Letter To The Editor: In response to Volume 19 Issue 4 Editorial

I read with interest the recent editorial “Mental Health Needs to be Addressed in this Country,” but I would like to point out a few inaccuracies.  First of all, you mention that in the 80’s, the “skyrocketing petty and violent crimes even caused the state of California to consider involuntary commitment laws after this massive change by our government”, referencing the Reagan Administration’s policies on mental health facilities. This is not entirely accurate.  The State of California passed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1967 which authorized involuntary detention for up to 72 hours for treatment and evaluation, followed by a possible involuntary civil commitment for up to 14 days. This law also authorized the police to pick up an individual whom the court had ordered to be evaluated in a mental health facility, which could, and frequently did, result in civil commitment for up to 14 days and longer.  Later, when Public Law 106-310 (42 U.S.C. § 10801), the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (1986) was passed, mental health facilities in the entire nation were forced by federal law to observe and protect the legal rights of individuals with mental illness.
Another inaccuracy which I think was not intended but needs to be pointed out is the tone of the editorial.  It seems to suggest that persons with mental illness are dangerous and violent, citing the “multiple killings” at the college in  Santa Monica on June 7th, and the statements that…”the incidence of mass killings is going up…”, and “mass killings have become a more common occurance throughout the country.” Not all mass murderers are mentally ill…nor are all persons who are mentally ill mass murderers.  The vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not dangerous and do not engage in violent behavior. Often they are the victims, not the perpetrators of crime. The linking of violence with mental illness is an unfortunate stigma that is very resistant to change. 
While it is true that we as a nation have done an abysmal job in providing care for our mentally ill citizens, I was gratified that you did not suggest that all persons with mental illness need to be hospitalized. Your article was correct in stating that “no one wants to pay for the proper attention of people who are mentally ill.”  You are correct in you assertion that mental health is an issue that has been ignored for far too long, although I think it would be more accurate to say that mental “illness” is an issue that has been ignored for far too long. 
Jim Johnson


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