Mental illness is also a big reason homeless people don't go to shelters. We should never forget that we didn't really have a homeless problem in this country until Ronald Reagan "freed" the mentally ill from mental hospitals.
"n America's cities, many of us are so immune to such disturbances that we just continue reading our email on our smartphones without even looking up. It is just another crazy part of our urban lifestyle.
But when I see people like this, my first thought is always the same: Why isn't this man institutionalized? He certainly is not living a dignified life out here on the streets.
When I ask my mental health colleagues about this, the one political figure that typically comes up is former President Ronald Reagan. It's like an urban legend in our field. People say the reason so many people with mental illness are homeless or in jail -- one-third of all homeless individuals and half of all people behind bars -- is because of President Reagan.
Really? What did he do? Let all of the mentally ill patients loose?
Well, yes, that's exactly what they say he did.
Over 30 years ago, when Reagan was elected President in 1980, he discarded a law proposed by his predecessor that would have continued funding federal community mental health centers. This basically eliminated services for people struggling with mental illness.
He made similar decisions while he was the governor of California, releasing more than half of the state's mental hospital patients and passing a law that abolished involuntary hospitalization of people struggling with mental illness. This started a national trend of de-institutionalization.
In other words, if you are struggling with mental illness, we can only help you if you ask for it.
But, wait. Isn't one of the characteristics of severe mental illness not having an accurate sense of reality? Doesn't that mean a person may not even realize he or she is mentally ill?"
Having several severely mentally ill people in my family, over my lifetime, this issue is important to me and the neglect we offer them is a national disgrace.