SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California’s treatment of people with serious mental illness discriminates against those with the most severe mental illnesses, according to a special task force report entitled, “Separate and Not Equal: The Case for Updating California’s Mental Health Treatment Law,” issued March 18. The full report may be found at http://www.lpsreform.org/LPSTF2.pdf
The report, written and researched by the LPS Reform Task Force II – a think tank of medical and legal experts with first-hand experience dealing with California’s mental health laws – includes 14 specific recommendations for reforming California’s 50-year-old Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which was originally designed to govern involuntary commitment to psychiatric hospitals.
“Repetitive psychiatric hospitalizations, jailings and the tragedies surrounding untreated mental illness are exceedingly costly to California taxpayers,” said Carla Jacobs, co-chair of the Task Force. “The cause of this stupendous waste of money and lives is an inadequate and scientifically antiquated set of mental health treatment laws in California known as the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. The law as it now stands affords no consistency in treatment and thus kills rather than helps.”
According to the Task Force report, unless the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act is reformed:
- Untreated mental illness will remain a main “feeder” to the state’s jail and prison system.
- Hospital emergency rooms will continue to be a dumping ground for mentally ill patients, and will be unable to provide the treatment resources necessary to assist individuals in crisis. Not only is this inappropriate, it can endanger staff, the general public and people with mental illness themselves.
- City streets will remain open air asylums where people with mental illness are brutally victimized or, in some cases, may victimize others.
- California’s promises of mental health treatment for all its citizens will remain unfilled.
“Serious mental illness is a medical condition. In our society, people suffering other medical conditions receive stabilizing treatment even if they are too ill to consent to that treatment,” said Dr. Cameron Quanbeck, forensic psychiatrist and member of the Task Force. “But California’s mental health legal system requires that a seriously disabled individual with mental illness deteriorate so far that they be in an imminently dangerous position prior to receiving society’s help. That’s discrimination plain and simple.”
Ms. Jacobs added: “Prompt treatment and equal protection for individuals with severe mental illness requires that California make some tough decisions. Are we willing to continue with needless tragedies that are preventable or will we reform our laws to assure that the most severely disabled amongst us have a chance at recovery and wellness? The LPS Reform Task Force report issues the challenge and solution. It’s time for change. Frankly, it’s beyond time. We can no longer afford neglecting severely mentally ill people. Waiting for danger is too late.”