To transit riders, not much is scarier than stories of subway attacks like the one that occurred last week in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, when a young woman waiting at an underground subway platform was beaten and thrown onto the train tracks.
The woman survived — she managed to avoid the high-voltage third rail and climb to safety, suffering only minor injuries — and the attacker was arrested on Thursday thanks to surveillance footage that allowed police to recognize him.
Yet with the Philly incident coming just weeks after two random, fatal attacks on New York City subway platforms, a conversation has begun about not only transit safety, but another factor common to each attack: mental illness.
In one of the New York killings, a woman charged with the fatal push has a long history of psychiatric illness, including a record of violent acts that had landed her in mental health facilities throughout the years. The suspect in the other New York subway murder reportedly suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.
In Philadelphia too, the suspect is believed to struggle with mental illness.
“It doesn’t appear the suspect knew the victim and investigators believe he may have mental health issues,” SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel told reporters in a public statement.
According to the National Survey on Drugs and Health, approximately 5 percent of Americans deal with serious mental illness and 58.7 percent of adults receive treatment for mental health issues. And some experts argue failure to provide adequate mental health service can lead to further crime.
“We’re concerned that those who aren’t receiving the mental health services they need are ending up in jails and prison, costing the state money in their corrections budget,” Sarah Steverman, director of state policy for Mental Health America, told the Huffington Post last fall.
In the past, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has come under fire for cutting mental health programs. Last year, he slashed funding for human services — which includes funding for people with mental disabilities, as well as alcohol and substance addictions — by 10 percent. The budget cuts led to layoffs, reduced hours and expanded waiting lists for services, the United Way of Pennsylvania found.
But in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, Corbett (and many local politicians around the country) felt mounting pressure to take action on mental health policy.
“Properly funded treatment for mental illness and addiction is not a luxury,” state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo said in a press release that called for restoring mental health services cut from the state budget this year. “To the contrary, waiting lists for this type of help around the Commonwealth grow each and every day.”
Corbett’s state budget proposal for 2013-2014, schedule to go into effect on February 5, will have a $20 million dollar increase for mental health services.