Monday, February 28, 2011

On Visiting Angels

I spent yesterday afternoon with Knoxville’s homeless on their home turf – their church. Water Angels proved to be a place of unconditional acceptance and refuge for everyone who walked through the door. But, oh … the relationships I witnessed at Water Angels were much more than a traditional support group! Upon setting foot inside this tiny unassuming church, one immediately becomes a part of what a family is meant to be in its purest form - and it's spelled:

L.O.V.E. O.N.E. A.N.O.T.H.E.R.

Many of these dear people have untreated severe and persistent mental illnesses.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand so-called mental health advocates who advocate for them to remain untreated.  It is downright mistaken thinking to argue that just because they don't seek treatment is reason enough they don't deserve it.  

Everyone, despite the severity of their illness, is deserving of treatment. 

Yet those who are sick, unaware of their illness and unable to make good healthcare decisions deserve our advocacy more than anyone.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Catalyst: Winter 2011

This edition of the Catalyst continues to highlight activities from around the states.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Senator Overbey, WBIR Newsmaker, discusses the proposed AOT bill

It is important to note that this bill as written should incur NO fiscal note. It doesn't create AOT programs like New York's Kendra's law. Rather, it allows treatment providers and family members to get a person court ordered into whatever critical services are currently available in the person’s community. The applicant for the court order must prove in court that those services are actually available. There can be no court order unless and until the judge is convinced of that. This is why the bill presents no danger of court-ordering a person into non-existent services.

Warning Signs: Part II in a Series by WBIR-TV

Warning Signs: Part I in a series by WBIR-TV

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Parkwest shooting points to need for new law

Tragedies resulting from UNTREATED serious & persistent mental illnesses CAN be prevented. Tennessee needs AOT.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why is "Dangerous" the criteria?

Mr. Pete Earley on "why is 'dangerous' the criteria?"

I receive emails and letters from parents and family members who have tried to get their loved ones help by having them involuntary committed into a hospital only to be stopped by our legal system. One of the sadder notes came this week from a father whose daughter was so sick that the psychiatrist who first examined her and the independent examiner appointed by the court to review her case quickly agreed that she needed to be hospitalized.

But when the young woman appeared before a special justice here in Fairfax County, he ignored the two professionals’ recommendations and released the woman because, in his opinion, she did not pose a danger either to herself or to others.

“Where did this dangerousness criteria come from?” the frantic father asked me in an email.

The key legal ruling can be found in Donaldson v. O’Connor, a landmark case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975. Kenneth Donaldson was 34 years old, married with three children and working in a defense plant when he suffered a “nervous breakdown.” He was hospitalized at Marcy State Hospital in New York in 1943 for four months, during which time he underwent 23 electric shock treatments. He returned home and resumed his life until 1956 when he started acting paranoid again. His parents had him taken before a judge.

Although Donaldson had not committed any crimes nor harmed anyone, he was involuntarily committed to the Florida state mental hospital in Chattahoochee. The judge told him, “You go up there to Chattahoochee for a few weeks and take some of that new medication – what’s the name for it? – and you’ll be right back.” This was when Thorazine was first being touted as a wonder drug.

But Donaldson learned that getting discharged was not so easy. In fact, he would spend 14 years fighting to be discharged. He would later write about his experiences in a book, Insanity Inside Out, published after he won his freedom. He would insist that one reason doctors refused to discharge him was because he would not admit that he had a mental illness. His refusal was prima facie evidence that he was, the doctors said.

Donaldson wrote to Dr. Morton Birnbaum, who was both a medical doctor and lawyer, and who is an unsung hero in the history of mental health reform. Birnbaum agreed to defend Donaldson, without charge, and later was joined by a group of civil rights attorneys who would go on to found the Bazelon Center for Mental Health.

Donaldson’s case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court which issued a ruling written by Justice Potter Stewart. Birnbaum argued that if the government locked-up someone in a mental hospital against their will, then it was obligated to provide that person with adequate treatment. To do anything less was to violate their constitutional civil rights to due process. He was trying to use his “right to treatment” argument to force states to improve their state hospitals and offer meaningful treatment to patients.

But the court skirted that issue, much to Birnbaum’s dismay. “There is no reason now to decide whether mentally ill persons dangerous to themselves or to others have a right to treatment,” Justice Stewart wrote. Instead, the majority of the court decided to comment on when a person could be involuntarily committed.

“This case raises a single, relatively simple but nonetheless important question concerning every man’s constitutional right to liberty,” Stewart explained.

May the State confine the mentally ill merely to ensure them a living standard superior to that they enjoy in the private community? That the State has a proper interest in providing care and assistance to the unfortunate goes without saying. But the mere presence of mental illness does not disqualify a person from preferring his home to the comforts of an institution. Moreover, while the State may arguably confine a person to save him from harm, incarceration is rarely if ever a necessary condition for raising the living standards of those capable of surviving safely in freedom, on their own or with the help of family or friends. May the State fence in the harmless mentally ill solely to save its citizens from exposure to those whose ways are different? One might as well ask if the State, to avoid public unease, could incarcerate all who are physically unattractive or socially eccentric. Mere public intolerance or animosity cannot constitutionally justify the deprivation of a person’s physical liberty. In short, a State cannot constitutionally confine without more a nondangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends. …

If you had trouble understanding that last sentence, you are not alone. The court did not explain what “without more” means, leaving it up to lawyers to fight over its definition.

