This author is one of the newest ones who have a family story about mental illness. But what he says in his interview is the current bottom line in America. I am proud that we are not just locking-up our loved ones, yes I had one as well, but the liberal laws that changed things in the 1950's went too far to the other side of the spectrum. As Steve says, " It is good for the patient's rights may not be good for the family." He also addressed the issue of not being able to access patient records. The records are also held in confidence no matter what. Recently, one of my Special Ed. students was going through a manic phase and ran away from school at lunch time. He was also cursing and throwing books in the classroom. While I know that other students could possibly get hurt, it was apparent that his meds. were not correct. The teachers were very upset because the administration was going to have to let him stay in the regular ed. classroom because of his rights. He has the same rights as any adult on the street, until he actually hurts himself or someone else, then there is not much any official can do to help him. Most lay people do not understand this. One of the teachers said to me"Doing nothing is not an option". I told her that doing nothing is actually an option because our hands are tied. His mother also took him to the ER one weekend because he was still showing manic episodes at home with her, but when they got to the ER all the kid did was sleep, so the ER personnel could not keep him or do much to help her at the time. She was very upset. If the medical staff does not "witness" the behavior first hand, then what the mother said was happening at home is just hearsay.
Washington Post journalist Steve Luxenberg learned he’d had an aunt, institutionalized for mental illness in 1940 and hidden by his mother for more than half a century. His new book, Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret , tells the story.
How has our approach to mental illness changed since the 1940s?
We don’t put people in mental institutions at nearly the rate we did then. In 1955, there were 550,000 patients. The country’s population is nearly double now, so you’d expect a million today. Instead we have fewer than 50,000.
Why is that?
New medicines allowed people to be treated at home. Then, later, the legal standard changed. In the ‘40s, many states had a legal obligation to give “treatment and care” to their “defectives.” Now, you cannot be forced into an institution unless you are a danger to yourself or others.
And that’s a good thing, right?
Yes. But what’s good for the patient’s rights may not be good for the family. The family might not be able to care for a patient whose behavior is erratic. That’s the ongoing conflict.
You had trouble accessing your aunt’s medical records. Why?
Medical-records management people are in charge of saying “no” to protect people’s privacy. But if we shut off medical records of people long deceased, we’re locking up information that families and medical providers ought to know. As scientists learn more and more about the genetic basis of all kinds of illnesses, access to records is an issue we’re going to have to confront.