Monday, August 3, 2009

Mental health system leaves gaps

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For the full article: "Mental health system leaves gaps" click here

Sanchez had sought help a week before the slaying, checking herself into a hospital after hearing voices. But she soon checked herself out, something she could do because she'd entered the facility voluntarily, as opposed to an involuntary commitment.

In the hours before she is alleged to have decapitated the baby at a North Side home, her erratic behavior around the child caught the attention of relatives and sheriff's deputies, but she never was detained because her behavior, though odd, was not deemed violent.

Mental health experts express outrage that more isn't done to force mentally ill people into treatment that might prevent such tragedies as the Sanchez case from happening.

“The only way a family can get relief is for their son or daughter to commit a serious felony, where the legal system can have a legal hold on them for the remainder of their sentence — put them in a halfway house or forensic outpatient program,” said Dr. Roberto Jimenez, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “But the majority of mentally ill people only commit misdemeanors and they just drift.”

Nor, he added, can mentally ill people be compelled to take their medication, except in rare court-ordered circumstances.

The Sanchez case plays out in a state where the mental health system is seriously stressed — chiefly because of lack of money.

Texas ranks 49th out of the 50 states when it comes to per-capita funding for mental health services. The National Alliance on Mental Illness each year issues a report card delineating how states do in mental health care, and in 2008 Texas earned an ignominious D.

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