I share with you a piece I wrote for my blog, www.aVirtualChurch.com, about care for the mentally ill. Since this piece was written some things about serving the mental health needs of North Carolina have changed, some have not.
The title of my piece was “500 Beds.”
“Today is Monday of Holy Week 2013, a day when thoughts gather toward the coming events of the week. Two thousand years ago plus, Jesus was in Jerusalem. He had angered the religious authorities of the day… angered them unto death. The powerful elite of the church were making decisions not in keeping with the call of the Christ to lay aside pomp and fringe on the garment, to seek the company of those who had nothing among them, society’s castaways.
“Set a feast for them. Seat them at the head of the table. Give away your cloak to them, for they are the ones whom God loves most. You with your fine words and fancy robes are empty suits. Look at yourself. What do you see?
“The woman on the evening news was a former employee at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh. There is argument among power brokers about contracts and dirty deeds, all the time closing a facility that for decades has been home to those whom Jesus called us to love and care for. Power does bad things to people. We forget who we are and what we are called to do with what we have been given.
“The woman on the evening news tonight said the land was given for the mentally ill and for years had been home to those for whom answers of care were non-existent. Five hundred beds that had been shelter and a good night’s rest are now lost in the fray surrounding contract disputes, who is right and who is wrong.
“The woman on the evening news forgot to mention that one of those beds… if it had been there since the 1960s, may have been the bed my mother slept in for nearly six months. Mother was a patient at Dix, her home of last resort at a time of mental breakdown, when misdiagnosis had kept her in a dark place too long. Healing did not come to her until her months at Dix.
“As an eighth grader, I visited her in the McBride Building. I remember hearing the screams in the halls, seeing the bars on the windows, and watching people being escorted down the hall in straight jackets. I remember going to the Chapel on the Campus of Dix and hearing my Mother play the organ there. It was part of her therapy. I do not know the name of her doctor there, though I give thanks for him often. He unlocked the mystery of Mother’s illness. Hormone therapy brought her back to us for good.
“The woman on the evening news failed to tell the viewers that Dix Hill is sacred ground, more sacred than most people, especially those who argue about its future even know. It is holy ground on which the lost have been found, the sick have been healed, the broken have been shored up, and Christ has walked among those whom he loves most.
“When sacred trust is broken, where does fault lie? But assigning fault is not helpful. Each one in power, each broker, each lawyer, each lawmaker, each green visionary is called to a great consideration. I will not judge them, but they will not go unjudged. May God give us courage to do what is right on behalf of those who have no power at all. Doing right makes this Monday Holy. Amen.”
In 2022, Dix Park is a reality. It is a place of beauty where picnics and pictures with sunflowers are taken. But those 500 beds have not been replaced. In fact, a report from WTVD said that North Carolina has lost 900 psych beds since 2000. Today, our need for more beds and care for the mentally ill is growing, while resources are not.
Emergency rooms feel the brunt of urgent mental health care needs. I remember being in the ER at Wake Med when the police and a team of docs and nurses tried to quiet and restrain a very ill person. But where does a person go when the emergency is dealt with? An article in NC Health News reports that in Avery County, there were 5,000 patient referrals received and only 11% of them could be admitted.
There are reports of warehousing children in mental health crisis. And while Governor Cooper called for an increase in appropriate care options, advocates, like Dorothea Dix seem far away. She lobbied in the early 19th century for a federal asylum system. Even though she built asylums in North Carolina, New Jersey, and Illinois, the federal act never passed.
I remember movies about treatment of the mentally ill in America. Hopefully, they were dramatized but I have been with enough people in enough hospital and rehab settings to see some of the problem up close. Too many deal with family members in mental health crisis for us to ignore what is going on. Money won’t fix everything, but we cannot strip away care and expect this problem to correct itself.
Hearts of mercy are called for here.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: avirtualchurch.com. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.