How Mass Deinstitutionalization Harmed the Mentally Ill

How Mass Deinstitutionalization Harmed the Mentally Ill

Gun Rights

Amy Swearer is a legal policy analyst at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation. One year ago Thursday, the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, sparked an intense national debate over firearm-related violence. As some pushed for broader restrictions on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, The Heritage Foundation has undertaken the task of evaluating the complex, underlying realities of gun violence, including its relationship to untreated serious mental illness. As part of a series of papers exploring this relationship, John Malcolm and I authored a Heritage Legal Memo, “ The Consequences of Deinstitutionalizing the Severely Mentally Ill ,” focusing on the mental health crisis in the United States and how states can combat that crisis to make communities safer. Our paper begins by exploring several catalysts for the mass removal of the seriously mentally ill from inpatient facilities during the 1960s and 1970s, a process referred to as deinstitutionalization. The first catalyst was a growing public awareness of the truly abysmal conditions in some large state psychiatric hospitals, which caused some to look for treatment options with more humane conditions. Second, a general trend in the medical profession toward promotion of community-based treatment centers coincided with development of promising psychiatric medications that led many professionals to reconsider the possibility of successfully managing mental illness outside institutional settings. Third, the establishment of Medicaid in 1965 de facto encouraged states to eliminate public psychiatric beds by prohibiting states from using federal money to […]

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