WHEN MENTAL ILLNESS ISN’T A MEDICAL ISSUE, HOMELESS PEOPLE SUFFER

A new case study involving a homeless man with schizophrenia highlights what happens when mental illness is “demedicalized,” or seen as falling outside the scope of medical care.

The article, which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, discusses the case of a homeless California man who was a frequent visitor to a local emergency room. Six times over the course of a few months the man, who doctors had previously diagnosed with schizophrenia, presented with auditory hallucinations and suicidal thoughts after losing his medication. Each time, he was released back to the streets without extended psychiatric care.

The article argues that this case and countless others like it happen because many of the consequences of mental illness—including homelessness—have been demedicalized. All too often, as in the case of the California man, the criminal justice system ends up filling the void left by demedicalization, the authors say. The man they describe was later jailed on a felony charge.  more

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