This Op-Ed by yours truly appears in today’s issue of Florida Today.

President Trump’s recent State of the Union address covered a myriad of topics, all vital toward improving life, liberty and happiness in a world rife with poverty, violence, crime, terror and more. Absent from his to-do list was any mention about government’s role in dealing with the epidemic of serious mental illness.

     We blindly turn our backs to this tragic problem as though it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make a lot of noise. It gets little attention. There are no protesters or demonstrations. The media doesn’t cover the problems nor do bleeding heart groups. Politicians skirt the topic with a minimum of attention because mental health is not a priority and garners no political steam, left or right. Besides, it’s difficult to quantify. It makes no difference to any political base.

     The medical field does their part in numbing psychotic people with prescription medicines, which only works if the patient 1) does not abuse the drugs, 2) does not sell the drugs or 3) fails to take the drugs. But it does not solve and/or cure the illness. It’s a means of getting by.

     But it does impact social, economic and criminal issues from sea to shining sea. Mental illness is not partial or ignorant to any race, creed, gender, or ethnic division. It is omnipresent, behind convenient stores, in the bushes, in emergency rooms and autopsy trays. We, the people, do nothing until a crime is committed and then we relegate sick people to a prison cell for years.

     I could cite statistics galore, but that doesn’t get the message across to where government leaders should prepare to do something about it. For politicians, there is no payoff, especially in votes and power, and certainly not money. For starters, consider these facts cited by The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

  1. An average of 20 veterans die by suicide daily, or 720 per year.
  2. Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion per year in lost earnings.
  3. Over 20 percent of state prison inmates suffer from serious mental illness.
  4. 3.7 percent of adults in America suffer from schizophrenia or serious bi-polar disorders. If true, that equates to over 10 million adults.
  5. Over half of the 20 million adults who suffer from substance abuse are also mentally ill.

     Florida’s Baker Act intervenes when police are confronted with someone who appears dangerous to himself or others. But that’s just an overnighter to let folks calm down. When people have serious mental issues, a response like that is tantamount to applying band-aids to cancer.

     In the mid-1950s, roughly 558,000 people were confined to psychiatric hospitals in America. That was when our population stood at 165 million. Today, our population has nearly doubled to 328 million but there are less than 40 thousand patients in psychiatric institutions. The numbers are mind-boggling.

    Between U.S. Supreme Court rulings, advances in mood-control drugs and sheer ignorance from national leaders to the obvious, the crisis will only lead to more suicides, homelessness, wrecked families, mass shootings and more, because we refuse to acknowledge the obvious. Never mind the costs to taxpayers in treatment, welfare and prison cells.

     Extremely sick people suffering from serious psychoses do not belong in prisons, the backs of convenience stores and nearby scrublands. They are people who need meaningful treatment, as we would treat someone with a serious physical disease. They need to be protected from themselves. Instead, we wait for crimes to happen, then use jails and prisons as a treatment center for illness.

     I have experience with such matters. I worked 30 years in the streets of Miami-Dade, sixteen of those dealing with major crimes and mental health deficiencies. My own father died in a New York mental hospital in 1941. My son died last month in the back seat of a derelict car from an overdose of two powerful narcotics which a doctor had just prescribed for him.

     He wasn’t just a junkie. He had been dysfunctional his entire life.

     It’s a long, sad story. 


  1. Les February 11, 2019 at 10:06 am #

    Oh, Marshall and Suzanne, I am so sorry to learn of your son’s passing. My heart goes out to the both of you. I agree mental health needs to be addressed. Many people self-medicate to death because they cannot find peace from society. I get that. Dealing with the opioid crisis would go a long way to helping these people. My biggest concern is that our loony left wants to label as crazy anyone who dares to disagree with them. How many people will be locked up for an opposing opinion? Big Pharma is in the pocket of the elite who just want to keep making more money, and unless we stop them from prescribing, we will continue to have these problems. No easy answers.

  2. Peter Aydelotte February 11, 2019 at 10:07 am #

    Yes serious issues that are neglected. Bill Alsbury use to call me by all baker act calls, I calmly talked people down from aggresive behavior, Bill jokingly said, Pete is crazy and knows how to talk to these folks, LOL…. A dialogue needs to start and legislation passed in order to stop the insanity of shootings, suicides, and other antisocial disorders affecting our country.

  3. Steve Gure February 11, 2019 at 10:41 am #

    Here is the problem. While served in the NYPD 1963-83 we had to refer or bring all mentally disturbed people to so called experts in the hospital or other places.r Non of them were helped much less cured. In other words there were no realistic solutions. I wonder if things have changed?

