More than 350,000 mentally ill people are behind bars. That’s 10 times more people with mental illness in jail or prison than in state-funded psychiatric beds, which are often the only ones accessible to indigent and uninsured patients, according to an April report from the Treatment Advocacy Center.
“We have replaced the hospital bed with the jail cell, the homeless shelter and the coffin,” Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a child psychologist leading an effort to remodel the mental health system told the USA Today. “How is that compassionate?”
States have been reducing hospital beds for decades, because of insurance pressures as well as a desire to provide more care outside institutions. Tight budgets during the recession forced some of the most devastating cuts in recent memory, says Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.
States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10 percent of the total supply, he says.
Though not all people with mental illness need to be hospitalized, doctors say there aren't enough beds for those in crisis, who need the equivalent of a psychiatric intensive care unit.
In 1995, there were 7.9 million seriously mentally ill adults and 160,645 available hospital beds for those patients. In 2012, there were 108,317 beds for 9.6 million people.
The number of beds available to patients who need intense psychiatric care for short periods fell 32.5 percent since 1995, according to the American Hospital Association.