An excellent op-ed piece from Sara Foss of the Schenectady Gazette laying
out a strong case for more mental health resources need in communities
across New York State. More mental health resources needed.
Sara Foss <dailygazette.com/node/241456> | June 16, 2018
It’s difficult to know exactly what prompted a Rotterdam man
fire a BB gun at a neighbor and hole up in his house for hours last week,
ignoring police commands, but I’m inclined to believe his son’s
explanation: The underlying problem is a long history of mental illness.
Mental illness is often a factor in violent public spectacles.
It was a factor when a suicidal Glenville resident wielding a knife was
shot and killed by police in 2017. It was a factor when an Iraq War veteran
suffering from schizophrenia and PTSD was killed by police in his Rotterdam
home in 2016.
Every time a mentally disturbed person suffers a breakdown in public, or is
driven to take their own life, I wonder what might have been done to
prevent the crisis from escalating to such a dire point.
In the wake of new federal data showing an alarming rise in the U.S.
suicide rate <dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through/suicide-rise>,
and the high-profile suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and
celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, this question seems more urgent.
And yet it isn’t clear to me what the answer is.
It’s easy to say that people who feel depressed and suicidal should get
But is help readily available? Is treatment easy to find? Are there
resources for those struggling with mental illness in every community?
The answer, all too often, is no.
“There are not enough options available to people,” Glenn Liebman, CEO of
the Mental Health Association in New York State, told me. “It should be
easier for people to get help. People should not have to wait weeks and
months to get access to a counselor.”
People in the midst of a mental health crisis do have options: They can
call a suicide hotline or go to the hospital. A friend or relative might
summon the police to intervene.
What’s needed, Liebman said, are more services aimed at preventing a mental
health problem from turning into a full-blown crisis that endangers lives
and requires an emergency response. Prevention services are “dramatically
underfunded,” he said.
This basic point was echoed in an essay printed in The Village Voice
by Jennifer L. Pozner titled, “Who Are We Telling Depressed People to
‘Reach Out’ to, Anyway?”
“If we truly want to keep people alive and thriving, we need more than
platitudes about calling friends or suicide hotlines in a moment of extreme
crisis — we need ongoing, substantive, broad-based investment in mental
healthcare,” Pozner writes.
According to the Virginia-based, non-profit organization Mental Health
America, 56 percent of Americans with a mental illness do not receive
treatment. Approximately 20 percent of Americans say they have sought
treatment, but failed to get the help they need.
At the end of the day, it all adds up to millions of people whose mental
health needs are going unaddressed.
Liebman believes that one way to help these people is school-based mental
Thanks to legislation passed in 2016, New York is set
become the first state in the country to require mental health education in
The hope, Liebman said, is that teaching students about mental health will
demystify it, eliminate the stigma that makes it difficult for people to
talk about it and make students aware of the signs and symptoms of
different mental health illnesses.
It’s a worthy project — one that will instill a deeper understanding of
mental health in the students of today and tomorrow. Teaching them how to
recognize and respond to a mental health crisis will prevent crises down
What it won’t do is supplant the need for more mental health counselors and
treatment programs — inpatient, as well as outpatient — for people in
need of them.
Helping all of those people will require a substantial investment, but it’s
an investment that’s worth making.
The payoff will be a lower suicide rate and a reduction in the number of
violent confrontations that roil our communities. It’s an investment that
will save lives, and what’s more important than that?
Reach *Sara Foss* at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed here are
her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.