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Are we failing the mentally ill?



In one case, a mentally disturbed drug abuser allegedly kills his mom and gravely injures his dad before jumping in front of a G train in Windsor Terrace. In another, a schizophrenic Staten Island man allegedly murders his parents before fleeing to Israel.

With every such headline, mentally ill people fret that the already steep obstacles they face in forging relationships, landing jobs and securing housing will grow taller.

“The overwhelming majority of the mentally ill are successful in managing the symptoms of their illness,” said John Allen, 53, who has schizophrenia.

Still, the recent tragedies raise the question of whether the civil liberties of the mentally ill to refuse treatment are in proper balance with the rights of others to be safe. What’s more, the cases highlight the difficulties that family members have in securing care for troubled loved ones.

Mental hospitals have been disgorging patients since the 1950s, but the funding and programs to support the mentally ill “never materialized,” noted Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

To be sure, the mentally ill are no more likely to commit acts of violence than others. But rejecting medications and treatments, coupled with using illicit drugs, ratchets up the risk of a tragedy, Lieberman said.

“If being treated for a mental illness was as acceptable as being treated at Betty Ford, people would not be so afraid to accept treatment,” added Allen.

Families also have trouble securing care for loved ones with serious mental illnesses, said Linda Wilson, executive director of the Staten Island chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Parents don’t know how to help a delusional child, fear their children may wind up in jail or encounter frustrating obstacles in obtaining an involuntary commitment.

"We teach parents what to say when they call 911 — sometimes that’s an easier way to get someone hospitalized than to go to all these courts,” Wilson said.

Recent tragedies:

— Monday: Ryan Devaney, 31, a schizophrenic with a drug-use history, allegedly kills his mother and critically wounds his father before jumping in front of the G train.

— Nov. 23: Prospect Heights actor Michael Brea, 31, who is described by family members as “not well,” is accused of fatally hacking his hard-working mother in her apartment while quoting the bible and screaming, “repent!”

— Oct. 20: Eric Bellucci, 30, who had been hospitalized for schizophrenia, and was known to have refused treatment, allegedly kills his parents in their Staten Island home before being apprehended in Israel.

— Oct. 15: A judge deems David Tarloff, 42, who is accused of hacking to death a psychologist in her Upper East Side office two years ago, unfit to stand trial due to his schizophrenia. Tarloff reportedly had refused psychiatric treatment.

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