Former Washington Post journalist and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, Pete Earley, spoke to a crowd of about 200 people last evening at the invitation of Eastern Iowa NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) at the Englert Theater. Earley spoke about the plight of the metally ill in the US and the the criminalization of them because of a lack of care for persons with treatable mental illness. In his book, Crazy, Earley speaks from a father's perspective in writing about his own son who has a bi-polar disorder. He spoke of the frustration of just wanting to get help for his adult son when "authorities" told him there was little they could do unless his son was an imminent danger to himself or someone else.
The experience with his son drove him to use his journalism background to research the state of mental illness in the US and what he conveyed to the audience last night is nothing short of horrifying. Read this article from Salon for more.
He spoke about the 9th floor of Miami-Dade County jail and the mentally ill held there in inhumane conditions because there are holes in the system that did not allow people without insurance to be treated in hospitals and a system that removes psychiatric beds because they are "money losers" to allow for more surgical beds which are "money makers." He spoke of prisoners drinking from the toilets because there was not clean water running to the cells and naked prisoners kept in frigid cold conditions because of a poor air conditioning system.
We are relatively fortunate in Johnson county to have a sherriff who believes in alternatives to jailing for the mentally ill, but as a state, we don't do very well by those with severe mental illnesses. In fact, our state in 2006 got an overall rating of "f" for services to the mentally ill according to NAMI's report.
Per Capita Mental Health Spending $73.70 Rank: 27 of 50 states
Per Capita Income $27,575 Rank: 34
Total Mental Health Spending (in millions) $217 Rank: 29
Suicide Rank: 35
To the credit of the state, health care parity rules have made it more likely that those with health insurance to receive services for mental illnesses. More needs to be done:
According to NAMI:
Iowa is experiencing significant problems with an overall lack of inpatient psychiatric beds for people with acute treatment needs. Nationwide, many community hospitals have gotten out of the business of operating psychiatric units - increasing the burden on state hospitals. The few community hospitals that continue to operate inpatient psychiatric units are overwhelmed by demand and do not have enough beds to meet that demand. For example, in Des Moines there are virtually no hospital beds available for people with acute or long-term care needs.
As acute care beds in community hospitals decrease, the number of state hospital beds decrease as well, worsening the crisis. There are only four state hospitals in Iowa right now that can serve patients with serious mental illnesses, a low number when you consider the geographic size of Iowa.
Iowa's mental health system is in serious trouble. The state needs to move forward with a bold restructuring of its mental health system, which should include removal of legal settlement rules and increased access to mental health services that work for Iowa's residents with serious mental illnesses