What does the word asylum conjure up in your mind? An overpopulated mental ward with screaming patients frothing at the mouth? A snake pit, as depicted in the 1948 movie of the same name in which actress Olivia de Havilland battles schizophrenia, shock treatments and a sadistic nurse?
The word asylum simply means “An institution offering shelter and support to people who are mentally ill.” So why don’t we have more psychiatric asylums to help the ever-growing number of Americans who battle serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disease? Asylum is not a dirty word.
The answer is simple: Money. And the fact that decades ago, following shocking disclosures about the care in some institutions, it was decided to close the doors of almost all psychiatric hospitals in favor of smaller community-based treatment centers. Thousands of troubled souls were released, but the centers never materialized, in part because few citizens wanted a psychiatric care home in their backyard. Today, the majority of severely mentally ill people have become the problem of the police, whose only alternative is to arrest them and lock them up.