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In our view / Treating mental illness


Need for new beds is urgent

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The news that two organizations plan to open in-patient mental illness treatment centers in Snohomish County is most welcome, because the need is great, and growing.
An estimated 60 percent of adults who need in-patient care for mental illness have to leave the county to be treated, The Herald's Sharon Salyer reported in May.
Currently, in-patient psychiatric beds for adults are available only at Swedish/Edmonds hospital. Its 18-bed unit treated 546 patients last year.
Kirkland-based Fairfax Hospital plans to open a 30-bed unit in January, leasing space on the Pacific Campus of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. And Ascend Health Corp., based in New York City, plans a $24 million, 75-bed inpatient psychiatric hospital in Lynnwood, with the first 60 beds also available in January, Salyer reported.
Snohomish County has some of the worst access to in-patient psychiatric care in the state, about 3.5 beds per 100,000 population, according to documents submitted to the state by Fairfax.
It's reassuring that at a public hearing about the proposals, comments were about the need for such facilities, rather than fear-based (baseless) opposition.
"We desperately need more psychiatric beds in Snohomish County," said Marysville resident LaurieAnn Sigler. "There are many people who need this service and are unable to get into a psychiatric bed because none are available. That's where the danger lies."
Her husband, Dennis Sigler, summed up the prevailing problem in our society: He was concerned that many people assume "because you're mentally ill, you're a danger."
Unfortunately, because most of us get our "facts" about mental illness from TV shows (and some bad news media), the majority of us have it exactly backwards about who is in danger.
The truth, proven in study after study, is that mentally ill people are not more prone to violence than any other group. People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence, researchers have found. People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2˝ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Certain factors raise the risk of violence for all populations: Substance abuse or dependence; a history of violence, juvenile detention or physical abuse; and recent stressors such as being a crime victim, getting divorced or losing a job.
Just as much as cardiac patients, the mentally ill need emergency medical help -- close to home -- in a time of crisis.
People do live successfully, and productively, with mental illness. It just doesn't make news.

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