She had a ‘History’ of Mental Illness

Photo of a Homeless woman sleeping on a mattress on Haight Street in San Francisco, November 22, 2016
A Homeless woman sleeps on a mattress on Haight Street in San Francisco, November 22, 2016

In 2005 a woman with a history of mental illness threw her three children into the Bay.

She was a single Mother living in a homeless shelter with her children.

She had chronic debilitating schizophrenia.

She told dozens of care providers that God was commanding her to
throw her baby’s to the sharks and no one intervened.

No one removed those children from her custody and no one saw the connection between her psychiatric decline, her refusal to take medication and the stress of trying to Mother three children without housing.

“Relatives of a mentally troubled woman from Oakland who reported hearing voices before she allegedly threw her three young sons into the bay to die said Thursday they had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Alameda County social service workers to help them gain custody of the children.

Members of the family of La-shuan Ternice Harris said they had argued that the 23-year-old woman was unstable and unfit to care for her boys — 6-year-old Trayshaun Harris, 2-year-old Taronta Greely Jr. and 16-month-old Joshua Greely.

They had given up trying by Wednesday, when Harris went to the home of a cousin and told her she was going to feed her children to the sharks.

The cousin tried frantically to prevent Harris from leaving for San Francisco with her boys, but she failed, relatives said. At 5:30 p.m., police said, Harris took the children to the end of Pier 7 along the Embarcadero, stripped them naked and threw them in the water.”

The San Francisco Gate

Bad law and public apathy murdered three children in San Francisco.

This was written 14 years ago:

San Francisco Chronicle
February 18, 2001

“California’s pathetic patchwork of services and outdated laws mock the magnitude of the problem.

‘We spend billions of dollars dealing with the consequences of mental illness rather than spending that money wisely on adequate services,’ the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight group, concluded in November.

Today, 50,000 or more Californians wander the streets homeless. One-third of them suffer from severe mental illness, according to various studies.


What’s legal is not always what’s moral.

More rom the article about Harris: “Her aunt, Joyce Harris of Oakland, said Thursday that Lashuan Harris’ mother had contacted Alameda County social services officials about three months ago to seek partial custody of the children because Harris had stopped taking medication for schizophrenia and had made threats regarding the boys.

“They said she was sane, that they couldn’t do anything,”

San Francicso Gate

In Californian, you’re sane if you can lie about how sick you are.

The law regarding mandatory treatment is a paradox for people with chronic and severe mental illnesses because it is designed to protect people who are merely eccentric from unnecessary mandatory commitment.

Our laws do not recognize ‘grey” when it comes to mental illness.

It does not make room for people who lose behavioral control even as they know that what they are doing is wrong.

What is the collective delusion that allows the public to continue to deny the utter failure of deinstitutionalization when the evidence of that failure is all around us and has been for nearly thirty years?

California’s Lanterman-Petris Short Act states that a person must be an “imminent” danger to himself or others.

Imminent means that without direct intervention by the state the patient will act on homicidal or suicidal impulses.

Imminent means a situation in which action to impose treatment over a person’s objection is immediately necessary for the preservation of life or the prevention of serious bodily harm to the patient or to others and it is impractical to first gain consent from the patient.”

As long as Lashuan Harris denies that she has an imminent plan to harm herself or her children she is completely sane under the Lanterman-Petris Short Act.

I don’t play politically correct word games when people’s lives are at stake.

I don’t believe that people with mental illnesses are no more violent than other people because reality does not bear that out.

Twice this week I was verbally abused and physically threatened by young men who were homeless, psychotic and in desperate need of treatment.

It’s more accurate to say that people with serious mental illnesses are no more violent than other people when they are in treatment.

The Lanterman-Petris Short Act is a stupid law that only benefits
for profit hospitals.

It’s cheaper for the Behavioral Health System when a ‘chronic’ goes to jail.

Loss of impulse control means just that.

The patient may not even know what she’s doing, or she believes that
because God tells her to do it, it’s right.

Losing one’s sense of reality is what it means to be psychotic.

I Googled the phrase “a history of mental illness’ and here are a few of the results I got, chosen at random:

$500k bond for mom accused of beheading infant daughter: Mar 20, 2015

Bond was set at $500,000 cash Friday for the mother accused of beheading her own 3-month-old baby.

“Less than two months ago, Watkins was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and prescribed the medication Risperdal, county court records show.  Caseworkers at Hamilton County Job and Family Services said they believe Watkins may not have been taking her medication. That could have led to delusional thinking and hallucinations.”


