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When Will Mental Health Be Seen?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of gun violence

As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic was a battle to survive. Whether it was individuals fighting the virus or fighting the violence of the police, many issues were coming to light. Many believe that policing in the U.S. is a strong, necessary system that cares for the safety of the general public. While that may be true to some, others believe that the policing system only cares for the safety of specific groups. Policing has a history of using their power to target and mistreat people of color. The system has not changed, which has gained attention from the public to address policing.

As of lately, there has been a major increase in violence in New York’s subway systems. New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams addressed this issue as he understands that the pandemic has exacerbated the issue of people dealing with job loss and untreated medical and mental health issues. The individuals facing those hardships have been framed to be dangerous to the public and themselves. Mayor Adam’s plan was to increase police patrols and expand outreach to the mentally ill.

Many New Yorkers, like me, have only seen the increase of police presence in the subways. There is sadly more emphasis on increasing the numbers of the police and leaving all our issues with public safety in the police’s hands rather than having a multidisciplinary approach. Ever since the increase of law enforcement presence, there has been no prevention of some saddening and serious violent crimes. The police presence has not been able to prevent recent tragedies like the recent Brooklyn 36 Street train stop mass shooting, the incident regarding Michelle Go’s passing as she got pushed onto the train tracks, and unfortunately much more.

The severity of these crimes proves that an increased police presence does not serve much change. New York elected officials need to open their eyes and reflect on what other actions need to be done than just simply running to the police to solve the prevalent mental health crisis in New York. New York’s Police Department is funded to a ridiculous and generous amount to where one has to question, “Is it even serving any purpose?” with the amount of violence we are facing.

The mental health crisis and response to these recent violent tragedies need to be approached differently. These events time and time again are proving how New York’s mental health care system continues to fail us. People who experience a mental health crisis are consistently labeled as evil and violent. In reality, the mental health crisis comes as a result of generations of racism, lack of resources, and limited accessibility to mental health support. We must understand the root of the mental health crisis and acknowledge that these people are in dire need of help. There is an urgent need for mental health professionals and elected officials to open their eyes and see the of importance just like they see the police. The police as first responders are responding to these people as threats, as they were trained to do, but it’s time to let mental health professionals intervene and respond to behavioral health issues, as they were trained to do.

Natalie Marino is a member of Young Invincibles-New York’s 2022 Spring Young Advocates Program.