Posted on March 9, 2011
Mental health concerns affect every segment of society. About 1 in 4 Americans will suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, and those numbers include people of every social stratum and occupation. At a February 2nd breakfast meeting, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. and prominent investor and philanthropist Vincent Mai spoke to 40 business leaders about innovative approaches to mental illness in their industries.
While on the campaign trail, Mr. Vance clearly prioritized establishing a mental health court in Manhattan; a year after taking office, he announced its imminent opening to the audience. This special court is offered to non-violent offenders who are referred by their families or attorneys and screened by mental health professionals. Participants must agree to plead guilty and will be sentenced to a 12 – 24-month treatment plan monitored by a mental health service provider. Upon successful completion of the plan, charges will be reduced or dismissed.
Mr. Vance espouses two principles that should guide decision-making in the criminal justice process - “Does it make the public safer?” and “Is it a fair result?” The current system of dealing with offenders with mental health problems fails on both criteria. The mental health court is intended reduce the number of people who cycle repeatedly through the criminal justice system without their underlying mental illness being addressed. Its goal is to intervene when people commit relatively minor offenses and refer them to the help they need.
Vincent Mai began his presentation on mental health in the workplace with some sobering statistics about the prevalence of mental illness and its debilitating effects on individuals and society. He identified two major issues that corporations must contend with in order to deal more effectively with these matters: confidentiality and insurance. Because mental illnesses are still heavily stigmatized, employees are reluctant to go to their superiors or to their company’s Human Resources Department. Meanwhile, if people do seek treatment, mental health insurance coverage is often limited. Mr. Mai called for CEOs and other executives to lead from the top down, to show that their companies are sensitive to issues surrounding mental illness and to let employees know that they should speak up – for themselves and for their co-workers.
The briefing was very well-received, generating a lively Q & A session and plans for future dialogues.