Category Archives: Mental Health

The News-Press Looks at Shortcomings in Florida’s Mental Health Assistance

The News-Press article is well done, and worth a read. Dr. Frederick Schaerf, who is extremely well thought of in the legal community in Southwest Florida gets to the heart of the issue: even if there are improvements in the Baker Act (involuntary commitment), that treatment doesn’t necessarily follow after the evaluation. Baker Acts save lives of people who are in immediate danger of harming themselves or others, but the system does not adequately follow through for the continuing needs of the mentally ill. Many times these people fall through the crack, and frequently end up in the criminal system. Check out the article on the News-Press:

http://www.news-press.com/article/20130428/NEWS0120/304280033/Baker-Act-fixes-Not-enough-not-soon-enough-

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Lee County Schools Trying to Get Help for Children with Mental Health Problems

Jymez Forte

Jymez
Forte

I applaud the efforts of the Lee County School system to try to make mental health treatment more available. I’m saddened when I hear that in cases like Mr. Forte, which was highlighted in the NBC-2 story, his mother has been trying to get help only to find services unavailable. Mental Health professionals are saying it’s very hard to get children into the few available facilities. It is a sad situation when a mother is glad her son gets locked up because she can’t get him help.

Sadly, these children with mental health problems that don’t get sufficient treatment for their problems frequently end up in the criminal justice system. True, it is better for children like Forte who hasn’t been able to get help through other means to be arrested rather than getting into more trouble… but that’s usually just the beginning of a cycle. Incarceration does not effectively treat the underlying mental health issue. Then he will turn 18, and even less help will be available, and he could end up hurting someone and we warehouse him in prison. It is probably far more economical to house someone and treat them (and keep them out of the criminal system) that to warehouse them in prison… and it would certainly be more beneficial to society if they can get help and become productive citizens.

I have discussed the need to make mental health treatment options more readily available before. Mr. Forte’s case is yet another example of where we are coming up short, and the unfortunate consequences of that.

http://www.nbc-2.com/story/21088757/lee-county-schools-look-for-mental-heath-solutions

More Thoughts on Our Mental Illness Crisis

I shared some of my thoughts on the need to act on our systematic failings regarding mental illness a few days ago.  The NY Times recently featured this article, which I wanted to share as it is a good read and a call to action. Something that I had not realized, is that psychiatrists are not allowed to discuss someone’s mental state without having examined him or her (and then, only after receiving permission to discuss the case). This means that doctors who are most competent to address the crisis of untreated, or under-treated, mentally ill persons who go on shooting sprees, aren’t allowed to talk about their mental illnesses.  They cannot say, I think this person was sick, and lives could have been saved if we had gotten them treatment, or made treatment more available.  Treatment can be effective in many cases, but we must have avenues to deliver treatment before tragedy happens.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/opinion/our-failed-approach-to-schizophrenia.html

It’s Time to Commit to Providing Mental Health Treatment

The tragedy in Newtown, and other recent shootings such as at the Batman theater, the shooting involving Congresswoman Giffords, and the mass shooting in Norway have all involved individuals with severe mental illnesses.  All deeply disturbed individuals, whose corrupted minds lead them down a horrible path of destruction.  There must be a way to address this.

This incident also brought to mind the killing by Mario Lopez in Cape Coral.  The killing happened in 2002, before I moved to Florida, but the trial and retrials occurred during my practice here.  Lopez was accused of stabbing his close friend 145 times.  He snapped.  He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and committed to a mental institution until he’s cured, which will probably never happen.  There are echoes of that case again with the patricide that recently ocurred in Cape Coral: the young man recently ran away from the mental health crisis center.  There must be a way to keep this from going so far.

It appears that often the only way to get help is to wait until somebody enters the criminal system, and only then after the most serious of charges.  Frequently, the criminal system ends in a cycle of incarceration followed by brief freedom without treatment, only to offend again.  Local crazy person Victor Casiano was only out of custody after his last jail stint for a few days before he was confronted by an officer, started an altercation, was rearrested, and got sentenced to 3 more years.  The man walks around yelling at inanimate objects.  Everybody in town knows he’s crazy, yet the cycle continues to turn.  There must be a better solution than the revolving-door criminal justice system.

Getting help can be the hardest thing.  Unless your family is rich, your options are limited.  I personally had a client who could not control her son.  The facts were eerily similar to the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” essay that has circulated the internet lately.  She could not afford to commit him to a private facility.  The child was so disturbed that it was not safe for him to live in the family home, and the family made the difficult decision to give him up.  Only in the custody of the state would he be safely housed and given counseling… at least until he turns 18.   There must be help available for parents.

There must be a better way.  We must prioritize mental health, both long-term and preventative treatment, as a matter of national security.  Far more Americans are killed by sick people, other Americans who suffer from mental illness, than are killed by terrorists.  Yet, our mental hospitals remain shuttered, and outpatient options remain inadequate to deal with the breadth of mental illness in Florida and across the country.  The system is failing, and we as a society are failing in our inability to help those sick individuals who desperately need the help.  It is a matter of protection and safety not just for those who are affected by mental illness, but for everyone in society who might be touched by their actions.  There must a serious movement to establish a system to work with the mentally ill.  There must be action to prevent the next Newtown.

Lee County Last in Mental Health Dollars, Statewide

I started a post on this earlier when I saw the story on NBC-2 that said that Lee County is last in funding for Mental Health support.  That’s not surprising to any of us working in the Criminal Defense field, as getting treatment is always a challenge, and you can see the cycle repeating in the system.  That post became a longer essay, which I’ll post later today.  Until then, check out the NBC story.

http://www.nbc-2.com/story/20366584/swfl-worst-in-country-for-funding-treating-mental-illness

I hope NBC doesn’t mind, but I’m going to repost below some of the resources posted on their site:

NAMI Lee County
http://namilee.org/
(239) 337-9024

Bob Janes Triage Center
http://triage.leegov.com/
(239) 275-3222 Ext. 5243

Lee Mental Health
http://www.leementalhealth.org/index.html
(239) 275-3222

Park Royal Hospital
http://www.parkroyalhospital.com/
(239) 985-2700