Mental Health Treatment Providers Respond To Recent Violent Crimes
The men in custody exhibited or were actually treated for mental illness before the incidents that put a little girl in critical condition and left a young woman lying near death tonight.
Two violent crimes. Two questions about mental health treatment and the adequacy of resources.
The cases prompting a re-examination of services involve:
Michael McEvoy, accused in the shooting June 30 of a fellow former resident at an assisted living home for the mentally ill.
And Byron Syvinski, charged in the near-fatal beating of a 7-year-old girl on June 5.
As CBS 11 reported last night, 911 calls made by Syvinski the day before the assault included suicide threats, prolonged gasping and hyperventilating, and rambling thoughts alternating with prolonged periods of unresponsiveness.
Still, Syvinski was released by the Providence Psychiatric Emergency Room after just a few hours.
Syvinski and McEvoy are, of course, presumed innocent of the charges against them.
Yet the fact remains that the men in custody exhibited or were actually treated for mental illness before the incidents that put a little girl in critical condition and left a young woman lying near death tonight.
"You can have everything in place that's necessary, but there's still somebody that can fall through the cracks," said Andrea Schmook, a member of the Alaska Mental Health Board.
Is it a lack of financial resources, as such, that prevents some potentially dangerous people from getting timely treatment?
At the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Director Ron Adler says that the state Department of Health and Social Services spends nearly a quarter of a billion dollars annually to provide treatment for about 16,000 people.
He says that compares favorably with states in the lower 48, where budget deficits have led to cuts in behavioral services
"So I think just on the aggregate arithmetic as it stands, it appears as if we have sufficient funding in this state. It may require us to look at how those monies are allocated across the state and to make sure that we're getting the right people in the right service at the right time, and the agencies that are able to do that are receiving priority funding. That's something we're taking a look at inside the Division of Behavioral Health."
Adler says it's understandable that there's a focus on mental health services in the wake of tragedies, such as those for which Syvinski and McEvoy have been charged.
But he says the solution involves more than mental health professionals.
"And I think we're all responsible as Alaskans and we're all responsible as citizens of the Municipality of Anchorage to pick up the phone and call the police or call somebody else concerned, and say, 'you know, this person looks a little scary to me and I think they need help; can somebody come out here and interview them?' "
Schmook says that training in mental health first aid for non-professionals could make the difference in identifying early manifestations of illness.
"And it could be your mailman. It could be the store clerk -- that they're trained in identifying when somebody is in serious need of help and then to know where to go to let it be known and then they can start making the outreach to those individuals."
Adler says he assumes that officials at Providence are reflecting upon the decision to release Syvinski the day before the assault on Am-Marie Martin.
"They do very careful assessments there. And I’m sure that they're doing a retrospective review of this situation."
But he says the key is prevention -- early intervention before an illness runs its course ... and leaves someone battered or dead, and a community traumatized.
Schmook, aside from her position on the state board, runs a corporation affiliated with Anchorage Community Mental Health that consists of recovered mentally ill people providing peer support to those still struggling with their conditions.
She says that service is essential to helping the mentally ill cope in-between appointments with their doctors and therapists.
She says she was able to recover as a mentally ill single mother because of a job. She stresses the importance of having duties, taking direction and keeping the mind focused on the path to recovery. As many as 90 percent of mentally ill people don't have jobs, she says.