Bipolar Life- Mentally Ill Imprisonment

Mental illness is not a crime.

I watched helpless as addiction squeezed the life out of my loved one. I pleaded and begged law enforcement and hospital staff to understand there was mental illness at the base.

“If she won’t stop drinking, she cannot deal with her mental illness.” They released her, and we played repeat weeks later.

Arrested multiple times for behavior that escalated with drinking, she was left alone to deal with mental illness. No one cared. I saw compassion on the face of the police officers, but their hands were tied. They could only enforce the law, and public intoxication with physical assault is against the law. On the outside, it looks slam dunk. For the law, it is. For the person slowly destroying their life, it isn’t.

The truth behind mental illness and incarceration.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, there are over 350,000 mentally ill inmates incarcerated within our jail and prison system. They estimate there are more mentally ill prisoners serving time than there are patients receiving help through hospital care. What’s worse is after the Federal Bureau of Prisons mandated new policies for mental health care, they turned around and cut the mental health care of 35% of the mentally ill inmates. (The Marshall Project)

I realize the law must be followed, but what good does it do to incarcerate with no mental health care, release, then have a reoccurrence leading to re-incarceration?

We closed the state mental health facilities in the 50’s and 60’s due to the poor quality of care and inhumane treatment of patients. There was false hope that community systems would aide the crisis. Today, inpatient care for a typical 7-day stay costs $10,000, which includes an evaluation, group therapy, minimal one and one care, activities, food, a bed, and medication. Who can afford that? Insurance helps if you carry insurance.

Proper path to addiction recovery.

When my loved one decided to get clean, she entered a facility for detox. Before admitting her, they evaluated the entire situation, concluding she would be better served receiving mental health care alongside detox. Her time tackling the tough subjects of why she fights through bipolar and that deep depression, opened her mind to real recovery. They didn’t give her a space to sober up. They offered a safe space to accept her diagnosis and how it relates to addiction and her behaviors.

Jail was never the answer when bipolar is the leading force to unlawful behavior. The state and federal prison systems are no place to tackle the mental illness crisis plaguing our country. They exacerbate the problems. If someone already feels isolated, suicidal, anxiety-prone, or hallucinogenic, imagine the escalation that happens behind bars.

Where to from here?

I do not have all the answers. My first thought is to cut the lifetime benefits of members of Congress and allocate funding for mental health facilities that provide care for those in need. We need to force treatment (when laws are broken) in a way that might be accepted by the patient. We all know you can’t make someone get clean; they have to want it. I guess this has to change for people who break the law.

Something must be done. We cannot continue in this crisis without taking action. Mental illness is on the rise, which means care must rise to meet it.

We must take a stand for mental illness.


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