In the last few years the American public has been horrified by the reports of murder and other acts of violence by people with very obvious mental illnesses. I believe that there is bias in the mental health treatment delivery system which fosters a willingness to avoid dealing with this very difficult population group.

In my former job, I would come into contact with people who displayed very clear signs of severe mental illness, some of whom were already in mental health programs, but the treatment they were receiving was not doing the job. It was extremely difficult to deal with these people, but it was also very difficult to deal with the treatment providers. People in the mental heath field work very well with depressed and suicidal patients and those people with compulsive disorders. They don't do a very good job of dealing with people whose illness causes them to become violent and threatening. It really is very frightening to deal with someone subject to frequent violent rages.

We have been taught to believe that mental health professionals are the ones who have been trained to treat this population group, but I'm not convinced that they have been given the skills to do a good or adequate job. The proof is in the headlines.

So what can be done? I believe that we as a society should insist on improved and adequate treatment. Community mental health programs need to evaluated to determine if they are meeting the needs of a difficult population. We need to determine if more patients should be treated at inpatient facilities. We must recognize that these patients can be extremely difficult for staff to treat as inpatients. We must find out how we can better treat those people who work on an ongoing basis with these violent and difficult patients. We should rethink how we compensate these mental health workers. Should we raise their pay, shorten their hours, provide 20-year retirement?

We know that many incarcerated people are mentally ill, some severely. I believe that some domestic violence offenders are suffering from mental illness that has not been adequately treated or even identified. New drugs need to developed which don't have difficult side effects. All of these investments are expensive but necessary. We clearly need to rethink the model as the current one is not working.

Edward McCarey McDonnell, Baltimore