But they didn’t take away the baby.

Cops: Knife Wielding Killer Had A History Of Mental Illness Police say the man had a history of mental illness. Oct 29, 2014


Double Killer Sentenced To Death Had A History Of Mental Illness


Suspect in I-71 shooting has history of ‘mental illness and substance abuse,’ records show: Feb 2015

Machete-wielding New Orleans airport attacker dies: March 21st, 2015

“His family has been very cooperative. We have been able to determine that there is a mental illness component here.”

Report: Sandy Hook Shooter Adam Lanza Was Obsessed With Mass Shootings: Nov. 25, 2013.

The opening of the article about Adam Lanza is especially interesting:

“A new report released Monday paints a disturbing portrait of a lone gunman suffering from serious mental illness. The Connecticut State Police report, however, provides few clues about what motivated the 20-year-old shooter.”

A portrait emerges of someone with serious mental illness and the police don’t know why he did it.”


A portrait emerges of someone with a serious mental illness and the police don’t know why he did it?

Does that make sense to you?

This is sometimes called Mental Illness.

From Madness, Deinstitutionalization & Murder

Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was one of the truly remarkable public policy decisions of the 1960s and 1970s, and yet its full impact is barely recognized by most of the public. Partly this was because the changes did not happen overnight, but took place state-by-state over two decades, with no single national event. While homelessness received enormous public attention in the early 1980s, the news media’s reluctance to acknowledge the role that deinstitutionalization played in this human tragedy meant that the public safety connection was generally invisible to the public. The solution remains unclear, but recognizing the consequences of deinstitutionalization is the first step.

Madness, Deinstitutionalization & Murder

Deinstitutionalization is a dangerous failure.

While the solution to correcting the mistake of deinstitutionalization may ‘remain unclear’ there are steps we can take to rectify some of its consequences:

1. Loosen commitment requirements so that they reflect the reality of serious mental illness and the impact of untreated mental illness on behavior.

2. Re-open the long-term hospitals a harm reduction measure to protect patients and the public.

3. Provide oversight when hospitals are reopened to prevent the alleged abuses that prompted their closure.


RG 2015



Rosa Parks and the Power of No

In 1900, Montgomery, Alabama passed a city ordinance for the purpose of segregating bus passengers by race

Conductors had the power to assign seats to carry out that purpose; however, no passengers would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and there were no other seats available.

Over time Montgomery bus drivers adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move or stand for whites.

Blacks had the right to stay seated but they had no institutional support for exercising that right.

In the South, when Blacks asserted any of their rights under Federal law, the result was often arrest, beatings or murder.

When he (the driver) saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.” Rosa Park’s,

I walk to my therapist twice a week.

The walk is about five miles and takes me from the Fillmore District, through the Castro and into the Mission District.

Along the way I see what many people in San Francisco refer to as Reagan’s Children; ragged bundles of suffering, huddled on corners, under sheets, on concrete, shoving carts, some motionless under the glaring sun.

Homeless san Franciscan

I am no fan of Ronald Reagan but he left office 26 years ago.

The People of the United States have had ample time to correct his mistakes and we haven’t.

Reagan’s Children belong to all of us.

The summer of 2016 was brutal; bundles of suffering stood out against the sunlit backdrop of a rich and largely gentrified San Francisco; people sick with fatal illnesses sweltering in their filth on perfectly clean streets.

The mentally ill are not a race.

We are a class and we come in all colors.

We are men or women and all shades of gender between.

Many of us were once solidly middle class, some of us are vets, but some of us are simply people who have a genetic predisposition to illnesses that afflict an organ of the body called the brain.

The mental illnesses are the only illnesses in the United States that we systematically refuse to treat.

Just as blacks in Montgomery of 1958 complied with the absurd idea that as blacks they had to give up their seats to whites on a crowded city bus, we, the mentally ill, comply with the absurd idea that our suffering is our fault and that we must accept the punitive contempt that we receive from American culture as a result.

Most of us, weakened by shame and neglect, huddle under our rags and wait to die.

Homeless man


Governor Ronald Reagan signed California’s Lanterman–Petris–Short (LPS) Act into law in 1967 .

The idea was that the mentally ill be treated in the community and not locked away in State Hospitals for the rest of their lives.

