Thank you for your April 30 editorial, "Make Chris Take His 'Meds."' It gave a true account of what happens to many precious individuals and the families who love them when no-fault mental illness strikes. Concerned families know that any family member seriously ill with any disease must get early intervention and immediate treatment in order to avoid a life-threatening crisis. Mental illness is no different! Yet, because of archaic laws enacted when methods of treatment and medications were also archaic, families of the mentally ill must watch helplessly and wait, and wait ... until the illness reaches obscene crises that lead to possible acute hospitalizations, violence, suicide or incarceration.
Then, typically, it takes many, many years and repeated crises to finally get diagnosis and treatment, with many more years to overcome the years of neglect and find the treatment that leads to recovery.
Assemblywoman Helen Thomson's (D-Davis) AB 1421, 1422 and 1424 give real hope for real people to recover and lead healthy and productive lives.
I am writing to express the views of several social workers who are active on the National Assn. of Social Workers California Council on Disability Issues. Many of us can attest personally to instances in which family members and former mental patients benefited from brief involuntary hospitalizations.
Your editorial, however, cites none of the valid reservations from former patients and mental health professionals. You write: "It is a symptom of this nation's goodness that it protects the rights and liberties of the mentally ill." Actually, it would be more accurate to say that we got where we are today because of a quick fix that resulted from an alliance of possibly well-intentioned liberals and fiscal conservatives, who moved people with mental illnesses from institutions into the community but, predictably, without a funding mandate. Despite the fact that a large percentage of the homeless mentally ill are veterans, neither liberals nor conservatives rallied to make homelessness a priority. This is not "goodness" but rather indifference.
Voluntary treatment, when implemented, is effective on a long-term basis precisely because it is voluntary and minimizes the need for involuntary treatment. This is not only the cornerstone of NASW's ethics (self-determination) but is cost-effective and leads to better treatment outcomes. When exceptions occur, strong safeguards of due process and representation of qualified consumer groups in the process need to be assured. Individual liberties should not be sacrificed due to a failure to provide well-funded, voluntary community treatment.