The lack of institutional care of critically mentally ill patients in the United States has become a complicated problem that has resulted in victimization, homelessness, and incarceration of these individuals. In 1967, the State of California was one of the first states to deinstitutionalize mentally ill patients when it passed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (Lyons, 1984). This act had a profoundly negative impact on the lives of the mentally ill. So, why would the Reagan Administration choose to end “the federal government’s role in providing services to the mentally ill” (Pan, 2013)?
Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, is well known for his fiscal policies that stimulated economic growth, cut inflation and pulled America out of a recession (Cannon, 2017). What Reagan is not readily known for is the long term effect of a law he repealed that essentially deinstitutionalized mentally ill patients at the federal level (Roberts, 2013). While some of his fiscal policies had a positive effect on the U.S. economy during the 1980s, his decision to deinstitutionalize mentally ill patients had a much more deleterious effect on these patients, their communities, and the agencies that were left to contend with these individuals’ mental health issues (Honberg, 2015).
The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) is the statute that repealed President Carter’s Mental Health Systems Act which was supposed to continue federal funding for mental health programs. Reagan gave the appearance of making a consequentialist ethical decision because he presented his repeal of OBRA as an action that would best serve American society and do more good than harm as a result. The OBRA gave mental patients a choice to seek treatment outside of a mental institution, an option to seek treatment at clinics at the state level, and the freedom to administer their own medication (PSY533, 2017) (Pan, 2013). However, Reagan was hasty in taking unsound advice to repeal OBRA because his real motive was to cut the federal budget (Roberts, 2013). He was a leader who “never exhibited any interest in the need for research or better treatment for serious mental illness” (Torrey, 2017).
To be an ethical leader, one must attempt to gather as much knowledge as possible when making decisions, especially if one has the power to affect so many lives (Toffler, 2009). The mentally ill are amongst the most vulnerable populations in society because most are unable to make sound decisions regarding their own care due to their mental state. The consequences of Reagan’s social policy can be measured by the fact that today one-third of the homeless population are suffering from severe mental illness which puts a burden on police departments, hospitals and the penal system which lack the training and resources to deal with psychiatric emergencies (Honberg, 2015). Reagan’s unethical choice to end federal funding for mental health programs was driven by the desire to cut the budget. As a result, he did much more harm than good (PSY533, 2017).
Cannon, L. (2017). Ronald Reagan: Impact and Legacy. Miller Center. Retrieved from http://millercenter.org/president/biography/reagan-impact-and-legacy
Honberg, R. (2015, May 19). Should Police Accommodate People with Mental Illness in Crisis? The Supreme Court Weighs In-Kind of. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2015/Should-Police-Accommodate-People-with-Mental-Illne
Lyons, R. D. (1984, October 30). How the Release of Mental Patients Began. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1984/10/30/science/how-release-of-mental-patients-began.html?pagewanted=all
Pan, D. (2013, April 29). Timeline: Deinstitutionalization and its Consequences: How Deinstitutionalization Moved Thousands of Mentally Ill People Out of Hospitals-and into Jails and Prisons. Mother Jones. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/04/timeline-mental-health-america
PSY 533. (2017). L03 Normative Ethics. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834796/pages/l03-normative-ethics?module_item_id=21902142
Roberts, J. J. (2103, October 14). Did Reagan’s Crazy Mental Health Policies Cause Today’s Homelessness? Poverty Insights. Retrieved from http://www.povertyinsights.org/2013/10/14/did-reagans-crazy-mental-health-policies-cause-todays-homelessness/
Toffler, M. (2009, June 4). Ethical Leadership . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmA–yq5eq0
Torrey, E. F. (2013, September 29). Ronald Reagan’s Shameful Legacy: Violence, the homeless, Mental Illness. Salon. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2013/09/29/ronald_reagans_shameful_legacy_violence_the_homeless_mental_illness/