Roy Exum: Mental Health Is Urgent

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’ll admit it; I don’t know if the claims of election fraud are going anywhere. I am satisfied that the majority of clear-headed Americans know that in a nation where we have 331.7 million people, the fact 6.4 million are incarcerated – that’s 665 per every 100,000 of us – assures us we’ve got law-breakers of every stripe. Politics is one of America’s roughest rivers and there are some who try to float it who are not nice. I welcome any investigation, any hand count, because no matter the outcome, we’ll fare far better two and four years from now after a full body exam.

I have to believe the most pressing need of the American people is to find a way where we enjoy every person we meet on the journey. Sadly, too many of us instantly place others in a box. All the right-wing loonies go over here, the black rioters over there, any and all politicians over the age of 70 in this spot and send our horribly maligned law enforcement officers somewhere far away. There has never been such “stinkin’ thinkin’.”

Moreover, I am totally convinced the biggest reason we’ve become so unraveled is because the United States has ignored our most aching need for so long it too has become a pandemic that no one wants to talk about, and ‘dead silence’ ironically is its key ingredient. We need to push our nation’s biggest Achilles for a complete and total makeover of our mental health woes to the forefront. When I look at our Moccasin Bend mental hospital I want to weep. It has 150 in-patient beds, yet the state of Tennessee has deemed it responsible for over 50 counties in the state. That’s an average of three desperate souls per county. That should be criminal.

So, with Moccasin Bend completely full every day, the sheriffs in over 50 counties have no other choices but to place them in the county jail. How do you think that’s working out? A county jailer has precious little training in handling the mentally afflicted, yet nearly 50 percent of the jail’s population has been prescribed psychotropic drugs. The mental health workers at any county jail are overwhelmed and then there is this - routinely the afflicted prisoners (who have committed no crime, mind you) refuse to take the medicines. Jailers cannot force a prisoner to take prescribed drugs, you must know, so the prisoner feels manly if he can exercise … what? … the power to say no.

A mental hospital, on the other hand, can indeed force a non-compliant patient to take medicine but every mental facility in the state is now under ‘the homicide/suicide rule;’ until the person is ready to kill another person or himself, the answer is automatic: “no room in the inn.”

Yes, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond is fighting valiantly to remove these non-violent victims-of-circumstance out of the jail and place them in an assisted living situation, which would reduce the daily cost of housing an inmate from over $100 per day to less than half of that. It would ease the ever-present threat of COVID, and help assure they would have access to their needed meds, but look at Hamilton County’s budget and search for mental health wellness. It’s virtually non-existent.

The county gives Erlanger Hospital a laughable $1.5 million every year. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke does not include Erlanger on the city budget when, in fact, there have been roughly 150 black-on-black shootings since January. Black shooting victims don't have the bare-bones cost of $25,000 per bullet in emergency room costs, so when you come up with the 150 victims at 25K, my 10-finger computer yields $3.75 million. Erlanger’s indigent care will soar high above the projected $150 million in this corona-powered fiscal year and the clincher is there is nowhere to recoup as much as a dime. No federal funds, $1.5 million from the county taxpayers, and flat-out nothing from the city, where the $3.73 million catastrophe is realistically borne.

For some gangbanger to drop another gangbanger – I know, I know – ain’t your problem but if ever there was a poster for mental illness, put a Black gun victim on the billboard. For a Black to shoot a Black, or anybody else for a trivial reason is nuts! I have no idea if it is too late for intercession, but I can tell you in every neighborhood there are elementary school children and kids in junior high who are forced to listen to gunfire at night. Never have our schools begged for mental counselors as badly.

Our inner city, let’s admit it, is fraught with mind-bending obstacles. The latch-key kids where the power has been cut off, the teachers who say keeping the attention of a child who is hungry is futile, and other challenges almost assure most of the children cannot read at grade level. It is every bit as crazy as the neighbors who refuse to help police for fear of being shot themselves. And this band of activist ministers who each carry a whole deck of race cards? Where is their gumption to stand up for the approximate 150 shooting victims? In Matthew 7:5, every one of them has read, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” C’mon man, want to make a difference? – Blacks shooting Blacks is a big one that our community doesn’t understand. Why, oh why, won’t these men of faith, quick to gather for a photo op but quicker to leave when the camera does, accept accountability and lead the way in countering our biggest menace?

It is true Chattanooga’s inner city is crawling with guns. Flash a “Benjamin” and you can buy a piece within 30 minutes. Darn near any caliber or kind you want. So, answer me this: In the current year of 2020, what is the largest group of people killed by gunfire? Yes, 17 million new guns were bought between January and the Nov. 3 election. Never before in our nation have that many pistols been bought in the same year.  There is a huge difference in “long guns” (shotguns and rifles) and handguns. “Long arms” are universally used by hunters, but a pistol has one distinct use only: personal protection. The sales of pistols were overwhelming, breaking every standing record. So, once again, what was the largest segment of society that has been shot the most?

The results are overwhelming. More pistols have been used to commit suicide in recent years than for any other reason.

Think about that. Suicide is the worst mental affliction among all of mankind. It is the only death of its kind where the street is just ‘one way’ but it more easily prevented than any other death that there is. Maybe with grammar school counselors, education being the road to anywhere … maybe those of mighty faith who hear the gunfire, too … maybe the acceptance of responsibility instead of the jobless jockeying for every government handout rather than ‘manning up’ … or a mental-health driven war to eradicate a $10 sliver of heroin at the corner of 20th and Market … the nothing of tomorrow is all many of our desperate will see a day from now. We need mental doctoring now.

So help me, I can tie a failure in mental health, untreated mental disease, and an open willingness by our society to do all of nothing, to almost every human peril we see today. I fear not one elected official can do a single thing about the fact over 80 percent of the babies born at Erlanger are to single mothers. We aren’t able to break the fatherless family dilemma yet. Walter Wallace, a mentally troubled black man who was shot by police in Philadelphia in late October and whose death triggered nights of criminal rioting, was 27 years old and had fathered nine children. What happens to those nine children?

Rapper NBA YoungBoy, already with an impressive list of police charges, is now 21 years old and is the proud dad of six children in Baton Rouge. The list goes on but what is obvious is that somebody, somewhere, and somehow, will not be able to ignore the inevitable cries we will soon hear coming from our urban cities.

Now is the time, as never so urgent, to prepare and prevent. Name one thing more pressing right now for 331.7 million people than a nation’s mental stability. We in Tennessee, rather than turn our heads, need to lead the nation … yes, in caring for the welfare of each another. This is the way our differences will melt away.

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