Mental Health Care Crisis

An article by NPR discusses the decrease over the years of long-term mental health care facilities, causing serious shortages in care for mental health patients.

I witnessed this as a Registered Nurse. The number of pediatric patients attempting suicide or attempting to harm others was hard to believe. Rarely did a week go by that we did not have at least one shift where one of our unlicensed personnel needed to go to the ER or hold out in one of the rooms on our unit to “sit” with a patient experiencing a mental health emergency, usually attempted suicide, to make sure they didn’t try to hurt themselves or someone else. They would stay in one of the rooms in the ER or on our unit while they waited for a bed to open up in one of the few long-term mental health care facilities in the area that took pediatric patients. Sometimes the wait lasted a few days.

I don’t know the answer to this problem. It seems, however, that not many people are thinking of how to solve this problem. We simply go on as we always have, accommodating the increased number of young people who are desperate, who are longing for peace or meaning in their lives, and who have decided, tragically, that the lack of such peace or meaning means that they should end their lives.

There’s a great deal of attention being given to school shootings right now, and that attention is justified. I’m not convinced that the solutions being recommended – tighter gun control laws, armed teachers – will work. I rather doubt it, actually. The evidence seems to be that local efforts work better, but people are turning to the federal government to find answers. It seems, however, that the federal government was largely behind the decrease in the number of mental health care facilities when they over-reacted to scandals in care decades ago, demanding the deinstitutionalization of mental health patients and refusing to cover long-term care by Medicaid. That doesn’t raise my confidence that the federal government has what it takes to solve these problems.

In any case, while school shootings are getting much attention, the suicide crisis among teens is getting scant attention. There is a 40 year high in female teen suicides. In 2015 alone, 2,061 teens committed suicide, 75% of them boys. Since Columbine in 1999, almost twenty years ago, there have been 122 children killed in school shootings. Yes, children are being killed by guns, too, and many of those killed by guns were suicides. 1,723 children were killed by guns in 2016 that were not suicides, most by violence, and gang violence accounted for a great many of those deaths. Gun control laws will do little, if anything, to keep guns out of the hands of gangs. The weekend after the Orlando mass shooting 52 people were shot in the city of Chicago, which has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country.

So, what’s the solution? Some things that have been shown to work, as I’ve posted about previously, is a stronger police presence in crime-infested neighborhoods (though the trend is less police presence in these neighborhoods, because these neighborhoods tend to be minority majority neighborhoods, and police presence is equated with racism), greater cooperation and a friendlier relationship between police and the people they’re hired to protect, stronger families, and greater investment by teens in the community, which result from participation in jobs, school, church, and volunteerism. Unfortunately, all the trends are away from these things, which might help explain not only school shootings, but gun violence and suicides.

Are we willing to do what needs to be done to face this crisis and achieve real change? Let me recommend where to start: in your own home. Are you having troubles in your marriage? Get help and address them. Heal your marriage. Stay together. It will do wonders for your kids. Are you involved in the lives of your children? Are you involved in their schools? Do their teachers know you? Do their friends know you? Do you take them to church and encourage opportunities for them to be involved in their communities? Stay involved and get more involved. The fact is, parents remain the primary influence on their children’s lives even into the later teen years, even more than peer groups. But, in order to have that influence, parents need to invest their time, talents, and treasure in their children. There’s been a significant trend away from raising our children, preferring merely to either have them and then forget about them, or suffocating them in a protective bubble. It’s not our job to merely have children or to suffocate them. It’s our job to raise them. Doing so would go a long way toward solving the social crises with which so many young people are struggling. Depending on the government to find solutions has proved unsuccessful. The government, as the article linked above demonstrates, often makes the problems worse.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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