Monday, January 9, 2012

Less than 1% of seriously mentally ill dangerous

Most people with mental illness are not violent, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Fewer than 1% of people with chronic and severe mental illness are known to be dangerous, according to the most recent studies. But identifying those who are dangerous and getting them into care have been exceedingly tricky and contentious matters. A 2008 study found as many as 10% of homicides were committed by people with untreated mental illness.

E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist, founded a national organization to track the cases of violence committed against people with untreated mental illness. A shift 50 years ago to a federal mental health care system weakened care for people with psychiatric illness, he says.

"Rarely in the history of the American government has a program conceived with such good intentions produced such bad results," Torrey said in a recent essay. "The patients were deinstitutionalized from the state hospitals, but most of the 763 federally funded community mental health centers failed to provide services for them."

Torrey's organization lobbies for laws that more easily allow state officials to compel patients into care - either in hospitals or, more commonly, with court orders that allow patients to live in the community as long as they comply with treatment plans, reported the Journal Sentinel.

Thomas Zander, a retired lawyer and psychologist who has worked for 40 years to limit the government's ability to commit mental patients, says civil commitment is the least effective and most expensive means of providing care.

"It requires the high costs of lawyers, judges, expert witnesses and inpatient hospitalization," Zander told the Journal Sentinal. "By soaking up scarce mental health dollars, civilly committing one person means that 80 others are denied more effective voluntary care."

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