LOCKING PEOPLE UP MAKES THEM WORSE
There are many things we could be doing about the problem of homelessness, but the recent Weekly article “Lessons from Bull Street” advocated for one of the most destructive possibilities: locking more people up in mental hospitals.
Just to begin, this would be outrageously expensive. Treatment at the Oregon State Hospital currently costs $1,324 per day. Second, forced treatment frequently traumatizes people, and this trauma then aggravates mental health problems. Bad experiences with forced treatment are also likely to cause people to disengage from treatment in the future.
Taxpayer money would be much better spent offering housing first, accompanied by friendly outreach with voluntary services. This could serve many more people for less money, without causing trauma.
The “Bull Street” article portrays psychosis as something like a medical condition that always requires drug treatment if people are to have a chance at a good life, but long-term outcome studies find that many do well without drugs, and a 20-year outcome study found that people who stay off drugs are likely to have better work functioning.
Psychosis might be better understood as a state of confusion caused when people react to trauma and other life difficulties by getting lost, at least for a while, in their imagination. Research, as well as my decades of experience as a mental health counselor, indicates that this confusion is more likely to resolve when people are offered kindness and understanding and practical help that fits their needs, rather than forced into expensive and rigid institutions that can easily make things worse.
MY DAD WAS MENTALLY ILL. WE NEED TO BRING BACK MENTAL HOSPITALS.
I live in Corvallis and I have worked with homeless folks as a volunteer for 11-plus years. I volunteered at a mental hospital in California — Sonoma State Mental Hospital — in 1972 while attending UC Berkeley. I was working with autistic kids then, but I saw it was a huge campus (1,670 acres) with many buildings and served many people. I remember there was a facility for schizophrenics, and another for alcoholics.
I am sure it too was not perfect, but it served a large population of people who had nowhere else to go. My dad was mentally ill and ended up near-homeless before his early death, despite great intellectual brilliance and plenty of money. Thus, when I started working with homeless folks and talking with them, it gradually began to seem strangely familiar, and I began to see the scope of the homeless situation related to mental illness and the closure of the mental hospitals.
I have been telling my friends and community for years that we need to bring back mental hospitals to even start to deal with the homeless situation. Of course, there would need to be strong safeguards to protect the folks there.
So thanks for a well-written and right-on-the-money article.
A FUNCTIONING MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM HELPS US ALL
Thank you, Bob Keefer, for your beautifully written “Lessons From Bull Street.” When I was 16 and 17, I was a patient at Oregon State Hospital during the 1960s. That institution made possible my release to and admission to the Upward Bound program created by Art Pearl at the University of Oregon. I graduated with a master’s degree in educational psychology and embarked on a 30-year career in mental health work, retiring in 2006.
I heartily agree with Keefer that money, not civil rights, is the reason for dismantling the hospital system, which had its flaws but also cared for thousands of people in desperate need. The cost of a functioning mental health system benefits everyone.
‘BULL STREET’ GOT IT RIGHT
“Lessons From Bull Street” by Bob Keefer in your June 22 issue was a true history of mental health treatment in my experience. I was a 19-year-old social work student assigned to a men’s ward at Agnews State Hospital in California for a term. The staff was incredibly caring to patients. Now, as a local social worker years later and with occasion to see patients here, I’ve found staff always observant and caring.
OREGON LEADS ON NON-FOSSIL-FUEL ELECTRIC
We are already on the way to produce all electric power using other means than fossil fuel. Seventy percent of Oregon’s electricity is produced by hydro, wind and other non fossil fuel means. Washington Electric is 81.1 percent non fossil fuel while Oregon produces 70 percent and California is only at 51 percent of electricity production by non fossil fuel use.