People who routinely deal with Seriously Mentally Ill (SMI) friends and family overwhelmingly favor Laura’s Law, which makes it possible for a judge to order professional assistance for mentally ill people who otherwise wouldn’t accept help. Many studies have shown that Laura’s Law is both cost-effective and successful in reducing the harm caused when mentally ill people refuse assistance.
Given the preponderance of such studies, Stanislaus County’s decision to hire a consulting service to study effects of Laura’s Law was puzzling, unless one sees the decision as a means of avoiding or delaying implementation. And sure enough, the consultants decided there was insufficient evidence to show true benefits from Laura’s Law.
According to The Results Group, “there is inconclusive evidence that Laura’s Law has been successful in other counties.” But The Results Group’s findings were immediately challenged by DJ Jaffe, Executive Director of the Mental Illness Policy Org.* An internationally known expert on mental illness, Jaffe works closely with Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder and executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute. Both men are strong supporters of Laura’s Law.
Comparing Jaffe’s rebuttal with The Results Group study is like comparing a post-graduate thesis to a freshman essay. Jaffe’s informed background immediately enabled him to recognize gross omissions by The Results Group, especially of documented patient success under Laura’s Law. He also recognized the fundamental flaw behind the study itself: The claim by The Results Group that voluntary help can be as successful as court-ordered help completely ignores the reality that voluntary help is impossible when the person in need refuses to accept it.
Aside from the reams of research showing the effectiveness of Laura’s Law and similar statutes, there is the moving testimony of all the people who have given every resource they have in futile attempts to help their friends and loved ones who deal with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and deep depression. Failing to listen to them is a failure to listen to people who know best.
Stanislaus County Supervisors, who must decide whether or not to implement Laura’s Law, should reflect on the recent and almost unspeakable tragedy that befell the family of local businessman Hannibal Yadegar. Yadegar’s wife, Evin, was shot in Ripon by a Stanislaus County Sheriff during a manic episode featuring reckless driving.
Yadegar is the proprietor of downtown Modesto’s “Barkin’ Dog” restaurant, a popular gathering place for food lovers, artists, musicians, and poets. Yadegar’s despair at the death of his wife pierced the hearts of everyone who knew this exemplary man and his talented wife:
“…the bottom line is this woman was ill,” he said. “She was not well. Unfortunately, being downtown, I see this all the time with the mentally ill who are homeless. We don’t understand it so we kick them to the curb, and this is what happened to my wife. And she paid with her life, and it did not need to happen.”
Yadegar said his wife suffered from bipolar disorder and had stopped taking her medication. It was a familiar story to anyone who’s ever tried to help an SMI friend or family member.
Authorities unable to empathize with Hannibal Yadegar and the scores of other people who suffer grievously from our ongoing failure to understand mental illness need to check their consciences. How many more tragedies will it take before we learn to listen to the people who know best?
*An earlier version of this post misidentified Mr. Jaffe’s title. See comments below.