Commentary: We must mend safety net for mentally ill

The Sacramento BeeJanuary 14, 2011 

Dan Morain: Mental health safety net needs mending Published Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011

Talk radio windbags didn't buy Jared Lee Loughner his Glock, or the horrifically oversized 30-round magazines.

Arizona's governor and legislators didn't drive him to the Safeway in Tucson where he left six people dead and 13 injured. Crass politicians didn't order him to squeeze that gun's trigger in an attempt to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

But from this crime that makes no sense, we need to talk rationally about a mental health system that is profoundly and criminally insane.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and the people of Arizona ought to be a part of that soul searching, as should we all.

Brewer has been scorned for eliminating funding for some organ and marrow transplants, a decision that may have hastened the deaths of two people.

Far less noticed, Brewer slashed that state's mental health care system. To "save" tax money, Arizona stopped paying for some anti-psychotic medication last year. These drugs can help quiet voices only the patients hear, and ease deep depression that can lead to suicide.

"Taking these drugs away is like taking insulin from a diabetic," said Mary Lou Brncik, 54, a Phoenix woman whose son is mentally ill and who helped found an advocacy group, David's Hope.

Arizona has strong mental health laws. Its statutes say mentally ill people are entitled to a full range of services, and that anyone in Arizona can request an evaluation of someone they believe is mentally ill, and authorities must respond. But what laws say and what happens are separate issues.

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