You’ve probably noticed, with some sense of “We told you so,” that the various governmental bodies in the US are beginning to question whether they’ve cut too deeply into what was an already tattered safety net for the mentally ill. They are also questioning whether the pendulum has swung too far towards protecting the confidentiality of the mentally ill at the expense of the public’s safety. The 32 killed at Virginia Tech, the 12 dead in Aurora CO, the 27 dead in Newtown CT, and dozens of incidents smaller in casualty count but none the less tragic seem to have forced Americans to agree that something has to change, and change quickly.
New York’s state government, within a few days of the Newtown shooting, enacted a law which was immediately signed by the governor, imposing new duties on psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners to take steps to identify the dangerous mentally ill and protect the public from new “Newtowns.” See our previous blog post form January 18, 2013.
Lawyers have a saying that ‘hard cases make bad law’, meaning, of course, that a single heart-rending case can impel judges and juries – and legislators – to act precipitously or immoderately to remedy the wrong. “Hard cases” involving the mentally ill will be no different.
My point? Keep abreast of what’s going on where you live and practice. We can expect to hear a lot of impassioned rhetoric in the coming months. Something does have to change, but maybe some of the changes can be good ones – such as restoration and even expansion of care options for the mentally ill.