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Subway perils and psychosis.

Most New York City subway riders tell interviewers that they regularly take measures to avoid being intentionally pushed onto the subway tracks. Although such incidents occur rarely, they have increased in frequency since 1986, and most of the offenders involved are psychotic and homeless, according to a report in the June ARCHIVES OF GENERAL PSYCHIATRY.

Transit police usually know which of the homeless mentally ill people who live in New York City's subway system commit crimes, assert psychologist Daniel A. Martell of New York University School of Medicine and psychiatrist Park Elliott Dietz of the University of California, Los Angeles. An outreach program run by the transit police finds alternative shelter for some of the homeless mentally ill who take refuge in the subway, but policymakers need to consider strategies for providing psychotic subway-dwellers with mental health care and hospitalization when needed, Martell and Dietz contend.

The researchers identified 36 individuals who, acting alone, pushed or attempted to push their victims--none of whom they knew--onto the subway tracks between 1975 and 1991. Of that number, 25 were referred for psychiatric evaluation and treatment, as was one gang member who pushed someone onto the tracks. Among those referred for psychiatric evaluation, the average annual number of offenses more than doubled--to 2.5 incidents per year--between 1986 and 1991, the scientists note. During that time, the annual frequency dropped markedly among offenders receiving no psychiatric evaluation.

Martell and Dietz located criminal and mental health records for 20 of the 26 offenders referred to psychiatrists. At the time of the offenses, 19 experienced psychotic symptoms--such as hearing voices that exhorted them to commit the crime--and 13 were homeless. Most offenders had a history of psychiatric hospitalization and several prior arrests and convictions, often for violent crimes.

Half of the offenders referred to psychiatrists had killed or seriously injured their victims, the researchers say.
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Title Annotation:avoiding psychotic abuse
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 4, 1992
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