A Question of Psychiatry
[Re "Committed," April 25]: I was disappointed by your willingness to accept the prevailing orthodoxy that forced hospitalization and medications are a panacea for people with psychiatric diagnoses. The scientific research reported in Robert Whitaker's book Anatomy of an Epidemic clearly demonstrates that popular notions about the nature of mental illness and the necessity and efficacy of psychiatric medications are not supported by the evidence. We should all question whether the power placed in the hands of the psychiatric establishment has done more harm than good.
What the article does well, however, is demonstrate how inadequate and underfunded the community supports in our mental health system are. It is unconscionable that our society should expect an untrained family member like the father in your story, no matter how well intentioned, to bear the sole burden of providing care and supervision for his severely disabled son in the midst of a psychiatric crisis.
One symptom of Vermont's mental health crisis is the unprecedented numbers of people detained in emergency departments without treatment or even access to such basic necessities as social interaction and access to the outdoors. The cause of this crisis is not delays in involuntary medications. No, it is the failure of the mental health system to address problems before they reach a crisis stage, to avoid hospital admission by getting people help where they live, and to provide readily available housing and supports when they are ready to leave the hospital that causes backlogs in psychiatric hospitals and emergency departments. Your article clearly illustrates the sad consequences of the inadequacy of our community system.
John J. McCullough III
McCullough is project director of the Mental Health Law Project at Vermont Legal Aid.
Beyond City Limits
[Re Off Message: "Some Councilors Cry Foul as Obeng Gets Residency Exemption," May 14]: Under the Burlington City Charter — which is something like a municipal-level constitution — certain city employees are required to live in Burlington. When a nonresident accepts such a position, the charter provides the substantial period of one full year to become a Burlington resident.
In the event that a year is not enough, the charter generously provides for a limited extension of the yearlong period at the discretion of the city council. The language describing the circumstances and the scope of such an extension reads as follows:
"In case of personal hardship found and declared to exist by the City Council with Mayor presiding, the time limit for an individual to become a legal voter of the City may be extended for a set period of time beyond one year."
The charter is very clear that an extension for hardship must be for a "set period of time." It bluntly suggests that any extension would be for less than a full year.
Clearly the charter does not contemplate never ever coming into compliance with this charter provision as even a remote possibility.
In its recent vote regarding the superintendent of schools and in other instances related to the charter's residency requirement, the city council has behaved as if it were above the law.
This is not the case unless the council and the people of Burlington choose to abandon the rule of law and pledge allegiance instead to whatever the city council determines to be permissible at the moment.
A Tree Lover Gets Realistic
I'm sitting down at the hacked-up tree body that was made into my desk to write that with Barbara Zucker's letter [Feedback: "Trees Are Telling," May 23], the mass hysteria over Burlington's trees has gone over the top. A tree cannot be felled brutally (or gently, for that matter) because a tree is not a conscious being. That's lucky for us, since we all live on land that was deforested to make our wooden houses filled with wooden furniture, books and papers, powered by our wood-burning electric plant.
As a tree lover and recent master's graduate of the University of Vermont's Field Naturalist program who has been involved in conservation work for years, I'm sure I would be crushed by the state of the Burlington College property if I had spent a lot of time there. However, our city has a housing problem, as well as many beautiful, protected natural areas. The alternative to concentrating development in an urban center is to spread it out over the surrounding land, which is far more disastrous for wildlife. (I don't hear anyone extolling sprawl, either.)
We're lucky to live in a city that values sustainability and green space as much as it does. We are far ahead of many other cities in the country in that respect. Just because our city officials allow some trees to be cut down (sometimes for the health of the remaining trees, as in City Hall Park) does not make them warmongers bent on destroying nature.
Substantiate Your 'Rumor'
[Re Off Message: "Walters: Holcombe Calls a Halt to Gubernatorial Speculation," May 28]: If Rebecca Holcombe's nascent candidacy was "more than just a rumor," as you claim by publishing a competitor's failed prediction, then what was it?
What, exactly, is "more than just a rumor"?
Apparently, Seven Days considers "more than just a rumor" published by a competing news outlet as plenty of grounds for an entire story of a noncandidacy based on that competitor's unconfirmed speculation.
If "more than just a rumor" suggests that this ex-education secretary actually was plotting to seek public office, then to let her off with a rehearsed statement and not subject her to questions is journalistic malpractice.
At the very least, you needed a line such as this: "Holcombe refused to respond to questions beyond a prepared statement."
Some of those questions would be:
"To what degree did you consider running for the Democratic nomination? Or were you considering a third party? Or neither?
"Why were you testing the waters, if you were? If you did, how did you try to gauge whether you had any public or financial support, or both? Were you serious, or was this a self-aggrandizing exercise?
"If you seriously considered running, what would have persuaded you to do it — concluding you actually had a chance?"