Do mass shootings indicate a broken mental health care system?

Are mass shootings a symptom of broken mental health system?

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The increasing spate of mass shootings, from the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, to the mass shooting inside of an Aurora, Colo., movie theater -- both of which involved suspects with a history of mental illness -- has some people arguing that these are indicative of a broken mental health care system.

Local forensic psychiatrist Dr. George Seiden says the mental health system is grossly under-funded.

"Our mental health system is so overwhelmed and so under-staffed and so unavailable that what happens is the prisons become our mental health providers," he says.

A recent study found 16 percent of inmates in U.S. jails and prisons have a serious mental illness, a figure that has tripled in 30 years.

A separate study found that one in three homeless Americans has a serious mental illness.

Those patterns emerged after a decades-long push to de-institutionalize the mentally ill.

Dr. Seiden says the plan was to get them out of the hospitals and into the community mental health system.

But more patients began to fall through the cracks.

Family psychologist Dr. Bruce McCormick says chronic under-funding has led to long waits for care. "The need outweighs the available sources ten, twenty-fold, and that's common nationwide."

It's the same story for long-term care, even at LSU Health in Shreveport, with its 51-bed psychiatric ward and a crisis unit with 15 patient rooms.

LSU Health psychiatry professor Dr. Mary Jo Fitz-Gerald says, "As it is now, we cannot get people into Central.  People stay here for six months, and they have not made it to Central, which is in Pineville."

State budget cuts make the prospect of changing that highly unlikely any time soon.

Dr. McCormick says, "When it comes to mental health issues, we are a country of ostriches.  We pretend it doesn't happen until it does, and then we look for the quickest fix, the quick law to pass.  We want to forget about it and go on and put our heads back in the sand. It's not working for us."

Some argue when we don't pay up front for mental health care, we end up paying in different, and more costly, ways down the road.

Dr. Seiden says, "We need to realize that by not making treatment available, we don't make these people go away.  We just increase the likelihood that they will disturb us in some way."

And that can range from the mentally ill ending up homeless, in prison, or in rare cases, involved in horrible crimes.

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