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  • Paul Webster

The Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill

Since the 1950s, the large majority of mental health hospitals across the country have been closed, resulting in a dramatic decrease of psychiatric beds providing treatment to the seriously mentally ill. As a result, prisons, jails, and the streets have seen a significant increase in mentally ill residents.

More than 170,000 people with mental illness experience homelessness nationally. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, in 44 states, a jail or prison holds more mentally ill individuals than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital.

The effects of deinstitutionalization are summarized in the book Nowhere To Go, The Tragic Odyssey of the Homeless Mentally Ill, by E.Fuller Torrey, M.D.

  1. Twice as many seriously mentally ill (SMI) on the streets and shelters as in public mental hospitals.

  2. Increases in SMI individuals in jails and prisons.

  3. SMI individuals regularly released from hospitals with little or no provisions for follow-up or aftercare.

  4. Increases in violent acts perpetrated by the untreated mentally ill.

  5. Inadequate housing for the mentally ill.

  6. The majority of mentally ill people discharged from hospitals have been officially lost.


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