NPR has a great article on how San Antonio (Bexar County) is leading the country in a new, comprehensive approach to mental health. They have a crisis intervention team - a group of specially trained police officers who treat mental illness as mental illness and not criminals faking crazy. Crisis intervention teams aren't new or unique: Dallas has one. What's different is San Antonio makes all it's officers take the 40 hour crisis intervention training course. Now that's a way to change the culture within a department when it comes to mental health. Now officers with an understanding of the complex problems mental health poses aren't just members of a special unit - they're all over the department. But that if that were it, that would just be a nice piece of window dressing; it wouldn't be enough to truly change anything. Bexar county went a big step further in creating a Restoration Center, a facility which offers a 48-hour inpatient psychiatric unit, outpatient psychiatric and primary care services, drug and alcohol detox centers, a 90-day substance abuse recovery program, housing for people with mental illnesses, and job training.
This makes little ole San Antonio a model the rest of the nation can follow. This approach is saving the city $10 million annually. Oh, and they're treating human beings with debilitating illnesses humanly rather than as lepers or worse, as criminals. How is the rest of the country doing? Well, the common response is simply to house the mentally ill in jail/prison. A recent report says that jail holds 10 times as many people with serious mental illness as state hospitals do. That costs an inordinate amount of money and is cruel. Cruel and unusual, IMHO.