I get emails from The Fitzsimmon File regularly, and today's is depressing as hell. Not coincidentally, it's about the sad state of mental health in North Carolina.
North Carolina's mental health system is a mess. That is not a secret anymore. Media reports in the last several months have made clear what families struggling to take care of a relative with mental illness have known for several years, the state's mental health reform efforts are mired in confusion, lack of funding, and broken promises.
State legislators are finally coming to understand the scope of the problem and the hardship it places on families and the mentally ill. State mental hospitals are releasing patients into homeless shelters because there is no affordable housing available or enough community services to help find a place for patients to live.
Durham County is suing the state to stop the reform efforts and the state announced recently that money saved from downsizing existing hospitals will be used to pay for debt service to build a newer smaller hospital, not to fund services at the community level. That was the promise of the 2001 reform legislation, to shift services and the money to provide them to local communities.
State officials have acknowledged the problem, but always point out that more money is not the only answer. That's true of course, money can't solve all the problems, but communities can't provide services if they can't pay for them.
Given the sketchy record of our legislature on stepping up and taking care of those most in need, I have a proposal. Why not fund mental health services through legalized betting on horse races? Just think of all the money we could make! Other states do it, why not join the crowd?
Don't like that idea? How about state sponsored casinos where real gamblers can lose their shirts to pay for people who are losing their minds? Other states do it, why not us?
Or hey, maybe we could legalize prostitution and take a cut from the pimps? Or get into the crack trade? Hell, we could be a state-wide Las Vegas with just a little creativity!
The fact is, our government is going the wrong way on mental health. We're funding prisons to lock up people who could be much more effectively managed with responsible mental health services. What we're doing is a sin, pure and simple, committed in the name of god only knows.