So what did this ruling establish?

The justices said that a finding of “mental illness” alone cannot justify a State locking a person up against their will and keeping them indefinitely in simple custodial confinement. It also ruled that there is no constitutional basis for confining such persons involuntarily if they are dangerous to no one and can live safely in freedom. Hence the “dangerous” requirement that the father in Fairfax ran into.

In the wake of that decision, several states further defined dangerous by adopting criteria that required an “imminent danger” or “immediate danger.” Those standards made it even more difficult to involuntarily commit a person. One of the champions for these tougher standards was an attorney named Bruce Ennis who helped establish the Bazelon Center. He did not believe that anyone should ever be involuntarily committed regardless of how mentally incapacitated that person might be. Ever.

Over the years, states began to lessen criteria, in part, because persons who were clearly mentally incapacitated where literally dying on the streets because they were not dangerous and they were not getting any meaningful treatment or services. This is where criteria, such as “gravely disabled” or “unable to care for self or others” came into play. The court’s “without more” ambiguous language provided the states with a opening that could be used to add these lesser criteria.

As the Fairfax father discovered, many judges, especially those with a strong civil rights background, refuse to consider anything but dangerousness when an ill person is brought before them– even if it means releasing someone who is clearly psychotic — even if it means putting their lives in jeopardy.

The court’s decision was issued at the peak of the civil rights movement for persons with mental illnesses. It was in the midst of “deinstitutionalization” when states were closing mental hospitals in favor of community treatment.

What’s your opinion? Is the “dangerousness criteria” a critical protection or a hindence to getting people help? And if dangerousness is outdated, what should be the criteria?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lawyers who break the law: What Congress can do to prevent mental health patient advocates from violating federal legislation

An interesting and informative read on the history of the Protection and Advocacy Act for Individuals with Mental Illness of 1986 (PAIMI) and subsequent problems created by attorneys who do not abide by the law. Here's an exerpt:

"Patient advocates have violated congressional mandates against lobbying and have sometimes even lobbied against laws that would benefit mental health consumers. “Consumers” is the term used to describe individuals who require mental health services. Patient advocates have engaged in systematic advocacy efforts, leaving individuals with inadequate representation, despite the fact that they have a federal mandate to investigate only individual claims of abuse, neglect, and rights violations. They have battled and even ignored the families that helped create and pass PAIMI, people whom Congress found critical to the success of the Act. All of these activities exist outside of PAIMI’s mandate. Many patient advocates seem to have found a role not envisioned by Congress or any legislation that defines their mission."

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NIMH · Understanding Severe Mental Illness

Thomas Insel
NIMH Director's Blog

When a tragedy occurs like the shooting in Tucson this past weekend, all of us seek an explanation. While there remain many questions, a leading hypothesis is that the suspect has a serious mental illness (SMI), such as schizophrenia. The topic of violence and mental illness is never an easy discussion: with issues such as stigma, incarceration, public safety, and involuntary treatment in the mix. There is a legitimate concern that talking about violence and mental illness in the same sentence increases the likelihood that people with serious illness will be further marginalized and less likely to receive appropriate care. But tragic events, whether at a Safeway in Tucson or a classroom at Virginia Tech, require us to address this uncomfortable subject with the science available.

Is violence more common in people with SMI? Yes, during an episode of psychosis, especially psychosis associated with paranoia and so-called “command hallucinations”, the risk of violence is increased. People with SMI are up to three times more likely to be violent and when associated with substance abuse disorders, the risk may increase much further.i But, mental illness contributes very little to the overall rate of violence in the community. Most people with SMI are not violent, and most violent acts are not committed by people with SMI. In fact, people with SMI are actually at higher risk of being victims of violence than perpetrators. Teplin et al found that those with SMI are 11 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.ii

The most common form of violence associated with mental illness is not against others, but rather, against oneself. In 2007, the most recent year for which we have statistics, there were almost 35,000 suicides, nearly twice the rate of homicides. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.iii Although it is not possible to know what prompted every suicide, it is safe to say that unrecognized, untreated mental illness is a leading culprit.
Treatment may be the key to reducing the risk of violence, whether that violence is self-directed or directed at others. Research has suggested that those with schizophrenia whose psychotic symptoms are controlled are no more violent than those without SMI.iv It’s likely that treatment not only helps ease the symptoms of mental illness, but also curbs the potential for violence as well.

