Sunday, October 9, 2022

It's Time to Mandate Treatment of the Dangerously Mentally Ill

From Michael Shellenberger, at Bari Weiss's Substack, "What happens when we leave people with psychosis to their demons? Ask the families of Alison Russo-Elling, Nathaniel Rivers, and Michelle Go":

Last Friday in Queens, New York, Peter Zisopoulos, 34 years-old, described by his neighbors as an “odd, quiet loner,” suddenly set upon Lt. Alison Russo-Elling, 61, a veteran paramedic walking back to her station after lunch. He knocked her down then stabbed her to death in a frenzy. He is now being held at the Bellevue Hospital Prison Ward undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, awaiting clearance from doctors that he is stable enough to face arraignment on murder charges. Zisopoulos, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was hospitalized in 2018 after allegedly making anti-Asian threats.

This attack is eerily like the one on that took place the afternoon of July 21, in the Bronx, when Nathaniel Rivers, 35, and his wife, the parents of a young son, were sitting in their car near their home, sharing a pizza, waiting for the rain to pass.

Suddenly, 19-year-old Franklin Mesa came over to Rivers’ car window in an agitated state. Words were exchanged, briefly, before Mesa thrust a knife into Rivers’ chest. Rivers’ wife got out of the car, picked up a pry bar and clobbered Mesa. But it was too late: Mesa had mortally injured Rivers, who died a few minutes later.

Mesa, who has been charged with Rivers’ murder, is said by his family to have schizophrenia. He was well known in the neighborhood for “hostile, aggressive” encounters. Police said he was arrested last year for twice punching somebody in the face. Mesa reportedly once tried to prevent a young mother from getting on a bus.

And yet it appears that nobody made sure Mesa was taking his psychiatric medicine, which his sister said he had been on since he was 15. Had Mesa been properly medicated, Rivers almost certainly would still be alive today.

These horrifying deaths rekindle the national debate over how to prevent violence by the seriously mentally ill. Between 2015 and 2018, 911 calls reporting emotionally disturbed people have jumped by nearly 25 percent in New York City. The share of homeless people in New York with serious mental illness, usually defined as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, has most recently been estimated at 17 percent.

Consider the case of Martial Simon, a 61 year-old mentally ill homeless man, who early this year confessed to pushing 40 year-old Michelle Go onto the subway tracks, where she was killed by an oncoming train. Go was a manager at Deloitte who was lauded for her extensive volunteer work with struggling New Yorkers, including the homeless. Simon has spent decades bouncing between jails and hospitals. Declared mentally unfit to stand trial for the murder of Go, Martial is now being held at a psychiatric facility.

Years before, his sister saw something like this coming, and she pleaded with the authorities to prevent it. “I remember begging one of the hospitals, ‘Let him stay,’” she said, “because once he’s out, he didn’t want to take medication, and it was the medication that kept him going.”

The medical system was warned, by Simon himself, that exactly this was coming. As the New York Times reported: “A homeless advocate who saw Simon’s medical records reports that Simon even told a psychiatrist in 2017 that it was only a matter of time before he pushed a woman onto the subway tracks.”

Though it is difficult to get an exact estimate, a large body of research makes clear that people like Zisopoulos, Mesa, and Simon are just three among hundreds of cases of people in New York alone—to say nothing of cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and others—in which mentally ill people off their medication have assaulted or killed people. And if you think the problem is getting worse, you are right...