Sunday, April 29, 2007
Albert "Lee" Mountjoy
April 29, 2007
Changes need to be made in how Florida treats the mentally ill. I grew up in Christiansburg and Blacksburg, Va. The tragedy at Virginia Tech hit close to home for me on many levels.
Mass killer Seung-Hui Cho is another example of why the public needs to be educated, brought out of the "dark ages" concerning the treatment of mental illness.
Just like cancer, diabetes or heart disease, mental illness is a medical condition, a very serious medical condition. It is not something a person is too weak or not moral enough to control.
When people with diabetes experience the symptoms of their disease, they are immediately treated with insulin or sugar to prevent the most serious consequences of coma or death. When people show up at an emergency room with chest pain, they are immediately triaged, given an EKG and baby aspirin to prevent a full coronary.
But when mentally ill people ask for help at a mental-health facility in Florida because they are experiencing new symptoms or an increase in the intensity of their illness, the response is, "Come back if you become suicidal or homicidal." I cannot begin to understand the reasoning behind a professional telling a person in crisis, asking for help, "You're not sick enough yet. Come back when you have a plan for suicide or a desire to kill." Is that what professionals call "rational thinking"?
There needs to exist in mental-health facilities in Florida a standard triage protocol as exists in all emergency rooms. When mentally ill people ask for help because their medication is not working, they are experiencing new or an increased intensity in the symptoms of their illness, help should always be available. They should never be turned away.
Who can say that by the time a person reaches the point of suicidal or homicidal thoughts taking form, they will continue being able to reach out for help before a tragedy occurs? The nation saw the answer to that question at Virginia Tech.
Those who do understand the problems in Florida's mental-health facilities suggest the solution is too costly. State mental-health facilities are understaffed; personnel are underpaid and overburdened. My response is, "one ounce of prevention is worth more than one pound of cure." Prisons for mentally ill inmates, lifetime incarcerations and the loss of productive citizens like those victims at Virginia Tech cost the state and the federal government far more than allocating more money for psychotropic medications and treatment.
Please do not wait one more day, one more suicide or one more tragedy to make the needed changes. Educate the public and allocate the funding today.
Albert "Lee" Mountjoy lives in Kissimmee.