Loose Screws Mental Health News

In the wake of the Newtown, CT shooting, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre called for a national registry of those who are mentally ill. According to the Washington Post, the federal government does not possess the constitutional authority “to require state agencies to report data.” All the federal government can do is either offer or withhold funding, as it did in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech Shooting when it provided additional funding for state governments that shared 90 percent of their mental health records. But it seems that 38 states already maintain an active database that “require or authorize the use of” mental health records during gun background checks. And the Gun Control Act of 1968 does not allow sales of firearms to people who have been institutionalized or considered to be mentally “defective.”

For the purpose of firearms sales, I support the idea of maintaining a database of people who have been institutionalized. This could prevent a person from being a harm to himself or to others. I speak as a person who has been institutionalized for being a harm to herself more than once. If I’d had access to a firearm, I wouldn’t be here right now. There may be many others who are in the same boat.


The New York Times reported on mental health coverage through insurance. In any given year, 26 percent of adults have a mental disorder, and 6 percent of adults have a mental illness that prevents them from functioning, according to the NIMH. In addition, 21 percent of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 undergo a “severe emotional disturbance.” But it seems as though 85 percent of employers offer some kind of mental health coverage through insurance, and 84 percent of employers with more than 500 employees allowed access to in-network and out-of-network mental health treatment. Beginning in 2014, insurance plans will be required to cover mental health disorders as part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The New York Times notes that many psychiatrists, however, don’t accept insurance:

Plenty of psychiatrists in private practice accept no insurance at all, though it is not clear how many; their professional organizations claim to have no recent or decent data on the percentage of people in private practice who take cash on the barrelhead, write people a receipt and send them off to their insurance company to request out-of-network reimbursement if they have any at all.

My psychiatrist does not accept insurance. He writes me a receipt, and I am to seek out-of-network reimbursement, a claim that has been repeatedly rejected by my insurance. The NYT is right on the money in this instance. But I am happy with my psychiatrist and would rather pay out of pocket for him without reimbursement than to find another psychiatrist who is in network.


According to the San Francisco Chronicle, California is ahead of every other state in covering mental health services with public money. But as always, there are critics who say California does not go far enough, even though in 2004, California voters approved Proposition 63 that funnels $1 billion annually for mental health services by taxing the state’s highest earners. But funding is being cut, not just in California but also nationally, according to NAMI.

Overall, California cut $768 million from its state mental health services outlay during the past three fiscal years, according to a November 2011 report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. California’s 21 percent reduction in mental health funding over that period is the seventh-highest among all states.

Nationally, states cut more than $1.6 billion in general funds from their state mental health agency budgets for mental health services since 2009, according to the 2011 report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

I’m not sure what can be done to stop funding cuts of mental health services when state budgets are slashing services across the board.


And finally, according to NY1 News, New York City Mayor Bloomberg has announced an initiative to get mentally ill people out of jail and into treatment facilities. The mayor’s office estimates that 36 percent of inmates suffer from some kind of mental disorder. The city initiative will attempt to “reduce incarceration rates, improve jail safety, and lower crime.”

Golden Gate Bridge Barrier Update

The San Francisco Chronicle’s site has an update on the GGB barrier debate. Unfortunately, most people don’t want any kind of barrier at all. However, of the design options, the net is proving to be the most popular. Likely because it doesn’t affect the aesthetics of the bridge by much and it is still considered a suicide prevention mechanism.

Golden Gate Bridge net barrierI’d initially cited concerns about how jumpers would be pulled out of the net. Rachael Gordon, the Chronicle’s staff writer, got chief engineer Denis Mulligan to provide an answer:

For starters, he said, once someone jumps over the Art Deco span’s 4-foot railing, it could take rescuers several hours to get to the scene to retrieve the person from the net, which essentially would envelop the person and make it difficult but still possible to clamber out.

“It wouldn’t be like a trampoline, that once you jump onto, it would be easy to jump off,” Mulligan said. But, he added, “If you’re very agile, very strong and focused, you may be able to climb out.”

I hope it’s as hard to climb out of as Mulligan cites. Just the wait to be rescued alone might get jumpers to think twice about trying again. But here’s the process in more detail:

During a rescue operation from the net, authorities would shut down a lane of traffic. A specialized vehicle, called a “snooper” truck, would be brought in. Outfitted with a mechanical arm similar to a cherry picker used by utility crews, two specially trained rescue workers would be lowered down to the net in a bucket to pull the person out.

Authorities said they would have to convince pranksters and daredevils that jumping into the net would not be a pleasant experience.

“It would hurt,” Mulligan said of the 20-foot drop into a net made out of marine-grade stainless steel coated in plastic.

This article also uses another bridge — a former suicide hotspot — as an example to show that suicides can be prevented.

In Switzerland, researchers found that just the presence of the net stopped people from even trying to jump off the Munster Terrace, a medieval cathedral located in the old section of Bern, from which two or three people had been leaping to their deaths every year. They also found that the net did not shift suicides to other locations.

And that the implementation of barriers in other places have also proven successful:

Other well-known jump spots, among them the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York City, were long ago outfitted with suicide barriers. Like the net attached to the Gothic cathedral in Bern, studies have shown them effective in thwarting impulsive suicide attempts.

I’m not so idealistic to think barriers will keep suicidal people from committing suicide. Rather, I think they’re worth erecting for “thwarting impulsive suicide attempts.” Who knows how many people are still alive as a result?


The general public is welcome to vote for a barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge and provide additional comments (ie, you don’t need to be from California or San Francisco). Visit the Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Deterrent Barrier site to make your opinion known on this issue.

Pick a number: 20 or 9,000,000

20 people annually or 9,000,000 people annually.

Golden Gate BridgeThose are the numbers that the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB) Board of Directors will need to choose between in October.

GGB officials are considering a proposal to erect suicide barriers on the bridge. Public forums were held on Tuesday and Wednesday to gauge public reaction to the five options designed to deter suicides. The cost of erecting one of the barriers is estimated between $40–50 million.

Bridge officials have been culling comments about the barriers at the forums and through the site Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Deterrent Barrier. As of Wednesday, July 23, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

[O]f the more than 900 tallied so far, an overwhelming 75 percent of the respondents said they prefer that no barrier be built at all. But a small, passionate group of proponents – many of them family
members of people who jumped to their deaths from the bridge – insist a barrier is needed. Any barrier.

“Overwhelming 75 percent” prefer no barrier? That’s not good.

Opponents of the barriers say it will ruin the aesthetic view of the bridge for the yearly estimated 9 million visitors.

I stumbled upon a blog, Bookworm Room, yesterday that brought the issue to my attention. This blogger likely represents the sentiment of the “overwhelming 75 percent.”

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