Is it possible for decision-makers to finally begin to take mental illness seriously? New Yorkers can be excused for failing to make the change by being certain that they are related to the abuse and incompetence that has long plagued mental illness policy.
This month, Public Prosecutor Jumine Williams exposed the fact that out of the hundreds of thousands of calls made each year to 911 for a mental health crisis, none resulted in the sending of a mobile mental health crisis team.
It seems that our mental health system is reaching the bottom: people with mental illness are strangled in prisons, the streets are chronically ill, and the headlines mark one preventable tragedy after another.
But even as failures pile up, signs of hope are emerging across the country ̵
In New York, the enormous mental health bundog, Blazio's mayor, ThriveNYC, has finally begun to shift its focus to the most severely ill.
Mayor off ice announced a 30-day intensive review of the use of Kendra's law and a $ 37 million investment to close service gaps for those with serious mental illness. Plus, mental health officials will now accompany NYPD staff who respond to mental illness crises. The senseless killings in Chinatown seem to have led to the realization that spending valuable mental health dollars on frivolous projects, while Mental Health 911 calls almost double, is politically insolvent.
Meanwhile, in Liberal San Francisco, an unprecedented homelessness crisis gave mayor Francisco. Among other solutions, her UrgentCareSF plan calls for 1,000 new beds in the city's treatment system and to improve the use of Laura's Law (California's version of the Kendra Act).
The federal government seems to see the light. In 2015, a series of congressional hearings sparked by the Sandy Hook tragedy revealed a disturbing lack of focus on serious mental illness among federal agencies.
In their findings, it was noted that a 117-page strategic plan for substance abuse and mental health in the United States. The administration failed to even mention the words "schizophrenia" or "bipolar disorder". In retrospect, this should not be surprising given that the agency does not count any psychiatrists among its more than 600 employees.
Today, the Agency is led by Dr. Eleanor McCans-Katz, a respected addict psychiatrist. Under her leadership, the federal government has implemented a multi-million dollar national law program for Kendra, and has repeatedly called on states to review treatment criteria to ensure that the most severely ill care is taken before they become dangerous to themselves or anyone else.
The Trump administration has even taken steps to catalyze the creation of desperately needed treatment beds by amending longstanding federal Medicaid laws to help reimburse hospital costs.
All this does not mean that the war is over. It is inevitable that policymakers will forget some of these lessons and abandon difficult decisions, losing the momentum built up by the current crisis.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is already under fire as he failed to fully incorporate Williams' recommendations. The City Hall was silent on the further extension of Kendra's law, though his success in reaching the most seriously ill made him a national model.
Did politicians really start to take mental illness seriously? It is impossible to say at this early stage. But we have seen that if they do not, we all suffer.
John Snook is executive director of the Nonprofit Advocacy Center, which works to remove barriers to the treatment of people with severe mental illness.