  4. Helen February 11, 2019 at 10:53 am #

    So sad to read your column today. I am grieving for the loss of your son and also your father. We had a suicide in our family a couple of weeks ago by a drug addict who had spent most of his life in prison.

    My sympathy to you and to all the addicts and/or mentally ill.

  5. Charlie Greene February 11, 2019 at 10:55 am #

    I did read your column in today’s paper. My condolences for the recent loss of your son.
    When presented with the problems affecting our society today I’m reluctant to venture out of doors. But I can’t let it keep me behind closed doors 24 / 7.

  6. Terry Terril February 11, 2019 at 11:46 am #

    Marshall, my condolence to you and your family.

    Mental health issues range from mild to serious. What to do about them is more than complicated. That’s because there are no “cures.” Taking care of these people is very difficult, and getting someone to do it, even harder. The problemed person ends up abusing themselves, others, or getting abused by caretakers. No one, especially politicians, wants to try to solve a problem that has no “pleasant ending.

    Spent 25 years dealing with severely disturbed youth offenders for the State of Florida Dept of Youth Services. MA from University of Florida.

  7. Thomas J. Ault February 11, 2019 at 11:49 am #

    When I had a store in downtown St.Petersburg we had several mentally deficient people that spend most of their time close to the downtown park, where my store was. Many of us shop keepers “adopted” one or more of these folks, We saw to it they were fed, had clothing, and did all that we could to keep other “bad” guys from stealing from them. The favorite thing at the time was to wait until their monthly check would arrive, then persuade them to give the money to the “bad” guys or see to it all their food would be paid for by them. It was a shame that so many, at that time, were sent to Florida by their families who did not want to be shackled or embarrassed by them, knowing that the winter would not be too bad for them…You are right Marshall, our care for those that cannot do for themselves is discouraging and sometimes infuriating.

  8. Erle Grubb February 11, 2019 at 12:42 pm #

    Every step toward solving the problem of addiction is meaningful and necessary. Thank you for publishing how this has affected you personally and, in doing so, moving closer to finding a solution.

  9. Gail February 11, 2019 at 2:43 pm #

    This is so very sad. This hurts so many, so intimately, so lastingly.

  10. Alan O February 11, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

    My condolences Marshall. It is a terrible reflection on our country to not address the

    condition of mental health In the richest and most educated country in the world we

    should do more. Firstly by looking at countries that have more successful outcomes

    by addressing all the many factors and stages that make up each category and phase

    periods individuals experience.

    In the USA EVERY FAMILY that is impacted and their friends should be writing or

    texting their congressman and texting or tweeting TRUMP once a month asking for

    more to be done to help those whose mental heath could be improved and better still

    come back into a happier and contributing life style.

  11. Jose February 11, 2019 at 3:20 pm #

    I am so sorry to hear of your son. I too have experienced mental health tragedies within my family and share your frustration in our general lack of concern and treatment. I hate to make any of this a political problem, but as you point out, it is a huge political issue.

    I am a Reagan Republican, so please don’t make me out as a wild liberal. Overall health care, especially mental health care, is a political nightmare. The Dems are accused of wanting to go to some form of universal socialized medical care run by the government. We certainly don’t want that. So, as counter, guess what the GOP wants to do and has done? NOTHING, nothing and they have had control for some time. So, what can we expect to be done about the mental health problem. NOTHING!

    We cant get bipartisan agreement on anything, so nothing is going to be done in our government. The White House is absent leadership of any kind, so we can’t expect anything useful to flow from that level of government. so, sad stories like yours and mine will continue. We control the White House and the Senate. Why can’t we get some leadership on this critical issue???????

  12. Dean & Cindy Homan February 11, 2019 at 3:35 pm #

    Very sorry to hear about your son Marshall, our sincere condolences.

  13. Jan Siren February 11, 2019 at 5:17 pm #


    my sincere condolances for your loss. Having seen the insides of those “warehouses,” where incessant yells of “You’re gonna die!” echo down the long hallways, I wonder how anyone ever thought that environment was conducive to recovery. Medications seemed to have accomplished little more than to allow inmates to sit placidly in dayrooms until the effect of the drug wore off. Are medications better now than a generation ago?


  14. Eileen February 11, 2019 at 5:49 pm #

    I’m so sorry to hear about your son, Marshall. I totally agree with you regarding the lack of attention mental health gets in our society. In fact, I think mental health needs to be taught in schools, on all levels of education, from elementary school through high school, including mandatory group sessions for all students. Mental health education and therapy gives us an outlet to express deep-seated issues that lead to all sorts of physical, mental and emotional disorders and also, unfortunately, early death. My heart goes out to you and Suzanne.

