“It is important to understand the magnitude of deinstitutionalization. In 1955, when the United States had a population of 164 million people, there were over 558,000 mentally ill individuals in public mental hospitals. In 2006, the United States had a population of almost 300 million; if in 2006 we had had the same number of individuals in public mental hospitals as we had in 1955 in proportion to the population, the number of hospitalized patients would have been just over one million. In 2006, there were in fact only approximately 40,000 individuals in public mental hospitals.
Deinstitutionalization was not a onetime experiment that might be easily reversed. Once a patient was discharged from the hospital, that bed was no longer available for that person to return to or for a new patient to use. Eventually, at least forty state mental hospitals were closed altogether. Many of the seriously mentally ill individuals…who today are homeless, incarcerated, victimized, violent, or otherwise not receiving treatment have never been hospitalized at all.”
~ E. Fuller Torrey, from The Insanity Offense: How America’s Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens