DMars Article: Mental Illness in America

In the 19th Century, people with severe mental illness were institutionalized by the hundreds of thousands in state mental hospitals also known as “insane asylums.” Conditions were often harsh and patients were mistreated. However, the “deinstitutionalization” movement that began in the 1960s gained steam in the ’70s and ’80s. Social workers and other advocates sought to create awareness of the challenges that mentally ill people face and many of the asylums were shut down. Unfortunately, closing of these asylums did not mean the end to institutionalization. People with mental illness leave acute or chronic care facilities without adequate provisions for support and end up cycling into homeless shelters or the criminal justice system.

Mental Illness is a major problem. According to the Mental Health Needs Council, Inc., Ben Taub General Hospital Emergency Room treated more than 4,000 with mental illnesses each year in 2011 and 2012. In addition, the NeuroPsychiatric Center (NPC) currently treats more than 13,000 crisis episodes per year.  The lack of available resources for follow-up care has placed a demand for crisis services at the NPC. The NPC has frequently exceeded capacity, forcing the facility to close its doors to new admissions more than 75 times in 2012. Emergency services can meet immediate needs, but cannot support long-term community stabilization.

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