It doesn't have to happen.
Every year about 1,000 people in the U.S. are murdered by severely mentally
Over 38,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year -- 90 percent of whom have a diagnosable mental illness.
Treatable mental illness destroys the lives of tens of millions of families
each year. The economic toll is enormous -- and mostly hidden. Untreated mental illnesses in the U.S. costs more than $100 billion a year in lost productivity according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The results are ubiquitous. Several times over the past few weeks New York
commuters confronted nightmarish stories of fellow subway riders pushed to their deaths by insane individuals.
Early in December a mentally ill drifter was arrested for shoving a Queen's
dad into the path of an oncoming Q train.
This weekend during her arraignment -- for pushing a hard working immigrant
to his death in front of a 7 line subway -- Erika Menendez was laughing
hysterically and shaking. She has been in and out of Elmhurst hospital 15 times.
"When she don't take her medication, she goes really wacky" said Menendez's doorman.
On a similar note, NRA Spokesman Wayne LaPierre said the following in Newtown's aftermath:
"The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of
genuine monsters -- people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and
driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day.
"A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even
guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"
LaPierre's statements are atrocious, self serving to distract from gun control, and, sadly, true.
They are applicable to a whole range of homicidal behavior -- from Virginia Tech, Columbine, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, to Newtown, to the recent subway murders in New York City.
Unfortunately, NRA's LaPierre doesn't see that giving deranged people access
to guns and automatic weapons only skyrockets the death toll.
The problems of homicidal violence by the most serious mentally ill, who do
not take their medicines, must be addressed in a variety of ways. One size does
not fit all. And the majority of the mentally ill are not violent.
Control of handguns and assault rifles is a needed start. It is the low
The problems stem from the 1960s when an unlikely marriage between civil
libertarians and budget-minded conservatives begat an unstoppable coalition that resulted in the deinstitutionalization of 830,000 thousands of mentally ill --
and in a national disaster.
By kicking out hundreds of thousands of mental patients, the government left
them to wander the streets, untreated and dangerous to themselves and to other people.
• 2 million mentally ill go untreated
• One-third of homeless are mentally ill (200,000)
• 16% of incarcerated (300,000) have mental illness
• 1,000 homicides a year are committed by mentally ill
• 10-17% of seriously mentallyill kill themselves
• $15 billion is spent incarcerating mentally ill
• Random acts of violence by minority are tarring the majority
As many as 11,000 homeless psychotics may be wandering the streets in New
York City, according to D.J. Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness
People with serious mental illness account for a disproportionate share of
suicides, homelessness, violence, and incarceration.
These figures are just tip of the iceberg...suicide and vehicular homicide by
the mentally ill (mostly uncounted) add to hundreds of thousands of deaths each
We must recognize, once and for all, that schizophrenics can be successfully treated or contained -- but they lack the capacity to make an informed decision about treatment. Many schizophrenics do not know they are sick and do not have the opportunity to make a meaningful choice between being sick or getting better. And their families are in a similar state of ignorance, bewilderment and helplessness.
Only 60 percent of people with a serious mental illness received treatment --
according to a recent report conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
The laws around mental illness are built upon a delusion: that the sickest
among us know what they are doing and should always be in control of their own
In 1999 Kendra Webdale was pushed to her death in front of a 7 Train. Her
killer, Andrew Goldstein, recently said:
Andrew Goldstein is now lucid and rational, because he's forced to take his
medicine, in jail.
Schizophrenia cannot be cured, but it can be managed in many cases. Kendra's
mother got a law passed in New York State which is supposed to allow courts to
forcibly treat the seriously disturbed. But Kendra's law is widely ignored and
riddled with loopholes.
When mentally ill prisoners or patients are discharged, they are seldom
referred to local mental health facilities, nor are any officials notified that
they may need mandatory treatment.
According to E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist who founded the Treatment
Advocacy Center, a staggering 20 percent of the prison population is seriously
mentally ill. Around a third of the homeless are insane, too.
The answer: think about the Unthinkable. Asylums. When asylums were first
begun in 19th century England, the idea was to provide protection and care. And
they offered just that. Simply because many institutions degenerated into snake
pits in the past, does not mean that we cannot design caring, custodial
institutions today. Given the alternatives, asylums may be the only humane
choice, and the cheapest... in the long run.
There is a mean streak in the Christian values of the American character,
when it comes to the mentally ill, alcoholics and drug abusers. The idea of
taking care of the obviously sick and the dying doesn't seem to cut it. We would
never allow cancer or Alzheimer's patients to walk barefoot, with nothing to eat
and no treatment, but we allow schizophrenics to sleep outside in the winter and
forage from garbage cans -- and sometimes -- threaten, assault, and perhaps kill the rest of us.
When the mentally ill are released from prisons or hospitals there is often, no follow up, and are a danger to themselves and the rest of us. Almost
all of the heart wrenching homicides we have read about lately were committed by people everyone knew were crazy.
The Sandy Hook killer was reportedly treated for a mental illness and is said to
have had Asperger's. Jared Loughner, the Tucson, Arizona, shooter, was "mentally deranged" and had to undergo treatment before his sentencing hearing. The Virginia Tech killer had undergone mental health therapy in high school. JamesHolmes, the Colorado theater shooter, had been referred to a threat-assessment team. Both NYC subway pushers had been in and out of mental institutions for years.
If Andrew Goldstein, a diagnosed schizophrenic and convicted murderer, sees
the solution so clearly, then so should we.
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