That is certainly one way of looking at the state numbers within a new national report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others on a problem long plagued by public stigma and lack of education. Indeed, in now appears that 93 percent of Georgians believe such persons can be helped by treatment. That’s a gigantic shift from the days only a bit more than a half century ago when the attitude toward “crazy people” was to lock them up with “treatments” like straitjackets, chaining to walls and lobotomies sadly not as unknown as today.
The same survey found about 60 percent of Georgians were of the opinion that people in general were caring and sympathetic toward those with mental illness. Despite the gap between how respondents say they feel and how they believe others do, that is a huge improvement over the past as well and likely more reflective of social concerns than medical questions.
It is wonderful that there is growing understanding that mental illness can be treated and controlled even when not “cured.” It is sad, but hardly comes as a surprise, that it seems more difficult to deal with the stigma than the condition.
THERE CERTAINLY is little to no objection in society from taxpayers/public when it comes to expending considerable resources and effort on behalf of those among us who are otherwise defenseless and in need of our mutual protection and assistance. That includes not only those plagued by mental devils but such populations as children left on their own or in a bad place, the developmentally disabled, the discarded elderly and so forth.
However, it really ought to work better than it does particularly when government, on our common behalf, acts as the safety net of last resource. The stigma gap may explain why less than intense societal attention appears to often be paid to such topics. A big part of the problem may be that many of us don’t care enough, or don’t learn enough, or don’t get involved enough to insist upon such matters never, ever becoming worse than they already are.
That’s a tall order, of course, when it comes to our shared responsibility to act as the superheroes protecting the defenseless. On such matters there is really no such thing as stopping at “good enough” and ceasing vigilance after Superman has flown away after saying he has saved the day.
A good example that most locally certainly know about, given that 750 local jobs were lost because of it and all sorts of new problems created such as the conditions at the County Jail, was the closing of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital. As most may recall, the state’s mental-health hospital system, which included permanent housing of the most profoundly limited, has been moving toward a “community-based” model emphasizing efforts to make such clients more a part of society as whole, which can indeed have a strong therapeutic effect.
THIS CAME about because an Atlanta newspaper expose, followed by a U.S. Justice Department investigation, found many instances of clients being physically abused, raped … even killed … in not only patient-on-patient incidents but, more alarmingly, guardian-on-patient cases.
Rarely had those earlier come to light. Very seldom had anyone been charged with an offense much less tried and punished. And, in any case, such things should never have happened at all given that the real sin was that the defenders were so often the threat to the defenseless.
However, it may be that “community based” is similarly vulnerable although it becomes much more difficult to determine when facilities and treatments become geographically scattered and start numbering in the hundreds instead of dozens. Of course, it shouldn’t have taken journalists to discover the original problem. Government is supposed to be able to police itself.
Recently, the GBI took over investigation of a case in Austell where “a person in authority was victimizing vulnerable people.” A (now former) security guard at The Circle, which offers mental-health, substance-abuse and developmental-disability treatment to residents of Cobb and Douglas counties, has been accused of the rape or sexual assault of three female clients — two of them on the premises, one at her home. The facility in question is the base of the Cobb Community Services Board’s efforts and this past August won the peer-support program of the year award of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network.
WHOOPS! Sounds like exactly what caused federal investigators to originally examine how Georgia handles this area of responsibility. Yes, the state does have a $107,000-a-year politically-connected ombudsman supposed to be standing guard or doing something unknown but let’s be fair: To deal with this would take a battalion of government watchdogs, or an army of activist, concerned citizens poking their noses into places they will certainly be told they do not belong.
Unfortunately, whether it is the stigma gap or something else that closes so many eyes, this is hardly the only realm of government aid to the defenseless that seems to operate with too many whoopsies.
In the very same week, and in sharp contrast to what is not yet being systematically cataloged about the community-based mental health and developmentally disabled shift, a report was released by Georgia’s child-protection agency revealing that 120 children receiving some form of state service/care had died in the first nine months of 2012. This branch of state government is also under federal oversight for a past record of bad things having happened — many of those also originally revealed by journalists instead of government itself.
Sadly, children die for a lot of reasons including natural or accidental causes. However, this breakdown showed 13 percent of the deaths were homicides and “undetermined” involved 18 percent.
In 10 of the cases the children died while in state custody; in 11 cases it was while the family was receiving state help in dealing with past known maltreatment.
ALL OF US think of ourselves as good, caring human beings and it has nothing to do with labels such as “bleeding-heart liberal” or “compassionate conservative” or even “God fearing.” Yet such sadder aspects of the human condition persist.
The worst of the problems are those that continue even though, as individuals, we could do something about them simply by paying more attention and screaming at, or otherwise annoying, elected and appointed government officials until they do what they are supposed to do — and are paid by us to do — properly.
Protecting the weak and helpless does not appear to be one of our society’s greatest strengths. It should be.