On January 1, Catherine Blakemore, executive director for Disability Rights California wrote an op-ed in Sacramento Bee expressing opposition to Laura’s Law. It fails to recognize the difference in who the two programs (voluntary and Laura’s Law serve). She posits that because voluntary services work on voluntary patients Laura’s Law is not needed. However they serve two different populations. Voluntary programs serve those who accept services, Laura’s Law is only for those who refuse them. Individuals who are so psychotic they believe they are Jesus, or so delusional they believe the FBI planted a transmitter in their head will rarely volunteer for services, no matter how many such services exist.
Accepting Ms Blakemore’s position that we should maintain the status quo and only serve voluntary patients means keeping the homeless and psychotic who refuse treatment away from it until after they become danger to self or others. Hence, violence by individuals with untreated severe mental illness. Laws should prevent dangerousness, not require it. Following is what she wrote (with links inserted to research she failed to acknowledge).
Another View: Expand voluntary mental health services now
PUBLISHED SUNDAY, JAN. 01, 2012
Catherine Blakemore, executive director for Disability Rights California, is responding to the Dec. 18 editorial “Laura’s Law needs help from Prop. 63” and Dan Morain’s series on mental health. The editorial stated: “Assisted outpatient treatment has nothing to do with locked wards of old. Rather, the goal is to reach people before they must be hospitalized or jailed, and help them live with the fewest possible restrictions, in their own homes.”
The Bee wants county mental health programs to use Mental Health Services Act – Proposition 63 – money to fund involuntary mental health treatment under Laura’s Law. This is bad policy and will not ensure that mental health consumers receive the services they need.
Instead, policymakers should redouble their efforts to implement the promise of Proposition 63 to expand the availability of voluntary mental health services. California voters got it right – expanding programs that have demonstrated success saving lives and money.
Unfortunately, in the last few years counties have made drastic reductions to mental health funding, depriving people of the community-based services they need to avoid hospitalization. In 2010, when Sacramento County was poised to eliminate many outpatient treatment centers, Disability Rights California took action to stop those cuts. A federal court granted an injunction stopping the cuts until the court is convinced that mental health clients will continue to receive integrated services to avoid institutionalization. The Bee supported our efforts.
A UCLA study released this month found that at least 2 million Californians say they have mental health problems – at least 1 million with conditions as serious as schizophrenia – but most do not receive the care they need. Lack of insurance coverage and fear of stigma were cited as the main obstacles.
Many counties already have in place proven voluntary treatment programs that have comparable results to Laura’s Law without the expense and coercion of court-ordered treatment. For example, the Full Service Partnerships under the state Department of Mental Health have reduced hospitalizations by 50 percent, incarcerations by 88 percent and homelessness by 70 percent. By comparison, the outcome data on involuntary outpatient treatment show forced treatment is often counterproductive – renewing trauma and steering people away from the mental health system altogether. Scarce public dollars are better spent expanding voluntary treatment programs that provide the surest path to recovery.
Articles by senior editor Dan Morain in favor of Laura’s Law suggest that mental illness and dangerousness go together, thereby perpetuating misinformation and stigma. Instead, the data show that people with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators. For example, Kelly Thomas had schizophrenia, was familiar to his community and was unarmed when he died from a beating by six Fullerton police officers in July.
Those who are dedicated to effective community mental health services must work together to reduce stigma and ensure access to services.
Some good news is that violent crime in the United States, including California, is at the lowest levels in decades. The few incidences a year perpetrated by people with mental health conditions tend to receive headline coverage, perhaps distorting our perceptions. In this economic crisis, Disability Rights California urges that attention not be diverted from the main issue: Large numbers of people are not receiving needed mental health services.