The Real Deal

A lot of talk in the days since the Newtown massacre about what could and should be done in response, but in Colorado some real, tangible public policy action that is hard to argue with:

Colorado would streamline involuntary mental health commitments and speed that information to gun-sale registries as part of a comprehensive, $18.5 million psychiatric overhaul aimed at preventing future violence and improving care in a package of proposals announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday.

Mental health advocates in the state hailed what they say is a desperately-needed bolstering of emergency psychiatric services and laws. They said civil commitments could be simplified while still protecting patient rights, and that the spending package to increase emergency beds and evaluations is the right approach.

I don’t know the particulars of Colorado’s situation or whether that’s enough money. But the involuntary civil commitment process — with separate, complex laws governing the process in each state — has been broken for a long time. The biggest problem is a chronic lack of funding to house, even if only for short periods of time, the acutely mentally ill who pose a danger to themselves or to others. Simply not enough beds. Even for those whom everyone would recognize as real and imminent public safety threats.

The problems go beyond chronic lack of funding, but that exacerbates many of the related problems, including the reluctance of family members and mental health professionals to embark on such a difficult process with so much uncertainty about the ultimate outcome.