Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Killings and the mentally ill

You are no doubt aware of the tragic story of Jennifer San Marco, the former employee at a postal plant who shot and killed seven people in Goleta, California. Persons who knew her described her as having mental problems.

"She was crazy; everybody knew it," said Nita Graham, Ms. Graham's mother, who said her daughter had complained to Ms. San Marco about her loud "singing and yelling."

People who knew her in New Mexico said she seemed to be growing worse, frequently taking her clothes off, seeking to start a racist publication and angrily shouting at unseen people.

It was unclear whether Ms. San Marco was receiving any treatment, though Sheriff Anderson said she was detained for a few days in a mental facility in 2001 after an outburst at the postal plant. Sheriff Anderson said that contrary to previous reports the only encounter his deputies had with Ms. San Marco was in February 2001 when they removed her from work and took her to a mental hospital, where she was placed on an "involuntary hold" for 72 hours. (NY Times)

In light of these and other occurrences, New Mexico is considering a bill that could force treatment on mentally ill persons:

Against the vivid backdrop of recent killings by mentally ill people, both sides in the national debate over whether mentally ill people who have not committed a crime can be forced into treatment are preparing for a showdown in the Legislature here.

New Mexico lawmakers are considering a bill, backed by Gov. Bill Richardson, that would make the state the 43rd with a law allowing family members, doctors or others to seek a court order forcing the mentally ill into outpatient treatment. Typically under the laws, if mentally ill people refuse the treatment, they can face confinement in a hospital. (NY Times)
Proponents of the bill say that it would help those who resist treatment and are in danger of harming themselves or others as their symptoms worsen. Opponents say the bill would violate civil rights, and more money should be made available to those agencies that provide services to mentally ill persons.

Related journal articles and fact-sheets:

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