A break from your regularly scheduled programming…

This is not about writing… but I think it deserves a place on my blog, since it deals with issues that I, as a social worker, will have to confront daily.  Not to mention, I have a personal interest in this issue.


What am I talking about?  The two articles that were recently written, one in the New York Post, and the other from blogs.villagevoice.com.  The first, from the NY Post, is titled “Scoop the Nuts.”  The other is titled “Another Subway Death Solution: NYPD Tracking of the Mentally Ill?”


They are both recent articles, written – obviously – about the recent rash of subway deaths in NYC.  According to both of them, the solution for this problem is to round up the “25 most wanted mentally ill” in the city.  The NYPD and the Department of Health are working together to find these people and force them into treatment, on a “mental hygiene warrant” (NY Post, p. 1).  Apparently these people are already wanted for other crimes and they haven’t been able to be found (I wonder why… I mean, New York City is such a tiny little hamlet…).  The treatment has also apparently been court-ordered.


Although I do feel genuinely bad about the innocent people who died, I also feel for those mentally ill who are now running scared from the NYPD and DOH.  “The city has already drawn up a list of the 25 most wanted,” the Post writes.  “…But tracking them down won’t be easy.  ‘There’s no rhyme or reason to their craziness,’ said a law-enforcement source” (NY Post, p. 2).


This violates so many ethical principles that the social work profession upholds.  It also violates the Constitutional rights that every human should have – despite different brain chemistry.  Even with Kendra’s Law in place (1999), that “give judges the right to order involuntary treatment to those who meet the criteria of ‘mentally ill'” (blogs.villagevoice.com, p. 1)… you know, I thought that we were trying to fight the stigma that is attached to being mentally ill?  As someone I know recently said, it’s getting to the point of where those with mental illnesses are being put in the closet that LGBTQ people were in for so long (and still are in – I am not saying this to begin a debate about LGBTQ rights).  Being mentally ill has had such a stigma for… well, for as long as anyone can remember.  And even now, in 2013, people see it fit to “round up” the “25 most wanted mentally ill.”


To me, it sounds like something out of a Ray Bradbury short story.  It is horrific.  What about these people’s freedom?  Adults legally can refuse treatment.  It’s been that way forever.  Involuntary treatment – do you actually think that this is going to work?  People need to want to get better in order to actually do so.  They need to want help before they’ll accept it.  They need to want to take medication and go to therapy in order for those things, in conjunction, to work.  What about the justice of it?  Would you force radiation treatment on someone who has cancer, who has specifically said that they don’t want it?


Yes, I understand that these people, the “25 most wanted,” have committed crimes.  But the legislation that orders them into treatment isn’t likely to work, and I feel like there are too many people out there that don’t understand that.  Being mentally ill – it’s not as though you can put someone with bipolar into treatment and expect that in a couple of months they’ll be back to normal.  It’s a “problem” with brain chemistry.  The same with schizophrenia.  The same with depression.  The same with… fill in the blank.  Medications may work, but they may not.  There is such a thing as being “treatment resistant” – which doesn’t mean, in psychiatric terms, that you are being noncompliant.  It means that your body just does not react to medication as expected.  Sometimes therapy doesn’t work, either.  And once again – it comes down to: do these people want help?  If they don’t, what right do we have to say, “No, I don’t care what you want, you need to be in treatment” – and then force them to be in treatment?  Even if it won’t work.  Even if we would never say that to anyone who is physically sick and refusing treatment.  What’s the good in that?  Where’s the freedom?  Where’s the social justice?


2 thoughts on “A break from your regularly scheduled programming…

  1. Thank you for bringing some attention to this. Honestly the stigma we place on anyone who does not fit the very narrow parameters of “normalcy” is getting tighter and uglier. That headline “Scoop up the Nuts” really hurts. But that’s how they write good headlines! Shock value works to get attention.

    The real issue seems to be that no one really knows how to effectively deal with the reality that more and more people are cracking under pressure. And the draconian measures of rounding up mentally ill people – even if they have warrants out on them – is a sign of panic, I believe.

    I also have to wonder about those “warrants” and if any mental health professionals are weighing in on this. It’s my understanding that not all the behavior patterns that are labeled mental illness lend themselves to such breaking out as these instances. But I am no professional. I am only a human being who is disturbed at this lack of compassion and lack of capacity to heal our wounds.

    • Kyla – you are so correct when you say that the stigma we place on those who are “different” in ANY way is getting tighter and uglier. And to think, it’s 2013 and there’s still horrible discrimination out there. I would imagine that many out there would have hoped that at least in America, discrimination would be a thing of the past by now. But I guess people still haven’t learned to just accept those who are different for who they are.

      I also agree that the newspaper article title “Scoop the Nuts” is… well, in my opinion, it’s horrible. I hated seeing that when I first picked up the article – and to think it’s from a source like the New York Post. Also, from what the articles said, no mental health professionals are “in” on this. Just people from the Dept. of Health.

      It just horrifies me that there is such a thing as a “mental hygiene warrant” – I mean, how ridiculous does that sound?!

      Thanks for your response. 🙂

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