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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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Antisocial behavior has reached pandemic levels. Disruptive airline passengers are punching flight attendants. Thugs are attacking Asians, gays and other minority groups. Criminals have grown more brazen in bringing violence to the streets and into American politics as seen in the savage invasion of the Capitol on January 6.

Mental illness clearly underlies a lot of these disturbing trends, with the cracks widening during the COVID-19 scourge. The pandemic deprived many of community, personal interaction and, for those on the edge of psychic breakdown, the in-person mental health services they relied on or need.

America's system for supporting good mental health has never been strong to begin with. The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act did help expand coverage, but getting insurance to pay for treatment of serious psychiatric problems remains problematic.

And the need has risen. From March through October of last year, hospital emergency rooms saw a surge of patients seeking urgent mental care, according to JAMA Psychiatry. The numbers were far lower in the same months of 2019, right before the pandemic hit. The crises ranged from suicide attempts to drug and opioid overdoses to abuse of partners and children.

Last year, a third of American adults displayed symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was up from 11 percent in previous years.

Many of the Capitol insurrectionists had a history of mental illness and related social dysfunction. We made fun of several.

Eric Munchel of Nashville, Tennessee, who brought restraints police use on hands, legs and arms to the Capitol, was dubbed the "zip-tie guy."

Actually, Munchel had been charged with assaulting a man and woman in 2013. Recently fired from his job at a bar, he entered the Capitol costumed in paramilitary gear, his mother at his side.

Sean McHugh of Auburn, California, who attacked Capitol police with chemical spray, had accused the officers of "protecting pedophiles." McHugh, it turns out, had done jail time for statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl.

It was thought at first that Rosanne Boyland had been crushed to death in the rush of stampeding vandals, but the medical examiner concluded that the Georgia resident died from an overdose of amphetamines. Boyland had a history of drug use, including a charge of felony drug possession. The pandemic cut off her in-person group meetings of addicts.

When you look at some of the creeps who had been attacking Asians, you find something more than the usual racial animus. The homeless man seen viciously stomping on a 65-year-old woman of Filipino origin in New York was on parole for having killed his mother in front of his five year-old sister.

Another homeless man with 90 prior arrests was charged with slashing a gay man. Both the criminal and the victim were Latino.

You see madness in the faces of airline passengers throwing tantrums over demands that they wear masks. Videos show the protesters, usually women, making noisy and self-righteous stands for their right to break the rules. No matter how normally these disrupters dress, they radiate the look of the unhinged.

The mission here isn't to solve the dearth of psychiatric services for those barely hanging on. Others can better do that. Rather, it's to note that fragile psyches often lie beneath the growth of appalling behavior. And a society in the grips of fraying social ties is going to suffer more of it.

We now have an evil mix of social isolation and extremist rhetoric that some use to confer an air of respectability to their delusions. The social services that keep the mentally unbalanced in check need to be strengthened — and soon.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com

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New York Stock Exchange

The CEO of Morgan Stanley wants all the boys and girls back in the financial giant's Times Square office by Labor Day. "If you can go to a restaurant in New York City," James Gorman told them, "you can come into the office. And we want you in the office."

Gorman added: "If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York. None of this 'I'm in Colorado ... and getting paid like I'm sitting in New York City." Clearly, the time employees may happily Zoom in from a lakeside cabin or suburban sunroom is drawing to a close.

This is a sentiment less colorfully shared by other captains of Wall Street finance, where group effort is often required.

"Having worked in the industry for 25 years," James Davies, a top Deutsche Bank executive said, "it was somewhat strange to walk onto the trading floor ... and see, you know, I guess six to 10 people here, versus the hundreds we would normally have." He wants them back, too.

Say what you want about Wall Street bosses, they're refreshingly uninterested in indulging the preferences or prejudices of their high-paid workers. It should thus surprise no one that they'd insist that the returnees are vaccinated against the coronavirus.

They're not heartless. Gorman says those who don't want the vaccine for genuine health or religious reasons will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Arguing that you don't want the shot because Tucker Carlson says it is dangerous, however, will not work.

It takes less of a mental leap to understand why hospital staff would also be told, no jab, no job. That didn't stop a nurse from becoming lead plaintiff in an unsuccessful suit against her employer, Houston Methodist Hospital, for firing workers who refuse to be vaccinated. Jennifer Bridges claimed she was being asked to become a "human guinea pig."

The Texas federal judge who rejected her case stated the obvious: "Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer."

A medical assistant seeking to stop a similar mandate at Indiana University Health contended that these medical institutions would "lose a lot of employees" as a result. Well, some people should not work in health care, particularly those who would expose vulnerable patients to a deadly disease.

Do note that most of these workers are already required to get an annual flu shot and to be immunized against measles, mumps, chickenpox, and other infectious diseases. Suits to stop these mandates have also gone nowhere.

Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine say all three vaccines authorized for emergency use are highly effective in preventing a serious disease, and their benefits greatly outweigh the rare risks. They would know.

The issue of liability is not insignificant. Hospitals could face serious legal consequences if an unvaccinated worker infects a patient, James Hodge Jr., a law professor at Arizona State University, told Stateline.

The mayor of a city near Los Angeles, meanwhile, says that city employees who work with the public must get vaccinated. If you won't, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris told them, "we'll help you find another job in the city to do until this crisis is over." But you could also be suspended without pay.

For the record, Parris is a Republican. And one can assume that the Wall Street executives who won't let returning workers spread pestilence on their premises are fairly conservative. They all have businesses to run.

No one has to get the shot, but no one should have to employ those who won't. Playtime is over.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.