Mental: The state of mental health in Louisiana - KNOE 8 News; KNOE-TV; KNOE.com |

Mental: The state of mental health in Louisiana

Posted: Updated: Oct 31, 2013 10:29 PM

MONROE, La. (KNOE 8 News) - Dark hallways and iron bars on the windows are what we look at now as the scene for the ultimate ghost story, but it was once the ultimate in treatment for the mentally ill.

In the mid 1900s the average sanitarium housed thousands of patients, most in rooms with nothing more than a mattress on an iron bed, each complete with a set of restraints.

"These were lockdown places. I mean you didn't just walk out," says E. H. Baker, Ph.D., a medical psychologist in Monroe, "if you walked out, they came and found you and brought you back."

The era of the "institution" - with a goal to safeguard the public - those thought to be "dangerous" were isolated from society.

"Often they'd put them there for long, long periods of time, and sometimes forever," says Baker.

Movies show overcrowded asylums, shock treatments, and the infamous lobotomy, and though these "treatments" were used, they've created a distorted perception of mental health.

Today, mental hospitals have reduced their beds from thousands to hundreds. Long-term care costs is thought be a major factor, but the overall goal of mental health treatment has also changed.

"They were thinking about, these people have civil rights, too," says Baker, "and if you have to lock them up well we're taking away their civil rights"

Bakers says, "In the 20's, 30's, 40's to having people institutionalized for years on end. To trying to avoid institutionalizing anyone at all."

From isolating patients from society to helping them re-join society.

"We basically give them job skills that they are going to need, to go out and make a living, get out in the community," says Kathryn Fendall, the Executive Director at the Monroe Area Guidance Center.

"All kinds of training whether it be learning how to wash clothes, or arts and crafts, we do lots of art therapy," says Fendall.

In Monroe's Fairhaven, a homeless-type shelter for the mentally ill, there is only room for eight patients, with a maximum stay of six months.

Though small, the facility offers the essentials for a person already receiving treatment.

"They are referred to us by the Office of Behavioral Health," says Fendall, "they've received diagnosis, they see a clinician, they've got a doctor."

Jackson House is a more permanent facility in Monroe, again there's only room for eight. Though the number of beds is only a fraction of what used to be, healthcare professionals say the number of mentally ill is ever-growing. The care for these patients has evolved, but that care isn't always accessible.

"If you have a person that really needs to have an institution, an institutional placement, you can't find one hardly," says Baker.

For the hundreds in Monroe suffering from a mental disorder who are not in the system, where do they end up? On the streets for most of them, or behind bars. Those without treatment are left struggling to see.

"It's like being in a mist," says Josh Dobosh, a resident of Jackson House, "Like the mist of a storm, or a sandstorm, and all your friends and everything in your life are just shadows in that mist."

Hear more from Dobosh, and others diagnosed with a mental illness in part two of our Jillian Corder's four special reports, when "Mental" continues November 7 on KNOE 8 News at 10pm.

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