Mentally ill man on roof sparks New Mexico mental health discussion

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A man who perched himself atop the roof of an East Central business in Albuquerque Wednesday and refused to get down for about 13 hours sparked a discussion about mental health in New Mexico.

The man wouldn’t come down despite officers encouraging him again and again. He started throwing things and vandalizing the property. Police had to shutdown Central.

Albuquerque PD says this isn’t their first run-in with this man, who suffers from a mental illness and it likely won’t be their last.

“Walk-in availability for the mentally ill is practically non-existent,” Marilyn Salzman said. “We have a lack of professionals, clinicians, a lack of beds to be sure.”

Salzman is referring to New Mexico’s mental health care availability. For either years, she has worked with a local affiliate of NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness and is the current ‘Westside’ area president.

“There have been more beds shutdown over the eight years that I’ve been with NAMI than I care to even let the public know,” she said. “And they cash in their mental health beds for beds that actually make money.”

She says our state doesn’t have adequate mental health care for those who need it, with only one state mental health hospital in Las Vegas that has limited space for only long-term patients.

This means people like the man on the roof Wednesday or another man who continues to threaten to jump off I-40 overpasses, aren’t getting the help they need from the state.

“The only thing we can do is put them in ambulance, take them down to Kaseman [Hospital], which is associated with Presbyterian, and the mandate is only a 72 hour-hold,” she said, adding that hardly anyone stays longer than they have to.

While reforming the mental health systems in our state lies in the hands of legislators, some of whom have attempted passing legislation to do just that, Salzman says we first have to stamp out the stigma associated with mental illness by education, support and advocating.

“Mental illness does not discriminate.” she said. “If you don’t educate yourself, you’re the one who discriminates.”

KRQE News 13 reached out to the Human Services Department for comment. A spokesperson replied with this statement:

Access to behavioral health services has expanded by 75 percent since 2013 – meaning more New Mexicans are receiving mental health and substance abuse services than ever before. And thanks to recent Centennial Care reforms, the Medicaid system is identifying patients’ needs sooner and better connecting them with proper care. Furthermore, New Mexico improved ten spots in Mental Health America’s rankings last year.” – Kyler Nerison, HSD spokesman

NAMI Westside phone number: 505-990-2292 provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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