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Letters to the Editor: When jails double as mental health facilities, we know we’ve failed

Los Angeles County's jail system also serves as its largest mental health treatment service.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: It was good reading about sociologist Andrew Scull’s analysis of the medical profession’s difficulties in treating mental illness. But from my perspective as someone assisting people experiencing mental disabilities due to homelessness, I see the results of governmental failures as an even bigger problem.

When California closed big mental institutions, former patients were left on the streets to beg. That was the first wave of homelessness in Los Angeles. Frequently, people experiencing mental disabilities and homelessness engaged in drug-seeking behavior to quiet their demons, which brought them into the criminal justice system.

Jails became L.A. County’s biggest mental health facilities. Getting off the elevator at the main jail’s top floor, where seriously mentally ill inmates are incarcerated, what becomes immediately apparent is the noise — the banging, the screaming, the wailing. Psychotropic medications are administered but are often not effective.

Inmates are often released at midnight with no psych meds or referral. Skid row is less than two full miles from the jail. There, someone may find street drugs to quiet their demons for a while, but then they act out or commit a petty offense to get money for more drugs, get caught, and find themselves back on the top floor.

This system is not only cruel, but also expensive for taxpayers who must pay for the jail staff and the psychotropic medications over and over again. We may not be able to understand the underlying causes of mental illness, but we should be able to see a broken system.

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Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

The writer is executive director of the Integrated Recovery Network.

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To the editor: I’m horrified at the potentially manageable mental health conditions our culture turns into lives lost to despair. Before receiving effective wraparound treatment in New York City, I spent six weeks living on the streets and was hospitalized seven times between the ages of 18 and 26 (five of those times in L.A. County).

Our K-12 system contributes to this despair. We should integrate health, careers and financial literacy education into the curriculum and give students the option at 16 to pursue trades education at community colleges. Students who are not intrinsically highly academic are painfully bored as well as tacitly shamed. If you don’t see a future for yourself, why not party and do drugs?

Furthermore, recent research on teen mental health decline has shown that young people are getting less sleep and less exercise than they need, which contribute to depression and anxiety. For me, focusing on sleep hygiene, exercise, maintaining steady blood sugar, staying on a low dose of one effective medication, practicing a spiritual discipline, meditation and humor has made me able to work full time, parent two children and become an author.

Shaky circadian rhythms are at the heart of bipolar depression, but that took me digging in UCLA’s medical library 14 years post-diagnosis to find out.

Sasha Kildare, Long Beach


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