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Too often, mental health care comes only when it’s too late

ASK THIS | August 14, 2005

Do health-care editors practice a double standard, counting on the system to help those with physical problems but disregarding the need for assistance to the mentally ill?

Q. Too often, care for people with the most serious mental illnesses comes only after tragedy—and after treatment has been denied. It’s a real problem but editors don’t seem to be aware of it. Why?


By Harold A. Maio



A southwest Florida woman with a history of mental illness pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing her 7-year-old daughter and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The facts are recounted in this item in an Associated Press story of Aug. 14, 2005.


What about the history of treatment for her illness? For 25 years we will now be paying support for this woman, her parents will be denied the love of their granddaughter forever. Had the woman received health care, there is a very real possibility the family would be intact, the granddaughter alive.


We see many stories in the media of people denied a transplant because there are not enough donors. We do not read many stories about people being denied mental health services, no matter the results. Can you explain that?


Editors, like the rest of society, hold systems responsible when a physical health tragedy occurs, and individuals themselves responsible when a mental health tragedy occurs. There exists a double standard for health reporting. Why? I am sure this double standard exists at universities where journalism is taught.


The most famous recent example, in New York, was the murder of Kendra Webdale by Andrew Goldstein. He pushed her in front of a subway train. Yes, he did, no question. And then he received mental health services that had been repeatedly denied him and his family. Repeatedly denied. He too will be in prison, but for life. And not one single person or organization refusing him and his family health care has been held accountable. We do not hold mental health accountable, why? Journalism does not? Why?


From "He is black, he is guilty," not all that many years ago, to "He is mentally ill, he is guilty," today is not encouraging. Substituting label for label, change has not occurred, only shift.

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