Heath Otto, a 24-year-old man from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, confessed to killing his mother and nephew in April 2019. He openly confessed to the police crime, claiming that his mother was not actually his mother and that they had kidnapped him. According to Otto, he frees himself.
Otto was diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is a condition that only 1.2 percent of Americans experience. These statistics are not overwhelming. What’s striking is the broader mental health statistics in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five Americans has some form of mental illness.
Otto’s story is not too unusual, although his mental illness may be like that. Otto experimented with steroids and drunkenness after he was kicked out of the Marine Corps. As he continued to use steroids and drank a lot, his behavior became more erratic. There was cause for concern on more than one occasion, and on more than one occasion his mother requested that Otto be placed in a mental institution and receive appropriate treatment. None of the requests were heeded, as Otto posed no threat to him or to others. In order for Otto to be detained, state law required proof of an imminent threat. Otto remained free, his condition eventually deteriorating until he committed the heinous crime of murdering his mother and nephew.
Otto’s story is all too common in American life. As mental health facilities close due to lack of funding, the number of people legally diagnosed with mental illness is on the increase. Once it was less than ten percent, now the number of the mentally ill has risen to twenty percent and has practically no signs of slowing down.
A quick look at the mental health profile of prisoners across the country gives an even darker picture. More than 50 percent of prisoners suffer from some form of mental illness.
The mental health system in America seems to be broken. Federal funding, the main form of funding for mental health facilities across the country, has been cut in all budgets since the Reagan administration. Funding has been cut to increase spending on things like defense and homeland security. What’s more, the government continues to crack down on promising treatments for common mental health problems, including products containing CBD and THC.
Of the $ 113 billion in federal mental health spending in the United States, 60 percent goes to prescription drugs and outpatient care. These services are aimed at helping people affected by minor mental health problems. Major mental health problems require inpatient care. As these services disappeared due to dwindling funding, prisons stepped in and took over the severely mentally ill who were thrown to the sidelines.
Funding isn’t the only problem with the American mental health system. The prevailing attitudes towards mental health in American society exacerbate the problem. In a survey published in the Journal of Mental Services, 303 people who refused treatment were asked why they refused services. The most common answer was that they believed that the mental health problem would solve itself over time.
We must acknowledge that mental health is a serious problem in America. This requires our attention and tax dollars. Otherwise, American society will continue to experience tragedies like the one detailed in Otto’s case.