Services that Need Improvement

Finding effective treatments and resources for patients with schizophrenia can be frustrating and challenging. This is why the most important goal for mental health advocates is securing better treatment through coordination and increased funding of psychiatric care programs.

Plenty to Choose From

Researchers have repeatedly shown the value of therapy or psychosocial interventions, rehabilitation services, and proper medication. These measures undeniably improve the lives of patients, and by extension, their caregivers. Access to these effective treatments, unfortunately, is not nearly as available as it needs to be to help everyone who needs them. The same can be said of social programs and policies that mandate treatment in the community. Without it, hospitalization is often the only option for undertreated people suffering from schizophrenia. Not all communities have crisis management teams ready to serve those who need immediate help.

Fact

Researchers claim that around 60 percent of people with schizophrenia live in poverty and 5 percent end up homeless. There are organizations and professionals who are dedicated to helping disadvantaged communities seek help for mental illnesses. However, with no widespread, effective social support system in place, these people become easy targets for criminals.

The recent advances in both pharmacology and psychotherapy are not readily available to many who suffer from schizophrenia. In addition, much work remains to be done to establish programs that make psychiatric care available to those who are most severely affected by the disease.

Help for Families

Much more effort is needed to capitalize on the benefits that come from educating the families of people with schizophrenia. The sooner patients and relatives start educating themselves, the more significant the benefits. Unfortunately, such opportunities often are missed for lack of funding.

Correcting these weaknesses in the mental health care system will require the work of advocates who recognize the problems and know the solutions. The advocates must be knowledgeable and politically astute enough to get the attention of lawmakers.

Essential

There are many threats to patient-doctor confidentiality today. Expanded use of computers and data storage banks is one area of concern. Another is the trend to deny medical services or access to insurance coverage based on past history. Genetic testing may soon provide another reason medical confidentiality must be strengthened by legislation.

You can help by getting involved in your community and teaming up with people who have access to politicians. Acquaint yourself with the facts concerning the number of people who could benefit from improved counseling services and find out exactly how much it will cost to implement such services.

Back this up with projections showing the cost to the community if such programs are not available. This may be difficult to quantify because medical economists have not yet provided definitive estimates for how much money it costs society for family members to bear the burden of schizophrenia.

The Neglected

The Department of Justice estimates that up to 61 percent of prisoners in U.S. jails and prisons — 63,000 people — are mentally ill. Nearly half had received no mental health treatment prior to arrest, and only 20 percent had been treated during the preceding year. About one-third of state prisoners and one-quarter of federal prisoners with mental illness received treatment after incarceration. Critics complain that mental health care behind bars is lacking in quality and quantity.

This type of neglect might be traced to several sources: lack of money for treatment, lack of concern by the public, and lack of understanding that mental illness often leads to jail for people who cannot get treatment or won't accept it. With very few psychiatric hospitals available for such people, jail becomes society's psychiatric hospital. This area is in desperate need of correction and advocacy attention.

MentalHelp.net provides some useful background information on this topic in Allan Schwartz's article “Imprisoning the Mentally Ill” (www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=14284). For ideas on what you can do and for more information on this topic, visit the Ohio Legal Rights Service website (http://olrs.ohio.gov/asp/pub_jailrts.asp) and the American Friends Service Committee Criminal Justice Program site at www.prisoneradvocacy.org.

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