"It's no surprise to me this happened. We could see this coming. Nothing good is going to come with that much anger inside of you," Andrew Stawicki said.
In Washington State, it is exceedingly difficult to involuntarily commit mentally ill individuals—particularly for extended periods of time—unless someone is an imminent threat to themselves or others. Individuals with illness severe enough to be committed to a mental health facility in other communities are—by plan—allowed to try to integrate into the community.
In place of (costly and arguably inhumane) warehousing of the mentally ill, the plan for decades in Washington state has been to provide aggressive outpatient case management. Psychosis, bipolar disease, depression, anxiety and others are all treatable diseases. The notion—and it's not a bad idea at its core—is to use an army of social workers (state employees) to keep mentally ill people in the community engaged with treatment and the community safe.
Over the same decades, our investment in social services has dwindled. Right-wing propagandists like the Seattle Time's editorial board, Tim Eyman, and everyone you know who has uttered the phrase 'a more efficient state government' are directly responsible for our social service network being gutted, the many safety nets being left tattered and unmanned.
The reign of radical right wing financial policy in Washington State has left (the richest of) us with some of the lowest tax burdens of any community in the United States. The cost is a day like today.
I am a social worker, and while I happen to have a small, manageable case load, most of my colleagues are saddled with a totally unrealistic amount of clients (60, 70, 100!!!). In addition, we are paid just a tiny bit more than your average fast food worker (some agencies just pay $12.00/hr for MSWs!!!! And I am beginning to think I will never clear $40,000/year), so most of us have to take on second and third jobs and are just entirely exhausted. I myself work two jobs (both in social work) and rarely have even a day off. I do this because I honestly love the work and the clients and know it is important (and also because I need to survive). But I know I am not always at my best.
And, as this points out, the budget for mental health services is insufficient, making it pretty impossible to find resources for clients sometimes. And we're talking about basic resources like food, shelter, and clothing.
The big picture here is that our society does not care about the mentally ill or the people who dedicate their whole lives to working to help stabilize them. The only time we even talk about mental illness is when horrible things like this happen. And that's a huge problem. Because more social workers and bigger budgets alone won't solve this. We have to change the way our society thinks of and treats people with mental illness, and make effective, humane treatment a real priority.
I wish I had a quick answer about what with solve this. I don't...but I know that most of my clients over the years have been profoundly lonely and isolated, with no real opportunities, friends, or things to look forward to. How would you act if that was your reality? What might you do? I wish we could find a way to better integrate the mentally ill into mainstream society, and yes, of course aggressively treat people who are at a real risk of harming themselves or others.