After Shootings, Advocates Call for Better Mental Health Care (UPDATED)

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Psychiatric health advocates Thursday called for better health care and more public education about mental illness in the wake of recent fatal shootings.

Treatment of mentally ill people, as well as gun control, have come to the forefront of national attention after a gunman last month killed 27 people, mostly children, and himself in Newtown, Conn. Also in December, a man killed two firefighters in Webster as they responded to a blaze.

Statewide groups at the news conference near the Capitol denounced news coverage of the murders that has labeled mentally ill people as “crazies,” “monsters” and “lunatics,” suggesting those with such diagnoses should be locked away.

“We’re not only horrified about these deaths and tragedies, but we’re horrified at recent statements and media coverage that has rushed to judgment, viciously attacked people with mental illnesses here in New York and around the country,” said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the state Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. “This is scapegoat-ism — the worst kind. It amounts to a virtual public lynching.”

The groups lauded steps Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have taken to move institutionalized patients to more integrated or community settings, as required by federal law. But there is more work to be done, Rosenthal said.

Glenn Liebman, CEO of the state’s Mental Health Association, said New York should allocate funding for further treatment and support of mentally ill people in their communities rather than in state hospitals.

Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team, which he formed last January to identify costs savings in the highly expensive program, recommended state support for supportive housing and health homes, affordable living environments where people can get physical and mental health care, substance abuse treatment and employment counseling, among other services. The aim is to improve health outcomes and save money spent on expensive emergency care.

The state has asked the federal government to reinvest some of the money the group saved to improve Medicaid in New York. Housing initiatives would be an area to benefit, should the request be approved.

Also, Cuomo issued an executive order early last month creating a cabinet to enforce a federal law that aims to prevent disabled people from being segregated from the general population.

Rosenthal said Cuomo is making progress in improving care for New York’s mentally ill population.

“We are really hoping he will accelerate his own reforms,” Rosenthal said.

Liebman also called for increased support for families of those with mental illness, more aggressive efforts to publicize local 24-hour help lines and amped up preventative efforts, including suicide-prevention and mental-health education in schools.

UPDATED with video:

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