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State must carefully craft mental health care plan

It made the news recently when Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds was stabbed numerous times by his 24-year-old son, Gus, who then killed himself. Less than 24 hours before the family tragedy occurred, Gus had been turned away from a hospital in Virginia because there were no psychiatric beds available. Sadly, what happened to the Creigh family is not an isolated incident. Hospitals across our country have eliminated psychiatric beds to the point where 95 percent of the nation’s public psychiatric beds have disappeared. As a result, many families with loved ones experiencing psychiatric crisis are left without the treatment they need.

The reason for hospitalization is twofold: to provide appropriate treatment to the individual in crisis and to protect the community from the risk of possible violent acts. While an individual who receives appropriate treatment has no greater risk of committing violent acts than the general public, the risk of violent behavior for an untreated person is significantly elevated. Denied appropriate treatment, people in crisis or with chronic severe mental illness cycle in and out of our hospital emergency rooms, our jails and prisons and our homeless shelters. Prisons and jails have three times more seriously mentally ill people than do our psychiatric hospitals. This is a spectacularly costly and inefficient system!

New York State Office of Mental Health is in the process of determining how mental health services are to be delivered in the future. We must hold the state accountable to make sure that the new system is carefully and wisely crafted, taking into account the needs of the families that will be affected. The new plan must include timely and appropriate treatment for our family members experiencing mental illness, including hospitalization when necessary, or else we will continue to experience escalating violence, suicides and the resultant suffering and waste of human life.

Mary Jo Butler

Board of Directors, Children’s

Mental Health Coalition of WNY