Where is the Island of Misfit Humans?
There is a children’s Christmas story about an island, “the Island of Misfit Toys”, where broken or lost toys go. All of the toys on the island are very sad and lonely until an Elf discovers the Island and tells Santa about the toys. Santa comes and rescues the misfit toys, fixes them and finds children to play with the toys. Surely a happy ending for all. As an adult, I’m wondering where the Island of Misfit Humans is located. Is there a place on the East End for our misfits, the mentally ill, our broken humans, who have little or no hope for a bright future. An island where some “Santa Claus” will find and rescue them and there will be a happy ending. Is this island located near the subway stop in East Hampton? In the center of the pond with the giant eel?
We live in one of the wealthiest communities in the US and yet the programs to help the misfits of our community, the mentally ill, are nearly non-existent and the few programs that are available have wait lists that are months to years long. I know this because we have a son who is mentally ill. Except for the less than 2 hours each month when he sees his psychiatrist we are his sole support. We are retired and at some point we will not be able to take care of him. What does he do then? There was a post on the web about a 48 year old man with a 78 year old mother. The mother had placed him in a group home because she was no longer healthy enough to look after him. He was thrown out of that group home, went into a new group home and was thrown out of there for rowdiness. At the end of the post the 48 year old man had been let out of a psychiatric hospital for the 2nd time in a few months and no one had bothered to check to see if he had any where to go. He was living on the streets. I’m not sure where this incident occurred, but I can see this being the future scenario for our son.
My son asked me this morning, “Why didn’t you train me to take care of myself?”. My silent response to myself was, “Gee, I don’t know, Hon, we were pretty impressed we managed to keep you from running around the neighborhood stark naked yelling at your voices. Somehow training you to become a productive member of society never got onto the agenda”. But he’s right. Given the correct, and extensive therapy he could (and maybe perhaps still can) become capable of taking care of himself and working. But this kind of therapy is well beyond our capabilities. And pretty much beyond the capabilities of any programs we’ve encountered over the last 11 years in or east of Stony Brook.
Imagine you are in excruciating pain. The doctor prescribes a medication that sedates you but doesn’t address the pain. Nor does the doctor try to find the root cause of the pain. The side effects from this medication are horrendous but the doctor tells you to keep taking it because by some divine intervention the medication may start working. Plus, this pain could be lessen by extensive physical therapy but none is prescribed. Welcome to the world of the mentally ill.
The mentally ill need “boot camp” programs, not a peer support group made up of 5 recovering alcoholic women over the age of 50 when you are a 22 years old male suffering from schizophrenia. Our son and others like him need extensive training not very different from the rehabilitation programs someone with extensive brain damage would receive, where a suite of therapists would teach you how to walk and talk again. The mentally ill need programs on this level, too, where they are taught coping and other techniques (cognitive behavioral therapy). Not a “let us load you up with ridiculous amounts of antipsychotic drugs so all you are capable of doing is sleeping 20 hours a day but well, you aren’t bothering anyone so we’ve done a good job” program but a program that actually addresses the problems and trains individuals so they can get jobs. Being employed is significantly beneficial to the majority of the mentally ill, giving them a sense of self worth and is also beneficial to society as a whole.
Why doesn’t some kind, generous East End philanthropist or group of philanthropists build an Institute on the East End for the mentally ill; for the lost bipolar, schizophrenic, manic depressive misfits that have little hope for much of a future. An Institute for Mental Health that would attract world class clinicians and therapists.
Southampton Hospital lists only contact information for local psychiatrists on their webpage, as does Peconic Bay Medical Center. The Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport has a 23 bed acute psychiatric unit but pales in comparison to NY Presbyterian Hospital and its out patient clinics like the Columbia University Lieber Recovery and Rehabilitation Clinic in Manhattan which offers extensive outpatient services including cognitive remediation; life skills coaching; and work placement to name a few. The combined population of Southampton, East Hampton and Riverhead Townships, according to the 2010 US census was 111,753. At any one point in time about 10% of the population is experiencing a serious mental health crisis. This means that at any one point in time, 11,175 individuals in these 3 townships require psychiatric services and near as I can tell, we have one, 23 bed unit in Greenport. To say the need is dire really is an understatement. Where this institution should be built, how many beds, what sort of in and out patient programs to offer, these are all just logistics, things to be worked out by people educated to do this. The real point is to get started by laying down the first (golden) brick. To give someone hope, to give them back their lives, I can’t imagine a greater gift.