The recent articles on the killing of a commuter at the Liberty State Park light rail station were disturbing on a number of levels, especially since the tragedy could have been prevented if the family of the perpetrator had gotten the right support in dealing with their mental health crisis.
Although it is most alarming that Michael Fuccile, 36, lost his life for no reason, it’s just as alarming that the father of alleged perpetrator Elgin Taylor, 24, said he had tried to get his son adequate psychiatric help and keep him on his medication, but was failed by a system that is supposed to prevent such tragedies. Sometimes, health care professionals will not listen to family members who are trying to get help and keep their relative hospitalized – until it is too late.
We, the Hudson County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-Hudson), have encountered many people who have tried desperately to help a mentally ill family member, and who didn’t know how to navigate what is a very complex system. It is hard enough to fight one’s way through the health care maze without having the added stress of mental illness in the mix.
The life of the alleged killer in this case may, in effect, be over right along with that of the victim, simply because young Taylor had an illness. Rather than allowing such people to be let out of hospitals before they are ready, and rather than quickly dismissing family members who need information and referrals, might we consider the higher costs of what happens to patients and those around them?
Family members are often between a rock and a hard place when trying to force their loved one – who is an adult with civil rights – to stay on their medication. It is a delicate balance to look at the rights of the individual and the rights of family members. However, we have seen many cases where family members ended up being discouraged or not being given sufficient advice by those in authority.
We at NAMI would like to reach out to families who are dealing with the complexities of mental illness, and let them know that we are here to support them and help them deal with these issues. These illnesses are treatable, but it is a constant battle.
We also would encourage the public (and professionals) to understand that mental disorders are illnesses like any others, although they may not always be as easy to identify; thus, using derogatory or dismissive terms for the mentally ill only exacerbates such a situation.
Perhaps if we listen more to the families of those who are suffering, we can better prevent tragedies like the one that occurred in Jersey City on Sept. 4.
Any family who wants support or information on NAMI is encouraged to e-mail the local chapter at NAMIhudsn@msn.com. We meet on the second Tuesday of each month in Jersey City for support. Or call the state office of NAMI, 732.940.0991.
NAMI Hudson County