TV special traces new ways of caring for the mentally ill

ABC News Close-Up: They Have Souls Too ABC, tomorrow, 8:30-9:30 p.m. Producer and director: Helen Whitney. Correspondent: Marshall Frady. Senior producer: Richard Richter. Executive producer: Pamela Hill. This ``ABC News Close-Up'' starts and ends with a simple verity: Despite many years of experimental approaches to treatment of the mentally ill, love and caring are what matter most.

According to ABC News correspondent Marshall Frady, an estimated 3 million people in the United States suffer mental disorders. In the late 1960s, thousands who had been institutionalized were released from mental wards into what was thought would be the kinder care of their communities. ``But most communities didn't want them,'' Mr. Frady tells viewers. ``And many were abandoned to streets, jails, and overburdened families.''

Under the sensitive eye of producer-director Helen Whitney, ``They Have Souls Too'' explores the painful world of America's mentally disturbed. It traces them through the ``huge custodial ghettos'' of hospitals, where in the '60s the emphasis was on keeping patients subdued and away from the rest of society. Then it follows them into the streets, where often they joined the ranks of the homeless. According to Frady, the mentally ill who are homeless currently number some 250,000, or one-third of the nation's homeless.

The situation, however, isn't hopeless, according to this hard-hitting but compassionate documentary. ``The most promising efforts [to cure] depend on the human touch, the personal connection - caring for the mentally ill as individuals who, damaged and hurting, are yet one of us,'' says Frady. Scenes of disturbed persons responding to love in a variety of caring environments make the point of this documentary better than words.

In many instances, by default, the home has become the new asylum where the mentally disturbed are cared for, and at least some family members are learning how important the human connection can be. The documentary illustrates some individual home-care situations, as well as specific day-care programs and halfway houses.

Quarterway House, a Massachusetts mental-health center, is pinpointed as a model for the future, where patients are offered a wide range of personal support services through all stages of their illness.

Another facility spotlighted is St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y., where the Rev. Tom Hopko and others in his religious community offer the mentally disturbed an opportunity to become part of what he calls an ``open, organic community.''

In an interview, senior producer Dick Richter and executive producer Pamela Hill explained that the purpose of the program was to humanize the problems of the mentally disturbed - in Miss Hill's words, ``To humanize those problems so that, as we look at the systemic failure in caring for these people, we can also see that individual love and caring are treatments that work.''

``When deinstitutionalization occurred,'' said Mr. Richter, ``local communities, which were supposed to pick up the care, just didn't care enough. Sure, money is important, but love and caring are the personal components that are more important. If people understand that - and we hope this program will help people to understand it - perhaps more mentally disturbed souls will have the opportunity to become whole again.''

`They Have Souls Too'' is an incisive, insightful, straight-on look at a subject that has caused many of us to avert our eyes. Nobody who watches this program will be able to look the other way again.

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