Wednesday, November 30, 2022

New York City Will Hospitalize Mentally Ill People Involuntarily

This really is the direction we need to go on this, and kudos to Mayor Adams for having the balls to push forward with the program.

At the New York Times, "New York City to Involuntarily Remove Mentally Ill People From Streets: Mayor Eric Adams directed the police and emergency medical workers to hospitalize people they deemed too mentally ill to care for themselves, even if they posed no threat to others."

And from the Letters to the Editor:

To the Editor:

Re “New York Aims to Clear Streets of Mentally Ill” (front page, Nov. 30):

It is many years overdue but, finally, Mayor Eric Adams has courageously acted to bring relief caused by the failed policies that have long harmed mentally ill people in New York City.

By ordering involuntary hospitalization, he is replacing an immoral and scandalous indifference to severe chronic illness with a humane and moral approach.

Claiming autonomy and personal choice as reasons to keep severely mentally ill people who lack competence on our streets makes no sense. Allowing the sick to “rot with their rights on” may appeal to single-minded civil libertarians, but it is deeply disrespectful to the dignity and kindness that mentally ill people deserve.

While the lawsuits will surely fly, the real challenge is to find enough money, beds and providers to ensure that homeless (and incarcerated) men and women with severe mental illness receive care, not a cardboard box.

Arthur Caplan

Ridgefield, Conn.

The writer is a professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.

To the Editor:

Mayor Eric Adams’s plan to involuntarily hospitalize homeless people with no indication that they are a threat (to anything besides his city’s image) is discrimination veiled in compassion.

Addressing the well-being of the unhoused would involve improving the root structural issues leading to poverty and the inability to afford rent. Poor mental health is often a side effect of housing insecurity and being put on the margins of society.

Forcing someone into a hospital system not designed for long-term stays, and that is already strained, does not fix this issue. Slapping a bandage on a bullet wound, or temporarily removing the homeless from the street, does not a compassionate policy make.

I don’t see a mental health crisis as much as I see a desperate need for appropriate and affordable housing.

Loren Barcenas

Chapel Hill, N.C.

The writer is a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

To the Editor:

As a disability rights lawyer, I’ve represented many clients with mental illness. I’ve also witnessed the tragedy of three immediate family members suffering from schizophrenia, including both my parents in the 1960s and 1970s.

Choices about involuntary treatment can be excruciating. Psychiatric drugs sometimes have severe side effects. Worse, America has failed to ensure that hospitals provide safe, clean, therapeutic treatment settings. I’ve visited psychiatric hospitals that no one would want a family member to be forced to stay in; my mother died in one when I was a teenager.

That said, we’ve also done a disservice to mentally ill people through revolving-door hospitalization that both frustrates family members and dumps at-risk patients back into the community, untreated, where they often face homelessness or worse.

Mayor Eric Adams’s call for workable plans to connect discharged patients with ongoing care can work only if safe, high-quality care is available. For the sake of America’s most vulnerable people, officials must see that it is.

David Scott

Columbus, Ohio