(Jan. 17, 2013) Erika Menendez, the 31-year-old woman who is alleged to have pushed a man to his death beneath a subway train in New York City, represents everything that is wrong with America’s system of treating the mentally ill. This was the second fatal subway pushing in New York in less than a month. In both cases the person who allegedly did the pushing was described as having a severe mental illness that was not being adequately treated.
An attendant in the psychiatric ward at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens said of Menendez, “We know her very well.” State mental-health officials declined to confirm that Menendez had been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition, invoking patient privacy. Such invocations have become standard practice in mental-illness-related crimes, such as the massacres in the theater in Colorado and in the elementary school in Connecticut. In truth, these invocations of patient privacy have little to do with the privacy of the patient — federal law allows the release of information for issues of “serious threat to health and safety” and “public interest and benefit activities” — and much to do with covering up the incompetence of the mental-health institutions.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are in the United States 7.7 million people who suffer from the most severe mental illnesses — schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. Among these, approximately 1 percent — 77,000 individuals — are responsible for most of the problems associated with untreated mental illness. Most of them are, like Erika Menendez, well known to the mental-health and corrections systems. They have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, emergency rooms, jails, and homeless shelters more times than they can count. Walk into a police station in any city or town in America and ask the officers to identify the mentally ill people in their community who present law-enforcement problems, and they will have no difficulty doing so.
Read the entire article by Dr. Torrey, published in this week's National Review.
Dr. Torrey is a research psychiatrist, the founder and a board member of the Treatment Advocacy Center. He is executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, the largest nongovernmental source of funds for research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in the United States.