On Thursday, when I address President Trump’s White House Summit on Transforming Mental Health Treatment, I will have in mind 23-year-old Kevin Ramtahal and his victim, 14-year-old Amara Wilks. Why? Because their case is a jarring reminder of what can happen when people with serious mental illness are allowed to go untreated.
On Dec. 6, Ramtahal screamed at little Amara, “I’m coming for you,” and then chased her into traffic as she was walking to school in Queens. She suffered serious injuries when a car hit her. The Post has revealed that Ramtahal was “a diagnosed schizophrenic who has been arrested half a dozen times since March 2018 — but his mental-health issues have gone largely untreated, according to his mother.”
Ramtahal had four hospitalizations — and no one responsible for seeing that he show up for followup care. So he didn’t show up. No wonder violence by people with untreated serious mental illness is so common in New York.
Trump’s summit Thursday will focus on combating homelessness, violence and substance abuse among the seriously mentally ill. People like Ramtahal, in other words. During my presentation, I will point to New York City as an example of our failure to back programs that can stop people like Ramtahal from deteriorating and harming innocents like Wilks.
Lack of money isn’t the problem. Lack of leadership is. It is cruel and heartless to deny treatment to the seriously ill. It puts patients, the public and police at risk.
The New York City Council has given Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray almost $1 billion for their Thrive mental-health programs over five years. But Thrive spends less than 12 percent of that whopping amount on getting treatment to those who need it most — the seriously ill.
Instead, the money is going to educational campaigns, anti-stigma campaigns, brochures and p.r. campaigns designed to convince the public that officials are doing a swell job, while services for the seriously ill atrophy.
Some of the programming is downright ludicrous. As The Post’s Susan Edelman revealed over the weekend, Thrive has splurged $10.5 million a year on school mental-health consultants who put on workshops but don’t, you know, actually treat kids in crisis. Consultants make up to $80,000 a year for this heroic work; supervisors up to $96,000.
This is deliberate. It was McCray who insisted on placing mental-health-education units in libraries and these consultants in schools. But by design, neither the education units nor the consultants are allowed to directly help people with mental illness. Say what?
Meanwhile, the psychiatric unit at Allen Hospital in Inwood is scheduled to close, leaving hundreds of seriously mentally ill people with nowhere to go. De Blasio has done nothing to save it.
Nor has the mayor pushed for Kendra’s Law to be expanded and made permanent. The two-decade-old law is named for Kendra Webdale, a young woman who died after someone with serious mental illness pushed her onto the path of a subway train in 1999.
Kendra’s Law allows judges to require up to a year of assisted outpatient treatment for mentally ill persons with a history of going off treatment and becoming homeless or violent or getting arrested. Think Ramtahal.
The law has dramatically reduced homelessness, arrest, violence, incarceration and needless hospitalization. Seventy percent of those in it say it helps them get well and stay well. But Mr. and Mrs. de Blasio refuse to make a concerted effort to help patients take advantage of the law.
While claiming to care, they are nonetheless following the lead of those who believe being psychotic and delusional is a right to be protected rather than an illness to be treated. Amara Wilks’ case was only the latest to highlight the folly of that approach.
I have a seriously mentally ill relative. I have studied the mental-health system for more than 30 years. I know that most people with mental illness aren’t violent.
But I also know that without treatment, some seriously mentally ill people can become violent. Helping the seriously ill is the compassionate thing to do. That’s what I intend to say at Trump’s summit. I hope the de Blasios and the City Council are listening.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
DJ Jaffe is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institue, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images