subCITY: Out of Sight. Out of Mind.
In less than forty-five minutes, subCITY will shatter any notions you may have about access to mental health care in the United States, in Oregon in particular, the state where I live. Working for a mental health advocacy group, I'm reminded daily that the system is broken. But I didn't realize just how broken until I watched this film.
The director/producer team of Kevin and Dawn D'Haeze has created a powerful indictment of our current mental health care system. Tracing our currently underfunded system back to the early 1980s, subCITY shows how initiatives launched by former President Reagan have left a painful legacy for states like Oregon, which now has more people with mental illness in its correctional system than in its mental health hospitals.
Soon after taking office in 1981, Reagan rescinded the Community Mental Health Systems Act, slashing federal funding and placing the burden of cost for community mental health care on states. At the same time, Congress launched parallel initiatives, such as the War on Drugs, which created the rise of the prison industrial complex. The result? The combination of less funding for community mental health care and increased penalties for nonviolent drug crimes has put more people with mental illness in jails and prisons instead of allowing them access to treatment.
Does this make fiscal sense? No. But as Oregon State Representative Chris Garrett notes in the film, ballot measures and other moves to be “tough on crime” don't offer alternatives to incarceration. This sucks up funding, leaving less and less for community mental health care. This is in spite of the fact that this kind of care is far less costly than prison, and far less of a drain on the law enforcement agencies that are increasingly relied upon to “take care of” people with mental illness who end up on the streets.
Beyond proving their point with statistics, the filmmakers have candid and heartbreaking interviews with people whom the system has chewed up and spit out. They also speak with the counselors, police officers, and other community members who are trying to help them. More than anything, subCITY is a call to action. So do what the film intends by watching subCITY in its entirety on the web. Then visit the “take action” section of the film's website, which provides tips on how you can make a difference on this issue that affects us all.