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Mentally ill people shouldn't have to commit a crime in order to get treatment

It was gratifying that The Sun endorsed Dr. David S. Helsel, the new CEO at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, as "the right man to lead the institution on the long road to emotional recovery" ("Healing Perkins," Nov. 27).

Yet I was stunned to read that most of the patients at the state's maximum security mental hospital had never been treated for their illness before coming to Perkins. It is scary that people who are extremely mentally ill have to commit a crime in order to receive treatment.

As a certified teacher for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, I have taught more than 100 adult caregivers for mentally ill people that treatment works. NAMI's free education program — Family2Family — is taught throughout Maryland to help caregivers understand brain disorders, medicines and psychiatric rehabilitation services.

Our work isn't easy in a state that still refuses to expand its legal standard for court-ordered mental health services to include more people than just who pose a danger to self and others. By not focusing on how so many untreated mentally ill adults end up at a Perkins, The Sun reinforces the myth that the mentally ill are dangerous. Research shows otherwise.

We should be appalled that we have "untreated" mentally ill adults. The fact that Maryland is one of only six states lacking court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment helps explain why we also lack a safety net for those with untreated severe mental illness.

While effective leadership at Perkins is to be praised, it would be more helpful if legislators explored ways to get interventions for our mentally ill citizens before they end up homeless, violent, in jail or at Perkins.

Gloria Gibson, Glen Burnie

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