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There seems to be no end in sight to the alarming stories about the mental health crisis our country is facing. The problem has become so pervasive and so universal that mental health issues are cropping up everywhere — in schools, the workplace, courtrooms and hospital emergency rooms.

Lack of resources and treatment facilities, compounded by the negative stigma and the public’s limited understanding of such issues, have led to countless people not getting the help they desperately need. Many are falling through the proverbial cracks, often languishing in homelessness and addiction. And in some cases, acting out in the community and becoming regular fixtures in our courtrooms and prisons.

Such is the case of one Brattleboro man who has a long list of petty crimes going back several years. Most of the cases involve minor incidents, including disorderly conduct, trespassing, theft, and violating the conditions of his release. Late last year, he was deemed incompetent to stand trial. But beyond that, there is stark disagreement on the depth of his mental illness and what to do about it. Frustrated judges have been forced to release him back into the community without adequate supervision, only to have him back in the courtroom on yet another string of charges.

Two separate hearings this week focused on evaluations of this individual, and whether he could be treated in an outpatient setting or through inpatient hospitalization. Both screeners said he didn’t need to be hospitalized because he is not an immediate danger to himself or others. Tell that to the people who were traumatized by a strange man breaking into their homes in the middle of the night. The recommendations have frustrated judges and prosecutors alike. Two separate judges expressed incredulity over the evaluations, accusing the screeners of either bias or lack of credibility.

Just last week, this individual was released by the court on a non-hospitalization order by a judge who accurately predicted she would see him back in court in a matter of days. He was released from jail and placed into the care of Pathways Vermont, which provides support services to people struggling with homelessness and their mental health. But Pathways does not provide supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sure enough, less than a day later, Brattleboro Police issued a news release that this individual had broken into an Elliot Street home in the middle of the night. His attorney told the court that he suffers from schizophrenia and delusional thinking, and that the voices in his head told him the house was empty. Court testimony also revealed that the schizophrenia causes him to believe he is entitled to other people’s money.

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While no one has characterized any of his actions as violent, some people are understandably uneasy about his behavior, and there is growing concern that his habit of breaking into homes could provoke a violent reaction from a fearful homeowner.

His own mother seems just as frustrated as the judges. She told the Reformer that her son, Misbah, has struggled with his mental health since he was about 20, starting with “a psychotic break” in which he barricaded his door and wouldn’t let people in. That same year, apparently suffering from paranoia, he jumped from a moving car on Interstate 89 and suffered a brain injury, no doubt compounding his existing mental health issues.

His mother has spoken with representatives from the Vermont Department of Mental Health and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and said, “They have their excuses.”

“I think they’ve dropped the ball,” she told the Reformer. “There are many people living with mental illness that are not being treated properly. There are a lot of Misbahs out there.”

There have been some incremental efforts at the state and national level in recent years to address the mental health crisis, which has exploded exponentially since the COVID pandemic, but this progress is coming in inches. If we are going to make a serious dent in this crisis, we need to take much bolder steps to expand treatment facilities, start offering help to those at a younger age, and hire more mental health professionals and improve training for them and others on the front lines.

We need to do a better job of helping all the Misbahs out there.


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