May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Despite cultural progress, mental health issues and care are still stigmatized in our society. Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, political turmoil, environmental worries, and societal concerns of civil rights being stripped away only compound struggles with mental health.


Mental health care access for our clients is an acute problem. The Rikers Island, Department of Corrections complex is the largest psychiatric provider in NYC and one of the largest in the country.  Approximately 50% of the Rikers’ population has a mental health diagnosis, and about 16% have a serious mental health diagnosis. Yet, mental health access is extremely poor at the Rikers Island complex. The following article details the deaths at Rikers Island through 2022, many of which are suicides. As a disclaimer, the article is very sad and troubling:


Prioritizing access to mental health care should be a paramount concern for us, as QD colleagues and advocates for NYC’s most vulnerable populations. We struggle with criminal, family, housing, and immigration courts, and white supremacy and classism are baked into these systems which destroy lives, families, and communities. As public defender professionals, we consequently cope with secondary or vicarious trauma. This can manifest in many ways, including loss of sleep, headaches, stomachaches, chest pain, poor eating habits, or struggling to keep healthy relationships.

Learn More Through Literature!

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others Paperback by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk

Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward by Elizabeth Ford MD, Bernadette Dunne, et al.

Stop Overthinking: 23 Techniques to Relieve Stress, Stop Negative Spirals, Declutter Your Mind, and Focus on the Present by Nick Trenton

The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Letting Go: The Pathway To Surrender by David R. Hawkins