During 2016, the Boston Globe published a seven-part Spotlight series titled, “The Desperate and the Dead” focusing on Massachusetts’ failed mental health care system. The failure led to a public safety crisis, including scores of murders by disturbed people, police shootings, and embattled institutions from courts to hospitals confronting a tidal wave of mentally ill people.  The series contains the following seven segments:

  • Families in Fear:  From 2005 through 2015, 10% of all homicides in Massachusetts in which a suspect is known were allegedly committed by people with a history of mental illness or clear symptoms. Many of those deaths might have been prevented had the killers received the mental health care they needed. Read about families in fear.
  • Police Confrontations: Police in Massachusetts are increasingly called on to respond to mental health emergencies. It is a role police were never meant to fill, and the mismatch leads to tragedy. Read about police confrontations.
  • Community Care: Governors, state legislators, and federal officials together cut hundreds of millions of dollars in mental health spending over the last 50 years. They stood by as community service providers withered and shrank, and as counseling, psychiatric prescribing, and other services grew harder to access.  Read about a timeline of a broken system.
  • Courts: Defendants with mental illness are much more likely to receive punishment than treatment, putting Massachusetts courts behind much of the country in addressing the mental health crisis. Read about courts.
  • Prisons: At least 30% of the 20,000 jail and prison inmates in Massachusetts suffer from mental illness, and far more struggle with addiction. Yet the state has cut spending on prison mental health care, ensuring most incarcerated men and women get minimal treatment. Many emerge from prison sicker than when they went in — and more likely to commit additional crimes. Read about prisons.
  • Homelessness: Chronically homeless people are often ignored by the public, living on the margins, many of them struggling with severe mental illness and addiction, discarded by a world that has given up on them.  Read about homelessness.
  • Solutions: Fifteen years after San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County, Texas, committed to fixing mental health care, they’ve built a treatment and jail diversion system that’s widely considered a national model. Massachusetts could learn a lot from San Antonio. Read about solutions.