Renew Kendra’s Law: Measure protects both the public and the mentally ill


NY Daily News

Monday, March 1st 2010

New Yorkers need effective protection against violent attacks by the mentally ill, and the deeply troubled need proper treatment to prevent them from bloodily losing control. That’s why the state Legislature must reauthorize and strengthen Kendra’s Law, a landmark statute that empowers judges to compel dangerously disturbed individuals to take medications that ease their illnesses.

Named for Kendra Webdale, a young woman pushed to her death on subway tracks by a deranged stranger, the law is set to expire in June. It has been controversial since enactment in 1999, with too many advocates opposing forced therapy on the ground that patients are stigmatized.

Far less important in their battle for the right of the mentally ill to be left to their own devices has been the threats that a small number pose both to family and friends and to New Yorkers at large.

Since 2007, this page has chronicled acts of mayhem by troubled souls who’d stopped taking their medications. The acts occurred at a rate of roughly a half dozen a year but seem to have diminished, perhaps because of state and city reforms.

What’s clear is that there would have been, and will be, more bloodshed without Kendra’s Law. It works, benefitting the public and the ill. Solid proof has been published in the journal Psychiatric Services by Columbia University researchers.

They studied 184 patients suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and other severe mental illnesses in treatment programs in the Bronx and Queens.

Seventy-six had been ordered into treatment; 108 were there voluntarily after being released from mental hospitals with comparable psychotic symptoms. Those under court order had fewer serious violent incidents, fewer hospitalizations and reincarcerations, a lower risk of suicide and better social functioning than the voluntary group.

And the Columbia researchers reported that though patients under court order were considered more potentially violent going in than those in the voluntary group, they had four times fewer violent incidents during the next 12 months.

Researchers also found no evidence of stigma in being coerced into treatment. Kendra’s Law patients felt no worse about their situation than those not under court order. Rather, they felt that treatment helped them see options for the future.

The findings echo a Duke University study, ordered by New York State in June 2009, which found that people treated under Kendra’s Law were less likely to be hospitalized or arrested, more likely to take their medication and better able to take care of themselves day to day.

As to why Kendra’s Law patients are less prone to violence than others with similar tendencies, the likely explanation may be that they get the intense services that they need. Which is only an argument for applying the law and the services that go along with it more broadly.