In summary, the State cannot hospitalize a person without good cause. The State defines good cause as,

  1. An imminent danger to self: The person is an imminent threat to themselves due to mental disorder.
  2. An imminent danger to others: The person is an imminent threat to someone else due to mental disorder
  3. Gravely disabled

The State’s mental examination consists of three questions when a patient is ‘assessed’ for involuntary commitment:

  1. Will you hurt yourself? No
  2. Will you hurt someone else? No
  3. Can you feed yourself? Yes.

The text of the law that Reagan signed reads as follows:

To end the inappropriate, indefinite, and involuntary commitment of mentally disordered persons, people with developmental disabilities, and persons impaired by chronic alcoholism, and to eliminate legal disabilities;

To provide prompt evaluation and treatment of persons with serious mental disorders or impaired by chronic alcoholism;

To guarantee and protect public safety;

To safeguard individual rights through judicial review;

To provide individualized treatment, supervision, and placement services by a conservatorship program for gravely disabled persons;

To encourage the full use of all existing agencies, professional personnel and public funds to accomplish these objectives and to prevent duplication of services and unnecessary expenditures.

The fact the State meets none of these goals is rarely addressed
by our political leadership.

There is no prompt evaluation and treatment because there are no hospital beds or crisis clinics.

Patients in crisis are often turned away from the one understaffed and underfunded clinic that we do have in San Francisco and the most ill are branded “frequent flyers and turned away as a matter of course.

In other words, if you are so desperately ill that you need intensive psychiatric treatment then you are faking.

The stigma against serious mental illness is so ingrained in our culture that our mental health services reek of it.

Suicide claims the lives of 38,000 Americans a year — more than car accidents, prostate cancer or homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 90% of suicides are related to mental illness, says Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.”

On average, people with serious mental illness die up to 23 years sooner than other Americans.

The involuntary commitment and detention of people with mental illnesses is not ended; in fact, it is worse and more damaging because we go to jails and prisons and not to a hospital.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Reports: “In the United States there are now more than three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals. Looked at by individual states, in North Dakota there are approximately an equal number of mentally ill persons in jails and prisons compared to hospitals. By contrast, Arizona and Nevada have almost ten times more mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals. It is thus fact, not hyperbole, that America’s jails and prisons have become our new mental hospitals.”

“About 2 million people with mental illness go to jail every year, according to a 2013 study in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

In New York, the cost to keep one person in prison is $60,000 a year.”

The other piece of that story is that many of the mentally ill go
to prisons for profit.

Public safety is not guaranteed or protected:

“Five weeks before the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, the gunman, Aaron Alexis, told police that he was hearing voices and being bombarded by strangers with a microwave machine. If he had been transported to a psych ward, the shootings might never have happened.

“In 2007, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho was behaving so irrationally that a court ordered him to seek mental health care. The order was never carried out. Cho killed himself and 32 others.”

“Before James Holmes dressed up as the Joker and shot 70 people in a movie theater, campus police at the University of Colorado had been warned that he was potentially violent.”

CBS News

There is no individualized treatment and supervision.

Without adequately funded long-term hospitals we cannot give treatment to potentially violent or gravely disabled persons; In fact, our response to patients who are gravely disabled is to toss them into our nation’s gutters.

We, the mentally ill, have the right to prompt evaluation and individualized treatment but there is no institutional support for us to exercise these rights.

I always take the bus home from my therapist.

The 22 line cuts down 16th Street which runs from the Mission District into the Castro.

Last week I sat behind a young mother who had a five-year old on her lap.

He gazed out of the window and asked his mother about a man sleeping barefoot on cardboard.

“Mommy? Why is that man sleeping there?”

“He doesn’t have a home.”

“Why doesn’t he have a home?”

“He decided he doesn’t want one.”

“Why would he do that?”

It takes a child to question a decades old lie that people choose to live and die on our nation’s streets.

Homeless man

The people of the United States know that this must change.

But because those people who claim sound minds and bodies refuse to do what is right, people with mental illnesses must stand up and say no to this brutality.

We must do as Rosa Parks did.

“I did not want to be mistreated; I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.” Rosa Parks


(c) Rob Goldstein 2015-2017







Complexity of Mental Health: An Artists Collaboration with Robert M Goldstein & the Alternate (Personalities)

Kendall Person featured me on the Neighborhood last July.   I decided to reblog this link to introduce him as the next featured blogger on Art by Rob Goldstein.

Look for my interview with him on June 20th.

My gratitude to Kendall F. Person and to the many other fine artists who give to The Neighborhood.