Pros and Cons of Deinstitutionalization

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For several decades, the mentally ill were cared for in institutions instead of private sector settings. Throughout the 1960s, however, deinstitutionalization began to occur because the funding for these centers was dramatically cut. The move was done for two reasons: to improve treatment while saving money. Here are the pros and cons of this movement.

The Pros of Deinstituionalization

1. It gave the mentally ill many of their rights back that they had originally lost.
People who were mentally ill were sent to institutions and essentially forgotten about. The only problem was that conditions like Down Syndrome or other learning disabilities were treated as mental illnesses. Deinstituionalization help to make sure people had the rights they deserved.

2. It placed an emphasis on community resources for treatment.
Institutionalization is a poor treatment model because it essentially takes people out of society to create a new sub-culture. The creation of medications helped to reduce symptoms, making it possible for long-term supportive resources to be used for treatment instead of sending people away.

3. It focused on treating the “untreatable.”
Many of those who benefited from this policy were those who were living in the almost forgotten parts of an institution. They were often considered to be beyond treatment. Deinstituionalization forced caregivers to give them a second chance.

The Cons of Deinstituionalization

1. Many people are not receiving the treatment they need.
More than 2 million people in the US are not receiving any psychiatric treatment for their mental illness at all. About 15% of inmates in prisons today are classified as being severely mentally ill. In essence, we’ve basically changed one institution for the other.

2. It didn’t solve the issue at hand.
The mentally ill certain deserve human rights. One of those rights involves treatment. The fact remains that deinstituionalization simply put those who were mentally ill out into the streets with the general population. They were essentially forgotten about if they didn’t have family to care for them.

3. Many of those who went to community centers for treatment were not good candidates for it.
More than half of the “untreatables” had schizophrenia as their primary diagnosis. This made it difficult for community treatment because there were fewer resources to deal with the challenges. As a result, many became homeless.

Up to 1 in 3 people who are homeless have a severe mental illness. There are 3x as many people with a severe mental illness in prison as there are in hospitals or treatment centers. The goal of deinstituionalization was positive, but for many unfortunately, the outcome wound up being quite negative.