Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mental health facility fears are unfounded

Tomorrow's editorial today:

Commissioners did disservice bowing to misconceptions.

Huntersville town commissioners’ rejection Monday of rezoning for a psychiatric hospital was sadly summed up in the words of one resident. Said Steve Owens: “We need this facility, just not right in my backyard.”

It’s easy to empathize with Owens and other residents of a neighboring subdivision who opposed a Carolinas HealthCare System mental health facility near their homes. The residents noted traffic concerns but focused most comments on their true concern – a fear that mental health patients could harm their children.

Yet as it is with most NIMBY (not in my back yard) fears, these are largely unfounded. They are based on lack of knowledge and persistent stigma and myths about mental illness. Commissioners should not have bowed to such fears. But they did, in a 4-2 vote. Now critically needed services are in limbo.

How badly are those services needed? A 2010 mental health alliance report showed people across the state languishing in hospital emergency rooms for days unable to get treatment. A 2001 state reform that cut the number of state psychiatric hospitals to treat more patients privately spawned the problem. About half of the state-operated hospital beds have closed, but there have not been enough private beds created to meet the needs. Mecklenburg County’s lack of beds has resulted in some patients being held in observation in hospital emergency departments or acute care beds while waiting for placement. Overcrowding at Mecklenburg County’s CMC-Randolph, the county’s behavioral mental health hospital, has been so bad that patients have been sent home without ever getting hospital care.

The Huntersville facility would have been a great help in getting patients needed services in a timelier manner. The facility was to house patients with behavioral issues only, not those with substance abuse or sexual disorders.

The hospital had already gotten the approval of the town planning board in an 8-1 vote and support from the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, whose president touted both the economic benefits (155 jobs were expected) and the fact that such facilities have proven to have positive, not detrimental, impact on neighborhoods.

The two commissioners who voted for the rezoning educated themselves by visiting CMC-Randolph in Charlotte. Melinda Bales, who had concerns, said the visit was an eye-opener. “It was very tranquil,” she said of CMC-Randolph, “and not what I was expecting.”

More people should educate themselves about such facilities and about mental illness in general. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medical condition that needs treatment.

It is also a common malady. One fifth of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder during any given year. One fifth of school-age children do too.

Sadly, the biggest misconception about the mentally ill continues to be the most persuasive against them – that people with mental illnesses are violent. The vast majority are not. Experts note rightly that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

The mentally ill are not strangers. They are our friends, neighbors and family – and sometimes they are us. An action like Huntersville’s, based on misconceptions and unfounded fears, is a disservice to our communities and everyone in them.

Posted by the Observer editorial board

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

The sick ones are the elected officials that dispensed with logic and common sense to kowtow to a handle of NIMBY votes. Hopefully the other residents of this town will elect board members who make reasonable decisions, not cave in to unrealistic claims.

Anonymous said...

I find it funny that some of the arguements given (increased traffic/noise/eyesore)fall flat on their face due to the fact that an overpass was just built there to go to a new industrial site located just across the street from Verheoff Road and NC-115. The site boasts a huge eyesore (430 foot tower that you can see from I-77).

This is not even mentioning that the overpass was built for the increased traffic of tractor trailers going to the site.

The more I think of it, this maybe a gift to CHS as the entrance to the overpass would be directly in front of the proposed site.

Mike Gambino said...

i am a mentally ill fully functional person that went through cmc-randolph 2 years ago..many people are like myself and need the help..i go to college and have 3 part time jobs and a 3.3 gpa..please you nimby people stop stigmatizing us..its pathetic and grossly unfair..many people need the right help like i was finally able to obtain to be productive citizens...please understand how mental illness works before you stimatize us. Check out NAMI.org for information.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I read everything I could reported on this approval for change of zoning for this facility. However, nothing really left me with a warm feeling that concerns of this community were being addressed. Too many others have taken potshots at those who asked the questions. This country was founded by those who sacrificed with their lives to give us personal liberty and freedom so we can decide ourselves what to do with our lives.

Our freedoms have been hijacked over the last 50 years like turning up the water on the stove to boiling slowly with the frog inside. We are the frogs.

Too many have refused to accept the responsibility for their freedom and decisions and therefore these have tried to coop those from others who have chosen to better themselves and accept there are consequences to bad decisions.

Anonymous said...

OK, Observer, you've (rightly) trashed Huntersville. Now have the guts and the fairness to do the same to the Elizabeth community, which---despite being dominated by liberal Democrats and led by your fair-haired daughter Jennifer Roberts---overwhelmingly voted behind the cloak of anonymity to oppose a transitional housing facility.

Jim said...

Is it to be of the people, by the people and for the people? Well, yeah, as long as the people agree with me. Otherwise, recruit "experts" to describe how the people should be compelled to act.

Shelly said...

from the interviews i saw, people in neighborhoods simply do not want a huge facility and traffic across the street from their homes...quite understandable...i wouldn't either

J said...

Anon 10:11 PM - the "concerns" the community members were basically, "why do you want to put mental health patients here? Everybody knows that mental health paitients are deformed, foaming-at-the-mouth savages who spend their days looking for someone to assault. I don't want such sub-human filth near my kids!" Look at what Melinda Bales said - "it was very tranquil and not what I was expecting." Translation: she went to CMC-Randolph expecting to see a bunch of deformed, foaming-at-the-mouth savages who were kept in straight jackets 24/7 to keep them from assaulting people.

Memo to all you idiots who still hold these stereotypical views of those with mental illness: come into the real world. I think every person in the world either knows someone who suffers from depression or is one. Guess what? Depression is a mental illness. The only violence a severely depressed person is likely to commit is to him/herself.

And sadly, even the NIMBY acronym isn't sufficient to describe people's opposition to building almost anything. The new acronym is BANANA - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.

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