September 13, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. When Michigan psychiatric hospitals are accused of violating patients’ rights, guess who gets to investigate? A study finds there’s a high price to pay for failing to invest in good, equitable mental health services. And an op-ed takes on the false dichotomy between physical and mental health. All this and more in today’s Daily.

Conflict by design: Michigan mental health agencies accused of maltreatment investigate themselves

Since 1974, Michigan’s state legislature has declared that individuals in the care of psychiatric hospitals and receiving community mental health services are due certain rights, chiefly, to be treated with dignity and respect in the least restrictive environment and to be free from abuse and neglect. Remarkably, the state allows psychiatric hospitals accused of rights violations to investigate themselves, a Detroit Free Press investigation found.

“The whole thing is totally broken,” Mark Reinstein, who served as president of the Mental Health Association in Michigan for 18 years, told the Free Press. “I don’t think anyone should be investigating themselves. The fact that we allow it, in all aspects of the system – we’ll never fulfill the promise of recipient rights.”

Lois Mulkey believes the broken system contributed to the death of her daughter, Bridget Cavanagh, at age 37. Described by Mulkey as “her soul mate,” Cavanagh faced a slate of health challenges from birth onward, including dwarfism, blindness, hearing impairment, intellectual disabilities, and bipolar disorder. Following her death, the Canton group home responsible for her care was found guilty of neglect by the agency responsible for its oversight – but did little afterwards to improve conditions for other residents. Only a slight reprimand was issued to the group home’s manager: They were briefly suspended and allowed to return to work with a demotion.  

The Free Press investigation found the failure of the system to keep itself in check is causing irreparable harm to the state’s most vulnerable. Worse yet, a governor- appointed mental health commission confirmed almost a decade ago that recipient rights officers in the community mental health system should report to a third party. Still, nothing has changed. 

The nation’s failure to invest in mental health costs lives and billions of dollars

Illustration: Shutterstock

The nation’s failure to properly invest in mental health led to the deaths of 117,000 people and cost taxpayers $278 billion from 2016 to 2020, researchers at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute of the Morehouse School of Medicine concluded in a study covered by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Communities of color and those with low incomes have felt the greatest impact. To reverse or mitigate these negative impacts, the study includes policy recommendations and strategies to increase equity.

“Investing in mental healthcare saves lives and dollars — we have known this for decades, but until now did not fully understand the monumental impacts of neglecting to act,” said Daniel Dawes, professor and executive director of the institute.

“We need a mental health care system to meet patients where they are and when they need it with on demand, real-time assistance,” said Tarek Rabeh, president and CEO of Otsuka North America, which funded the research, in a press release. 

(Note: MindSite News receives funding from the Sozosei Foundation, a philanthropy endowed by Otsuka.)

Health is health: Op-ed calls for end to distinction between mental and physical health

“A few months ago, I was infected by coronavirus and my first symptoms were bodily. But as the sore throat and cough receded, I was left feeling gloomy, lethargic and brain-foggy for about a week. An infection of my body had morphed into a short-lived experience of depressive and cognitive symptoms – there was no clear-cut distinction between my physical and mental health.”

So begins a column in the Guardian by Edward Bullmore, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge in England and author of The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression. Though most people with mental illness are no longer relegated to asylums, Bullmore writes, “we live in a falsely divided world, which draws too hard a line – or makes a false distinction – between physical and mental health.”

Despite his harsh analysis, Bullmore projects a better, more integrated future. For doctors and mental health clinicians, “there will be more educational and career paths that cut across, rather than entrench, specializations.” And for patients, “there will be more integrated specialist, physical and mental health services” and “better physical and mental health outcomes.” Bullmore hopes to help contribute to these changes at the new Cambridge Children’s Hospital where “body and mind can be treated under one roof throughout the first two decades of life.”

In other news…

Hear more about the aforementioned story on Michigan’s broken system of accountability for community mental health in the latest episode from “On the Line,” a weekly news podcast from the Detroit Free Press.

In last Sunday’s episode of Weekend Edition, NPR spoke to author and New Yorker writer Rachel Aviv about her new book, “Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories that Make Us.” The stories highlight individuals living with mental illness, who first rejected their diagnoses. 

Great news: Good health is contagious. Yes! magazine published a research-heavy infographic that shows good health can spread throughout a community, and that happiness is catching, too. Consider: “Happiness is stress-buffering, and our happiness depends on how happy others in our social network are. Any unit increase in our happiness results in a corresponding rise in happiness for those around us.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.