Mental health advocates were delighted to read recent media reports stating that the Trump administration is researching several initiatives designed to improve treatment of the seriously mentally ill. These initiatives include researching the ability of personal technology to help people with mental illness, moving the homeless in California to government housing, and keeping guns from a small group of people with serious mental illness who are potentially violent.
But there are two much more important initiatives that should be on the table — and very well may be, if comments President Trump made in August are any indication. Those are increasing the number of psychiatric hospitals and reforming procedures for involuntary commitment (known as “civil commitment”).
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, there is a nationwide shortage of at least 95,000 psychiatric hospital beds — and the shortage grows worse every year. President Trump proposed the right solution on Aug. 15: “I think we have to start building institutions again. … So many of these institutions were closed, and the people were just allowed to go onto the streets. And that was a terrible thing for our country,” he told reporters in New Jersey. He was also right in calling for civil commitment reform on Aug. 5; referring to people with serious mental illness who are potentially dangerous, he told reporters that we have to “make sure those people not only get treatment but, when necessary, involuntary confinement.”
DJ Jaffe is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institue, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.
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