  15. Mike Carr February 11, 2019 at 6:31 pm #

    Shipmate. So sorry to read. I personally had to deal my demons a number of years ago. Fortunately I was able to get the necessary help from the WPB VA Hospital. I was very blessed to have my VA and military health care cover all the costs. People not suffering from depression haven’t a clue the pain encountered by the patient.

  16. Katie Kunsman February 11, 2019 at 7:30 pm #

    Sorry for your loss, Marshall. I, too, have had a mentally ill family member. There’s just no magic pill.

  17. Betty Lou February 11, 2019 at 8:05 pm #

    I agree with your article whole heartedly.

    I grew up in a little town in upstate New York that had a huge campus with over 5,000 patients  across the street from my home in Willard, N.Y.   Willard State Hospital  was self sufficient with it’s own Fire Station, Security, farm, etc.  In those days it was commonly referred to as an insane asylum.

    My father was in charge of a large recreational facility that provided entertainment, religious services, etc.  for the patients.  My grandparents worked there as almost most of the people in the town and county.  I came into contact with many of the patients  through the recreational facility.  My Grandmother, after she retired, I would go with her to visit her colleagues.  After 44 years working there my Grandfather ended his life there  as a patient with dementia  and an inability to stand or move about  without losing his balance.  I had friends who had relatives who went there as outpatients to receive electric shock treatment or in some instances had stays at the facility.

    There were, also, many patients that were sent there by their rich relatives, usually from New York City, to hide there disabilities like deafness, or deformity that made them less then perfect to fit into their quote, “family”.  My Grandmother told me many stories that would break your heart.  She started working there in 1918.   These people were not mentally ill.  Some did lose it because of the environment or the fact that they were trapped.    There are hundreds of  graves marked, only, by a number.  There has been an advocate group trying the last several years  to get the state of New York to identify who is buried there in order to reach out to families.  

    It was opened in 1869.  I can only imagine the  horrors that occurred before better methods were used to help them and as you so aptly pointed out we are still behind the eighth ball in treating mental health issues.

    The hospital was closed down many years ago and has become a drug rebab facility surrounded, now, with high fences and barb wire.   They did have a fence surrounding the property but they were not high nor had barb wire around the top. I don’t  know is that normal around a rehab facility?

  18. Jack Milavic February 11, 2019 at 8:49 pm #


    Your article was excellent.

  19. Madeline Pearson February 11, 2019 at 9:35 pm #

    My condolences on the loss of your son. Your articles are always great. A shame that you have to be writing about such a personal issue.

  20. Pat Sutliffe February 13, 2019 at 9:08 am #

    So sorry to hear of the loss of your son, and you are absolutely right about the mentally ill who get neglected so badly. We do need to work on those people. They do need our help.

    Thanks for bringing all that out!

  21. freewoman February 13, 2019 at 12:40 pm #

    My sincere condolences to you, Marshall Frank, and to your family on the loss of your son.
    Would also like to extend my heartfelt sympathy to the many of your readers who have experienced the pain of dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues.

    Found myself very angry considering that we, as a nation, are failing to pay attention to this NATIONAL CRISIS
    while back at the ranch the chief focus is on the “crisis” of building “a big, fat, beautiful wall!” even though
    “In President Donald Trump’s first full year in office, the apprehensions declined by 43 percent, from calendar year 2016 to 2017. https://www.factcheck.org/2018/06/illegal-immigration-statistics/

    The budget is an important signal of the administration’s priorities.
    • Adds $5 billion over the next five years to combat the opioid epidemic, a fraction of what experts say is needed. (The money is part of $10 billion in government funding for substance abuse and mental health requested in the budget.)

    The current priority has become spending $5.7 billion a wall and unless we do so, we are threatened with another shutdown of our government.
    “You cannot take a shutdown off the table and you cannot take $5.7b off the table,” Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, said on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.
    It’s all good and well for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to suggest that unpaid workers in the event of a shutdown take out a bridge loan to “feed their families” but he fails to mention how they (or the small business owners who pay for their employees medical insurance) should deal with paying their monthly medical insurance premiums. Take out another loan?

    $5.7 billion for building a wall – an addition of $5 billion over the next five years to combat the opioid epidemic, a fraction of what experts say is needed – part of the $10 billion in government funding for substance abuse and mental health requested in the budget..

