"Think about that," she implored attendees at the
Long was the first of several speakers at this year's Domenici forum to talk on the topic of mental illness. Those who followed were experts who could discuss the big picture. But she was able to personalize the issue.
She came to national prominence after the mass shooting at
"If it's that difficult for me, a highly educated, white woman, to get services, then what's it like if you're poor? And I still couldn't help my child," she said. "The blog came from this place of intense pain.
"I've sat in a lot of meetings where the parents are blamed for their children's behavior," she said. "The court order they gave me was sticker charts. I was supposed to manage my son's violent rages with sticker charts."
Long said that 79 percent of the children being held in juvenile detention throughout the country suffer from mental illness.
"You can't tell me that jail is the right place for these kids. It's just not true," she said.
"When I became a judge, I had no idea I was becoming a gatekeeper to largest mental health center in the state of
There were more people with mental illness being held in that jail than in any treatment center in the state, he explained.
And, the TV news clip he showed of the hellish conditions on the floor of the jail where the mentally ill were being held made it clear that they were being warehoused, not treated.
Leifman points to the era that started in the 1970s when the nation made a push to shutter long-term psychiatric hospitals following repeated tales of abuse and neglect of patients.
"We never deinstitutionalized," he said. "We transferred responsibility from grotesque hospitals to even more grotesque jails; and now you not only had to the live with the stigma of mental illness but you have to live with the stigma of mental illness as a criminal.
"This is the one area where we have failed an entire population miserably."
Leifman said they were able to turn things around by changing the focus in dealing with the mentally ill from punishment to treatment.
In a separate interview, he said Dade County was previously spending a third of its entire adult mental health budget trying to get some 3,000 people charged with a crime competent enough to stand trial.
"At the same time, we had between 150,000 and 160,000 people who, at the time of their arrest, needed acute mental health care," he said.
Now, they've taken a different approach. Those accused of nonviolent crime are placed into diversion programs where they get counseling; help with employment and housing; and a case manager who ensures that they take their medications and get to their appointments.
"We created a simple goal, that jail was the last resort," he said. "If people don't need to be in our system, we get them out. And the outcomes have been astounding. From 2010 to 2016, the jail population plummeted. We closed a local jail. The recidivism rate dropped from 70 percent to 20 percent and our felony diversion program has a 6 percent recidivism rate.
"It works," he said. "Recovery rates for people with mental illness are better than for people with diabetes and heart disease."
When mental health advocate Sen.
"Imagine me, who grew up awed by my father and humbled by him, having to talk about the one issue that we never talked about when I was growing up," Kennedy said.
"When I was growing up, my mother suffered from really debilitating alcoholism and debilitating mood disorders," he said. "My grandmother died of alcoholism. She was so separated from the family that she wasn't found for a week after she slipped and fell in shower, she was that alone. I never talked about it. My mother never talked about it. My family never talked about it. And we never attended the funeral."
His father likely suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after the deaths of brothers Jack and Bobby, and self-medicated with alcohol, Patrick said. He himself went to rehab at age 17.
"We all kind of kept our heads down and never dared look up because no one knew what to do," he said.
The legislation that was signed in 2008 was supposed to fix that. It was supposed to require insurance companies to provide the same level of care for those with mental illness as for those with physical illness. But eight years after the bill's passage, that goal still has not been met, Kennedy said.
Despite all of the advances in medicine during the past few years, our life expectancy is going down because of the growing number of suicides and drug overdoses, he said.
"It is shocking when you think about the size and scope of this public health epidemic," he said. "My simple answer is let's enforce the Domenici-Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act. If you provide it for the cancer patient, if you provide it for the heart disease patient, if you provide it for the diabetic patient, you must do the same for those suffer from chronic illnesses of the brain."
The problem, he said, is that insurance companies offer narrow networks of providers, restricting access, and don't approve medication until the late stages of the disease.
"We would never wait until you're stage 4 before providing cancer treatment. We would never say to diabetic, 'we know you have diabetes but we have to wait until you go blind and lose your legs before we will treat you.' But that's exactly how insurance companies pays for this illness," he said. "They only pay after the person has been pathologized, and so it is difficult to get a handle on."
Kennedy said he has started a website called paritytrack.org to take reports of mental health patients being denied equal access to care. He will then go to the attorney generals and insurance commissioners in those states and be able to show them that the law isn't being followed.
"This is the new frontier," he said. "If we get our arms around mental health care, we will reduce costs to the entire medical system. But more important than that, we will increase graduation rates of kids; we will increase the productive of workers; we will reduce the number of people in our criminal justice system."
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