notes that these individuals are often the ones who “lack family support and suffer from the most severe mental illnesses.”

Torrey further contends that these uncared for individuals account for a higher percentage of the mass killings in this country, citing the recent shootings in Tucson, Aurora and Newtown.

The solution?

Torrey proposes removing the locus of the operation from the federal government — who have overseen it the past 50 years — and returning it to the hands of state legislatures. As he puts it, “(T)he evidence is overwhelming that this federal experiment has failed.”

While this notion of decentralization may be a step in the right direction, it does not actively attack the root of the greater issue at hand.

I think the real solution is best exemplified by Ed Harris’ portrayal of Coach Jones in the inspirational film, "Radio."

In the movie, Coach Jones befriends James Robert “Radio” Kennedy (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a mentally challenged young man who wanders the streets of the city toting his beloved radio.

Jones takes “Radio” under his wing and serves as a father figure for the young man who is frequently bullied and belittled by members of the football team, including Jones’s own son.

How can this apply to us as a collective society?

While a portion of the answer may rest upon a reconstruction of the current health care system, doctors and trained professionals can only do so much to improve the situation.

Their expertise and wisdom can certainly be of benefit in confronting the unfortunate reality of mental illness, but society at large must claim responsibility for the present failures at some poiny.

The only way this can be accomplished is by imitating the example of Coach Jones.

On an individual, apolitical level, we must step outside of ourselves if we hope to see change in the current condition. Befriending the less fortunate and providing charity to those who most need it are universal virtues that we all have the opportunity to practice at some point in our lives.

In an opinion piece written after the Newton shooting, University of Pittsburgh psychiatry professor Edward P. Mulvey contends that regarding the mentally ill, “We need to embrace them as members of our community who are facing immense struggles.”

This embrace can be embodied in many forms, but we first must resolve to adopt an attitude of charity in our external disposition.

Charity is not a political ideology or even matter of feeling. It is an active decision to love no matter the person or situation.

By adopting and practicing such an attitude on a personal level, we can do more for the mentally ill and all the less fortunate than any government program could dream of doing.


Reach the columnist at or on Twitter @cshmneyrichard

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