A recent incident on a Pittsfield residential street was harrowing, though it could have been even worse.
A 25-year-old New York man was arrested last week after police say he crashed a stolen car into a tree on Dawes Avenue. The driver was allegedly chasing down a pedestrian, a 69-year-old woman who fortunately escaped without injury thanks to her own reflexes and a neighbor’s help.
Yet while tragedy was averted, it was also the product of a deeper disaster that continues to fester: a mental health epidemic invisibly infecting millions of Americans and affecting countless more around them.
According to eyewitnesses, the man exited the car after crashing and approached passersby; he was then tackled and held until police arrived.
When an officer questioned him, he was talking to himself and “not making sense of anything.” Later, his mother told police that he had suffered multiple mental health episodes in the past. A judge has ordered him to receive a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.
This should be an alarming exclamation point on a matter already flagged by mental health advocates and Eagle coverage alike: We are far from having the necessary resources and infrastructure in place to meaningfully respond to the nation’s mental health crisis in its myriad crippling forms — substance abuse disorders; skyrocketing anxiety and depression, particularly among youth; horrifying suicide rates.
As voters, officials, community stakeholders and fellow human beings, we must do everything reasonably possible to not just reduce the stigma of seeking help with these invisible wounds but build up the methods for healing them.
That means: more beds for addiction recovery and young people facing acute mental and emotional crises; substantive public investment in accessible behavioral care in community settings, where staffing is squeezed even as need surges; broader support for military veterans who face disproportionately high rates of suicide, addiction and homelessness.
These are easy things to call for and quite harder to achieve. They cost money and political will, and in some cases their prioritization unfortunately draws controversy. Nevertheless, we must prioritize them if we are to be able to honestly say we care about our neighbors.
During last week’s incident, a pedestrian being chased down escaped without injury when a Dawes Road resident, witnessing a moment of crisis, went out of his way to defend a neighbor.
Do we have the courage to follow that example and do something as more and more of our most vulnerable neighbors face crisis?
If we do, then perhaps instead of responding to a crisis like this one in the future, we might proactively prevent it.