I was almost at work this morning when disheveled man who was obviously mentally ill boarded the train. For the rest of the trip he held a very loud conversation with someone who wasn't there.
While I was in school in the late 70s I did my psychiatric rotation at a state hospital that housed the severely mentally ill. It was a pretty depressing place with locked wards and bars on the windows. But the patients in the facility were well taken care of, as they were not capable of caring for themselves.
Shortly after I left the facility an new conservative governor took office who instituted a new policy. He said we no longer needed these facilities. With anti psychotic drugs we could care for these patient in community based settings and save the state a lot of money. He emptied and closed most of the state hospitals. Of course the community programs were never funded and didn't appear. The patients were dumped on the streets and the homeless population swelled. I was volunteering in a homeless shelter clinic at the time and saw many severely and sometimes dangerously mentally ill patients who we tried to stabilize before getting them to the ER. The mental health system in the state never truly recovered.
It is over 30 years later. There arent enough mental health beds in the state. Patients are in the ER days, sometimes weeks waiting for a bed to open. As revenues have plummeted, due to the current depression, the state is once again looking to save money by closing one of the two state hospitals that are left. We are told that it will be OK because these patient will be cared for in "community settings" though once again there are no details provided. No one is talking about funding these programs, in fact the department that would be administering these programs has had its budget cut. We are making the same mistakes once again.
What does this say about American society? There is plenty of money for Wall Street bailouts, endless war, and corporate welfare but the most vulnerable of our citizens are left to die like animals on the street.