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Reactions to article on Kendra's Law

September 1, 2006
by root
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Kendra's Law was created largely in response to growing public pressure and to “protect the mentally ill” and provide “treatment for the mentally ill.” Andrew Goldstein, who pushed Kendra Webdale into an oncoming subway train, did attempt to obtain medication and help for his schizophrenia prior to the incident, but he was turned away (as reported in the New York Times). Before Kendra's Law, a civil law/procedure already existed: Anyone “disturbing the peace” was picked up by the police and taken either to jail or to a psychiatric facility.

Several myths are used to justify forced treatment:

  • Myth: People with psychiatric disabilities are so violent that a forced treatment program is necessary to protect the public. A 1998 study (with support from the MacArthur Foundation) showed that the mentally ill are no more violent than the general public (statistics differ with alcohol/drug use); they are 2½ times more likely to be the victims of violence.

  • Myth: People with psychiatric disabilities are frequently so sick that they can't understand their need for care, leading to avoidance and noncompliance. Many people with psychiatric disabilities are seen as being “noncompliant,” when many times they are treated in demeaning and dehumanizing ways that result in their avoidance of services. In some cases they are turned away from services, as Goldstein was, yet they are labeled “noncompliant.” We need to provide better services instead of labeling people.

  • Myth: Forced treatment works. A study at Bellevue Hospital in New York City found that using a coercive mandate made no difference in improved outcomes.

Research conducted by the state of New York suggests that Kendra's Law has been a success. Advocates object for good reasons:

  • Faulty research. Research on Kendra's Law conducted by the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) is based almost entirely on case managers’ opinions.

  • Most counties have made significant improvements without relying on court-ordered care (with the exception of New York City).

  • Most court orders have been used to link nonviolent individuals with priority access to scant services. Court orders are being used to get individuals to the “front of the line” for scarce services/ housing.

  • Forced treatment violates people's rights and erodes their faith in the service system. People are ordered into care based on a doctor's prediction that they might cause or come to harm.

  • Forced treatment orders predominantly are levied at people of color. Two out of every three court orders have been levied at people of color, according to OMH research.

Being forced into treatment is not the way toward recovery and healing.

Camille Santoro, Peer Advocate, Bellmore, New York

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