As a Connecticut state legislator in the 1980s, Paul Gionnfrido helped pass laws that closed mental health facilities in his state. In this article published in the Washington Post on October 15, 2012, he reflects on his generation's mental health policy decisions and their impact on people like his scizophrenic son 25 years later. In 2010, Mr. Gionfriddo started a blog about health policy issues called Our Health Policy Matters.
My son is schizophrenic. The ‘reforms’ that I worked for have worsened his life.
By Paul Gionfriddo
If you were to encounter my son, Tim, a tall, gaunt man in ragged clothes, on a San Francisco street, you might step away from him. His clothes, his dark unshaven face and his wild curly hair stamp him as the stereotype of the chronically mentally ill street person.
People are afraid of what they see when they glance at Tim. Policymakers pass ordinances to keep people who look like him at arm’s length. But when you look just a little more closely, what you find is a young man with a sly smile, quick wit and an inquisitive mind who — when he’s healthy — bears a striking resemblance to the youthful Muhammad Ali.
Tim is homeless. But when he was a toddler, my colleagues in the Connecticut state legislature couldn’t get enough of cuddling him. Yet it’s the policies of my generation of policymakers that put that formerly adorable toddler — now a troubled 6-foot-5 adult — on the street. And unless something changes, the policies of today’s generation of policymakers will keep him there.
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