The Insanity Offense

In the 1960s there were two big things happening in US society. First, there were civil rights movements, and second, states and the government needed money. There began one of the largest problems seen on the streets of America today. Though most experts at the time believed that deinstitutionalization was the right way to go, no one seemed to think of the long term consequences this movement might have. Civil rights advocates argued that involuntary commitment was inhumane and that the laws should be changed, and so they were. Thousands of state funded hospitals for those with serious mental illnesses were closed, and most of the individuals living in them were left with no where to go.

The Insanity Offense is an accounting of the deinstitutionalization of America and the profound effect it has had on society. E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist, has followed many cases of mentally ill individuals that have been left without proper care only to cause harm. He puts a light on the real picture of what’s happening. The mentally ill have no where to turn, those who need treatment the most cannot get it because the laws say that an involuntary commitment to a facility cannot happen until the individual has actually acted in violence, not just threatened it. In many cases even if someone is taken in, they will be released after a few days, and chances are they will repeat the cycle again.

Mentally ill peoples are being left homeless, they turn violent and hurt themselves and others, they are victimized because other criminals think of them as weak and defenseless, and they are being incarcerated at higher rates than ever before, left in prisons that don’t have the resources to treat them as needed. Is that more inhumane than involuntarily committing them to get the treatment they need?

Reading this book broke my heart and infuriated me at the same time. The blindness of those with the power to change the circumstances is inexcusable. This book is a true eye-opener and it is something I can see myself referring back to in the future. Honestly, I would have to call it a “must read” because everyone should know what is really happening to the mentally ill of America.

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