WHEN PSYCHOTICS ATTACK. Giving a speech at a Library of Congress lecture yesterday, former senator Alan Simpson was "shocked to read that House Republicans wouldn't pass a mental-health bill because it had Democratic sponsors. 'You've got to have rocks for brains to do that,' the Wyoming Republican complained. 'We never had that kind of thing. We just didn't do that to each other.'" It's not the rocks for brains that bother me so much as the extra headstones. America views treatment for mental illness as a luxury commodity, obtainable for the rich, unnecessary for the poor. Maybe that's why 300,000 jail inmates take medications for "severe" mental illnesses like schizophrenia, or why the largest mental facility in the nation is not a hospital but the Los Angeles County jail, or why folks with serious mental disorders are 5.5 times likelier to kill a police officer than anyone else.
This week, out in Virginia, a police detective named Vicky Armel was gunned down by a mentally ill teenager. Unlike straight physical illnesses, the psychologically sick aren't merely in danger, but often pose a danger. It's long past time we guaranteed parity of treatment to those with such afflictions, but a couple Democratic sponsors on a bill were apparently enough to scuttle a step in that direction. Our rock-brained Congress has some headstones on their conscience.