2004-02-13 / Community

A Report On Mental Health In the Rockaways

Part Four Of A Five-Part Series
By Brendan Brosh

One of the most alarming statistics reported in the NYC Department of Health’s recent overview is that the Rockaways have nearly twice the city rate of mentally ill people. While the city averages 671 mentally ill people per 100,000, the Rockaways have 1,307 cases of mental illness per 100,000.

According to the 2000 NYC Depart ment of Health statistics, adults 65 and older were three and a half times more likely to be hospitalized for mental disorders than the city average.

Some of the more common mental illnesses in the Rockaways are schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s; affective disorders such as depression, bipolar, se vere anxiety, obsessive compulsive; delusion and psychosis.

People with significant emotional distress also "have more chronic conditions that put them at risk for early death, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, asthma and diabetes," according to an August 2003 NYC Department of Health publication.

While the recent revelations are alarming, some local health care providers believe that the statistics are flawed and don’t tell the complete story.

"In a nutshell, the Rockaways have more potential recipients of mental health care than most parts of the city," says Altamease Middleton-Clay, Program Director of Vocational Services and Day Treatment at Transitional Services.

Dr. Ronald Brenner, Chairman of the Psychiatry at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital agrees. "The concentration of adult homes in the Rockaways is very disproportionate. We may have more than in the City of New York."

Brenner believes the amount of mental health care recipients in the Rockaways is "largely imported from other places."

In the 1970’s, state hospitals began a systematic program of discharging mentally ill people and placing them in long-term facilities and adult homes. With 25 adult homes, a lot of those discharged patients found their way into the Rockaways.

"If we took away the adult homes, then we’d have a more reliable statistic on the mental health of the Rockaways," says Brenner.

Another factor that may skew the statistics is that St. John’s Psychiatric Ward is considered one of the best in the city, and people travel to the Rockaways to receive treatment there.


While there are many mentally ill people in the Rockaways, Transitional Services is working to help them become productive members of society through employment. The organization connects mentally ill people with meaningful employment through its vocational program. Recently, however, Transitional Services is finding it increasingly difficult to match its recipients with employers.

"Unfortunately when the economy takes a downturn, it becomes hard to find employment, and with our recipients it becomes that much tougher," says Middleton-Clay.

Successful recipients can find work in the food services industry and even as office assistants.

Middleton-Clay also believes that continuity of care to be one of the most important aspects of mental health treatment. "It’s very important that if a person drops out of service, they are connected with any provider as soon as possible," says Middleton-Clay.

New Medicine

Brenner is optimistic about recent advancements in prescription drugs for mental illness. "We have an array of new medications with less side effects," says Brenner. "These drugs leave the patient in much better control of their symptoms."

Anyone can be affected and Brenner is quick to note, "mental illness does not recognize race, religion or gender."

Ultimately, with new treatments, dedicated service providers and innovative rehabilitation programs, Rock away’s mentally ill have hope.

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