Another day, another sad example of an outdated approach to crime and mental health.
24-year old Jamycheal Mitchell stopped taking his schizophrenia medication before he walked into a 7-Eleven in Virginia this past April and allegedly stole a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Little Debbie Zebra Cake — snacks which totaled a whopping $5.05. He was arrested and tried and, presumably, the judge understood Mitchell’s circumstances, so he sentenced him to the state psychiatric hospital for help.
However, due to a lack of availability of a bed for the young man, Mitchell sat in prison where he spent most days naked, covered in filth, refusing to eat or take his medication and screaming.
By August 19th, Jamycheal Mitchell was dead.
Jamycheal Mitchell isn’t alone. In March, Dallas police gunned down a mentally ill man holding a screwdriver. Veterans with PTSD or mental illness were called “crybabies” by conservative multimedia icon Michael Savage.
Michelle Mata suffers from major depressive disorder with “psychotic features.” In the past when she had episodes, people call police. Not knowing how to deal with someone like her, they result to excessive force.
Her story and more made it to a three-part series from BraveNewFilms this year about criminalizing mental illness, which you can watch, below:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSbFbv2Bs_0?rel=0]
There are countless more.
The Cook County jail in Chicago has become the largest single-facility provider of mental health services in the country. Nearly $9 billion per year is spent putting the mentally ill behind bars instead of getting them the services they need. In 2012 alone, there were 356,368 severely mentally ill people imprisoned. That’s a population a little smaller than the entire city of Oakland, California that is behind bars.
Over the last ten years, the state of California has spent $13 billion in efforts to help the mentally ill. On paper, they reportedly have nothing to show for it. We see mass shootings and violent incidents at the hands of the mentally ill.
How do you quantify incidents that don’t happen, though? How can California or any state calculate the return on investment if the result is that nothing terrible happened at the hands of the people being treated? What do advocates do to persuade state and federal leaders that these services are preemptive strikes against more mass casualties?
Since the 1980s, mental health funding has continued to decline. In March, 2011 The National Alliance on Mental Illness released State Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis outlining the huge cuts to mental health services for children and adults in all 50 states.
According to the report:
States have cut more than $1.6 billion in general funds from their state mental health agency budgets for mental health services since FY2009.
Did you hear about it? I didn’t. In fact, I rarely see anything mentioned about mental health funding or the importance of mental health services except on progressive sites like ours. In fact, the only thing I’ve seen was this sign that was pasted on the door of the movie theater where my boyfriend and I saw a show last week:
Every time we have a mass shooting, a suicide by cops, or an excessive use of force with someone who is in need of mental health services we have the same conversation about how we must do better. A week later we forget and we move on having done nothing.
When people like Jamycheal Mitchell die tragically we might look at his face and feel regret, empathy, maybe even sadness. But we do nothing. We pass the buck, only to ask ourselves the same questions the next time.
This isn’t who we should be. We all deserve better. Why aren’t we demanding it?