The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Forcing treatment isn’t the answer to psychiatric disabilities

People protest the police killing of Daniel Prude, on Sept. 6 in Rochester, N.Y.
People protest the police killing of Daniel Prude, on Sept. 6 in Rochester, N.Y. (Maranie R. Staab/AFP/Getty Images)

Another racially marginalized person with a psychiatric disability dies at the hands of law enforcement. But the most substantial barriers to mental health care are not those outlined in Sabah Muhammad’s Sept. 8 op-ed, “Being Black and mentally ill shouldn’t be a death sentence.” The chronic underfunding of the community-based system of mental health care is a significant problem. The failure of that system to provide culturally competent and relevant care is another. The failure to respect the human and civil rights of people labeled with a mental health diagnosis is the largest.

A system that relies on the legal authority to compel people to go to a psychiatric facility and be held against their will is complicit in the perpetration of violence against marginalized people. When the players in a system perceive someone as “dangerous” based on bias that reflects systemic racism, classism and ableism, the most marginalized people pay the price. We do not need to increase the ways in which people can be forced into treatment. We need to meet people where they are, and expand access to voluntary services and supports. The Gerstein Crisis Centre in Toronto provides a model.

Kathleen M. Flaherty, Middletown, Conn.

The writer is executive director of 
Connecticut Legal Rights Project.

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