NAMI-NYC Calls for Comprehensive, Person-Centered Behavioral Health Care for People Living with Serious Mental Illness
New York, NY, November 29, 2022–In response to the Mayor Adams’ address, NAMI-NYC CEO Matt Kudish stated:
We are grateful to Mayor Adams for creating more public dialogue around individuals living with serious mental illness (SMI) and their access to meaningful behavioral health care. We stand ready to work with City Hall to create a more comprehensive and humane approach. However, the Administration’s expanded use of Kendra’s Law or assisted outpatient treatment (“AOT”) to people with SMI who “cannot meet their basic needs” is beyond problematic.
AOT is a last resort mechanism, not a mental health response. People living with SMI have a right to person-centered and recovery-oriented mental health care. Instead of using the least restrictive approach, we are defaulting to an extreme that takes away basic human rights. We need to meet people where they are, not forcibly remove them. The City has the power to provide onsite treatment, as well as treatment in homeless shelters or supported housing, but has chosen not to.
The City has also chosen to invest in increased police presence despite the deaths and harm that have occurred during mental health emergencies. As a peer-led, peer-run organization, we know that peer-led non-police response to mental health crisis, such as CCIT-NYC model can be effective.
There’s also a fundamental misunderstanding about the intended impact of Kendra’s Law or AOT on increasing mental health care access. Even when mandated or involuntary care is needed, our mental health care system remains under resourced and underprepared — 50 in-patient hospital beds are not enough. We need a tremendous investment in 24/7 drop-in centers, stabilization centers, and many other programs.
As a result of our failing mental health system, not an individual failing to “meet basic needs,” New Yorkers with SMI continue to experience an endless cycle of incarceration, hospitalizations, premature discharges, and discharges to homelessness. AOT is not the big picture, nor a comprehensive solution.
To help people living with mental illness live the full and meaningful lives they deserve, we need to invest significantly in our behavioral health care system and supportive housing. We need to pass the Treatment Not Jail Act to help people with SMI get health care, not experience involvement with the criminal legal system. We need to pass the New York Health Act, which has languished for decades, to provide all New Yorkers with comprehensive mental health care.
We hope to see the voices of community-based mental health organizations and people living with mental illness uplifted in future conversations and decisions around mental health in NYC.
Jennifer Reres, Jreres@naminyc.org, (212) 417-0950