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Mental health system needs work

To the editor:

In October, the Gazette printed an AP story (“Shootings expose cracks in mental health system,” Oct. 31) that cited Pete Earley’s difficulty in getting his son into psychiatric treatment, and also publicized some sources advocating increased use of coercion in bringing seriously disturbed people into the mental health system.

Earley’s “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness” is an account of a father’s diligent efforts to obtain competent help for a family member. The difficulties did not end with the challenges of getting treatment and avoiding a criminal record for the young man who, while disturbed, had helped himself to a bubble bath in a house whose residents were away. Earley devotes page time to studying the abysmal status of the mental health system in the state of Florida, for example.

The mental health system and jails can be dumping grounds for people society does not know what to do with. Taking the view that disturbed persons are human beings who, potentially, can be helped, attention to our Massachusetts law can be enlightening. Our regulation has been that persons have a right to treatment, as opposed to custodial care, and further, that persons have a right to treatment suited to their needs. It’s difficult to supply treatment suited to anyone’s needs by the use of force, as coercion really annihilates the elements of trust and respect in the doctor-patient relationship.

I suggest it’s important to see the vulnerability a person has when the organ most involved in establishing who they are is not working well for them. One can assume that a person in that situation is fearful and does want help that is suited to their needs.

Family is a key resource in supporting anyone who is disoriented. The medical system’s response mechanism needs to be rethought toward an approach that is more fully helpful to mentally fragile people.

Mary H. Hall

South Hadley

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