Forced treatment of mental illness is no treatment at all

Forced treatment of mental illness is no treatment at all

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In November, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a new plan that gives non-medical professionals, including law enforcement, expanded authority to transport people suspected of mental illness to hospitals against their willingly, even if they do not pose an immediate threat. to themselves or to others.

The mayor says people who cannot meet their own basic human needs are, at least by his definition, a danger to themselves and in need of intervention. But shouldn’t public health issues justify a public health response?

Forced removals, especially those involving armed police, seem like an easy fix and sell an illusion of public safety. But make no mistake: these kinds of short-term, prison-like, expensive approaches to treating mental illness do nothing for a person’s well-being or recovery.

For me, this issue is deeply personal: I live with schizoaffective disorder, a serious form of mental illness, and was involuntarily hospitalized under a similar law in Florida known as the Baker Act. I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy. These hospitals are really just prisons by another name – constantly overcrowded and overstimulating, not exactly the most healing setting for anyone, let alone someone going through a mental health crisis. Even if there are no windows or barricaded doors, you can’t go out anyway, and people sometimes languish for days while waiting for a psychiatric bed. The protocols of these “health prisons” can seem demeaning and punitive in nature, not only dismissing patient concerns, but increasing our stress and frustration when we need help the most. Sometimes people are physically restrained and treated against their will – a legitimately terrifying experience that shatters the trust that might have made voluntary treatment possible.

This directive is the latest attempt to crack down on the city’s homelessness crisis. But as well-intentioned as the mayor’s policy is, I worry about what it looks like in practice. I fear that having armed cops, who are untrained in the nuances of mental health treatment and unwilling to even take on this challenge, will not only criminalize mental illness further, but will lead to deadly consequences. Nationally, people living with serious mental health issues are 16 times more likely to be killed by police than the general public, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. The idea that someone can be killed just because they have a stigmatized health condition is a disgrace. And the reality is that many of my peers and other marginalized people will now have to isolate themselves further to avoid getting caught in the crosshairs.

No one wants people who are homeless or living with mental illness to suffer or struggle to find care. But there are better ways to connect the essential, life-changing services we promise to those in need. The mayor’s plan, so far, is too vague and does not appear to have the buy-in and support of those on the front lines. In the rush to make up for the city’s severe shortage of psychiatric beds, we run the risk of further worsening the health prisons that funnel more people into a broken pipeline without a holistic, long-term plan for community care.

In my experience, the key to recovery for anyone, regardless of their illness, is acceptance and willingness to seek treatment. Instead of doubling down on overhospitalization and incarceration as our default “solutions” to the mental health crisis, we should explore and expand voluntary, community-based mental health programs, including clubs, respite centers and peer advocacy programs that have been shown to help people recover and thrive.

You couldn’t tell by looking at me now, but there was a time in my life when I was hospitalized more than 20 times in just a few years for the symptoms of my illness. Every psych ward felt like a prison, and every mental health clinician I had encountered, whether inpatient or outpatient, had begun to feel like they were a prosecutor. It was the nature of constantly being admitted to these health prisons and having no attorney by my side that turned any interaction about my care into a court session.

It wasn’t until I joined the Fountain House clubhouse in the Bronx that I was able to break that vicious circle and stabilize myself, find community, find housing, and truly recover in a setting that supported my dignity. and my agency as much as my physical well-being. The key was finding a place where I was treated like a person, not a patient; a friend, not a burden or an eyesore to be chased away. Today, I’m not just a member of Fountain House Bronx; I also sit on the board of directors of Fountain House, ensuring that members – what we call people with lived experience of mental illness – have a say in the decisions of the organization and can help to shape the policies that will ultimately impact our lives.

The very few times I need immediate mental health support, I have access to a whole community that understands where I come from and will go with me to the hospital to advocate on my behalf – in making sure i am safe and cared for, and i will have someone to meet me when i go out. I worry for everyone who will be swept away by the mayor’s directive and not have that kind of responsibility and support.

People living with serious mental health issues are already among the most stigmatized, marginalized and isolated in our city. The mayor’s plan will only further criminalize mental illness and force people like me to live in fear that any manifestation of our condition will have dire, even deadly consequences.

We know that the help we need is centered on social reintegration. Our leaders choosing to wipe out an entire subset of people not only sweeps the problem under the rug, but fails to recognize the inefficiencies in our mental health care system and the holistic solutions that can make a difference.

State of Mind is a partnership between Slate and Arizona State University that offers practical insight into our mental health system and how to improve it.

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