    “Well, either you’re closing your eyes
    To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
    Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated

    Ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
    I say, trouble right here in River City.” Robert Preston

    This from one who Les would probably consider being one of the “loony left”:

    “If I don’t get another chance to say this, I just want to say I’m so proud to be a part of a movie that addresses mental health issues. They’re so important,” she said at the mic. “A lot of artists deal with that. And we gotta take care of each other. So if you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away. And if you’re hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody and take them up in your head with you.”
    Gaga has long used her platform to raise awareness about mental health issues. “When I speak about mental health, especially when I’m speaking about mine, it is often met with quietness. Or maybe, a somber line of fans, waiting outside to whisper to me in the shadows about their darkest secrets. We need to bring mental health into the light,” she said at the Patron of the Artists Award in November.

  22. Helen R. Frigo February 14, 2019 at 1:16 pm #

    We are so sorry, Marshall, that you have lost your son. Thank you for continuing to
    write and speak out about mental health issues. I know it is hard work. I hope
    the Stuart News continues to print your articles. Back when FL Republicans refused to
    accept $5 Billion a year from the Feds to expand Medicare, I remember reading that many
    high tech medical jobs would be created, and I think, there were more expenditures for
    mental health care. I read that the Republicans in charge now, are determined to reduce
    Medicaid expenditures? Will that reduce funding for mental health issues? I hope you will use your influence and power of the pen to find out what is going on, and let us know.
    Please do not give up. Thank you

  23. freewoman February 15, 2019 at 11:24 pm #

    Suspect that a good many of Marshall Franks readers are senior citizens, as I am, but in view of the following can only hope that we have not all become so totally incapacitated that we can no longer stand up for doing the right thing and leaving it to our children and grandchildren to resolve our current chief problem.

    trump says he ‘didn’t need to’ declare national emergency but wants to get the border wall ‘done faster’

    We need to make our voices heard and make it clear that we need to resolve our current mental health and substance abuse problems DONE FASTER.

  24. Jose February 16, 2019 at 8:54 am #

    Agree! We need a powerful movement that will pressure the Trump-GOP into taking joint action with the Dems. Alone, Trump will do nothing and the GOP has no interest in health concerns. Hannity, Russ and Ann have got to be educated in the urgency for Trump step up!
    I admire Marshall for his courage and wish we had more like him to bring this problem into our national priority.

  25. Jane February 19, 2019 at 4:14 pm #

    Thank you for your commentary on one of the important things missing from the President’s SOTU address. I have clipped the article from Florida Today for future reference. It will be a happy day when mental illness is treated as respectfully as physical illness. 

    Please accept my condolences on  the loss of your son. Suzanne told me that was the reason you were not at the symphony in January. I hope you can attain peace regarding your loss.  Hopefully, the trend to recognize and do something about mental illness and drugs is on its way up. Mental illness cannot continue to be ignored. What you are doing by writing about it is one step closer to better public awareness and eventually better legislation for treatment of mental illnesses. 

    My daughter is on disability for mental illness. My granddaughter at age thirteen is depressed and on medication. I daresay most families either have or know someone who is suffering from some type of a mental disorder. We need to help these people. 

    Again, I am so sorry upon the loss of your son. I look forward to seeing you and Suzanne at concerts on the river. This is the inspiration to a positive future. We have to keep looking up.

  26. Ed Hensley February 24, 2019 at 11:48 pm #

    Deepest condolence Marshall & Suzanne on your son Bennett’s
    passing, from an OD of prescribed opiates.. I just now read this.
    No time or cause for parents to bury a child, from miscarriage to
    middle or old age is anything less than devastating.

    R.I.P. Bennett A. Frank. I hope & pray your dad Marshall, will
    find some small comfort from this excellent op ed.

    I have two dreams. 1: That there will come a time in America &
    the civilized world that the stigma from seeking help for mental
    illness shall be no greater than seeking treatment for cancer or
    any other physical disease. I am 80 & do not realistically think
    I shall live to see that day. 2. That the 4 siblings of a young
    Marine Veteran, who committed suicide a year ago tomorrow
    shall see that day & I predict that one or more of them shall
    be instrumental in helping to cause this humane light to shine
    on America.

    I have registered with NAMI, will likely join NAMI & will in any
    event be encouraging this family to look seriously at both NAMI
    and the Compassionate Friends.

    Yes Marshall, It’s a long sad story and is likely to get worse for
    America before it get’s better. May the universal spirit of love
    hover over both you, Suzanne & all your family.