"Did Mike Lehmkuhl Have to Die?" That's the cover story, written by Cynthia Hubert, in today's Sacramento Bee.
Mike was a Sacramento man who five or six years ago began to hear voices and developed severe mental illness. After living on the streets for seven months, he was shot and killed in January 2016. Cynthia's report is about sorrow for Mike. It's also about the frustration, helplessness, anger, and exhaustion that Mike's family and friends experienced as they tried to get Mike into treatment and sought help from the police, the county, and the courts.
I give credit to our Sacramento newspaper for the articles and editorials it routinely publishes about mental illness and our broken mental health system. But some days, after reading, I ask, "Is there anyone out there who can fix this mess?"
The answer is no. There's no one person who can fix things. It will take many of us to fix things. Our broken mental health system is a complex problem with many parts -- from recalcitrant bureaucracy, to wrongly implemented privacy laws, to shame and stigma, to lack of political will. Somehow, at the end of the day, mental illness always falls to the bottom of the proverbial heap of societal needs.
So, what can we do? We can write to the Bee and thank them and writer Cynthia Hubert for their ongoing championing of mental health issues. We can write and call our political representatives and insist that they fight to make reformed mental health care a priority. We can join advocacy groups and support groups. And we can tell our stories, too. We can press for urgent mental health care reform if lots of us speak up and tell our stories.
Back to the question, "Did Mike Lehmkuhl Have to Die?" The answer is, "No. Mike didn't have to die." Thinking of you, Mike, and your family and friends...