Monday, July 14, 2003

Ignoring the Problem

The City Paper has an excellent article on the failure of D.C., like most States, to deal with the mentally ill. They usually don't have much money, probably aren't big campaign contributors, and if you pretend they don't exist, you might be fine. Until, of course, they kill someone. If a mentally ill person just kills one person, than maybe you got off lucky. As the article points out, there is also the possibility of mass murder being committed by the neglected mentally ill. But that is just the most horrific part of the problem. There are thousands of people who need help, and many of them would be able to function if they got the help they needed. But when it comes time to cut a budget, the ones who lose out are the ones with the least power.

Part of the problem is that too much emphasis is put on how the government is serving those who really don't need its help. Of course government is needs to ensure basic services, but it cannot ignore the problems of those you can't help themselves. One of the main purposes of government is to "promote the general Welfare" of its people (to quote the Constitution). While it might present more of a challenge, and expense, to provide for the mentally ill, it is no less the government's duty.

Washington, Maryland, and Virginia had a grand total of about 5,100 patients in mental hospitals in 1998, with fewer than 600 of those at St. Elizabeths. That's down from almost 28,000 at the end of 1955. Washington City Paper Cover Story: The Sick and the Dead

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