As we learn more about the circumstances surrounding the tragedy in Tucson, we should be working harder to ensure people with SMI receive the care they need. Early intervention offers the best hope to prevent more tragedies in the future.

iSwanson JW. Mental disorder, substance abuse, and community violence: an epidemiological approach. In: Monahan J, Steadman HJ, eds. Violence and mental disorder: developments in risk assessment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994:101-36.
iiTeplin et al. Crime victimization in adults with severe mental illness. Archives of General Psychiatry.2005 Aug. 62. 911-921.
iiiCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS).
ivSteadman HJ, Mulvey EP, Monahan J, et al. Violence by people discharged from acute psychiatric inpatient facilities and by others in the same neighborhoods. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1998;55:393-401.

NIMH · Understanding Severe Mental Illness

Failure in Tucson - NRO Symposium - National Review Online

Failure in Tucson - NRO Symposium - National Review Online

The Tucson Shooter And The Case For Involuntary Commitment | The New Republic

The Tucson Shooter And The Case For Involuntary Commitment | The New Republic

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bill could prevent mentally ill from committing violence

by Pam Strickland
Knoxville News Sentinel

Last April 19, the city of Knoxville and most of East Tennessee were held in suspense for much of the afternoon while Parkwest Medical Center was in lockdown making sure that a gunman who had walked up to the hospital's emergency room entrance and shot three people had acted alone.

My extended family was especially anxious, as a young mother we all love greatly was there in labor accompanied by her husband, the two soon-to-be grandmothers and a cousin who's as close as a sister. We had almost no contact with them for hours. Fortunately, all was well and baby Carson Isabella was born without medical incident, despite the wild back story.

Unfortunately, one of the three hospital staff members Abdo Ibssa shot before taking his own life died. As the days following unfolded, we learned, as with so many other horrible shooting sprees, that Ibssa had untreated mental illness.

In late May, mental health advocate Karen Easter in a News Sentinel guest column called for Tennessee to pass assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). She believed that had it been in place, the tragedy at Parkwest could have been avoided.

Later the paper itself took a stance in favor of the law, noting that Tennessee is one of only six states in the nation that has no AOT law.

Full disclosure: Easter is a childhood friend and we worked retail together during college. Back then she was the last person in the world I would have expected to become politically active, but having firsthand experience with something in your family can give you the kind of fire to get something done that just being a policy wonk would never muster.

On Monday, state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, introduced Senate Bill 608, which would provide for parents, adult siblings and others to seek AOT for those suffering from "a severe and persistent" mental illness who are not following a treatment plan. State Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, has introduced the companion measure, House Bill 683.

The idea behind both is to get help way before a mental health patient poses a "danger to self and others," which is the current legal standard for forced treatment and which requires inpatient care.

Those seeking AOT would have to show that the patient is "reasonably likely to suffer deterioration" in mental health that would cause the patient "to pose a substantial likelihood of serious harm" and show that the patient is "unlikely to comply with outpatient treatment voluntarily." Family members and/or mental health professionals could step in as soon as noncompliance became an issue.

A similar bill was introduced by then-State Sen. Tim Burchett during the last legislative session, but it didn't get anywhere. And truth be told, one of the problems with this bill is that there may not be enough funding to make it what it honestly needs to be.

And that's where the real nitty-gritty comes in. Because if the money could be spent up front, money could be saved because money spent up front could prevent the expense of prosecution, hospitalization, homelessness and imprisonment. Not to mention the cost to victims and the pain and suffering of family and friends.

Permanent Supportive Housing has torn apart our community in recent months. What if it didn't have to be such a huge issue because the mentally ill kept the jobs and didn't become homeless? We've been hearing a great deal in recent months from the local law enforcement talking about what to do with offenders who need treatment instead of incarceration. What if they never became offenders? What if they never had victims?

Pam Strickland's column appears every Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at and blogs at

© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Senate Bill 608: Mental Illness - As introduced, authorizes court ordered assisted outpatient treatment in certain circumstances. - Amends TCA Title 33

Thank you, Sen. Overbey for long awaited Senate Bill 608 and & Rep. Maggart for the companion House Bill 683.

To view Senate Bill as PDF file, click on the title of this post.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Buddy, can you spare mental health a dime?

Advocates in Annapolis, Maryland, rallied recently in support of a novel approach to preserving mental health and other endangered public health services: increase alcohol taxes by a dime a drink.

Supporters of the Lorraine Sheehan Health & Community Services Act of 2010 say it would raise $214 million in new tax revenues and save the state $249 million in healthcare costs by averting or reducing alcohol-related incidents. The bill is co-sponsored by 41 representatives and 8 senators and has been endorsed by 44 community organizations ranging from AARP Maryland through United Food and Commercial Works Local 400 and including NAMI Maryland.

Activists believe the measure has a good chance of passing because the alcohol tax in Maryland has not been increased since 1955 and beer and wine taxes have not been raised since the 1970's. They maintain that current services could be funded entirely by the new tax.

Maryland's public costs associated with the consequences of non-treatment for severe mental illness can also be reduced through the use of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). Already in place in 44 other states, AOT is a legal mechanism for getting people who are too ill to know they need care and who meet strict legal criteria into treatment outside a hospital. Multiple independent studies have found AOT to reduce high-priced interventions like repeated hospitalizations and incarceration. How the state can claim to be serious about cutting costs when it refuses to implement a proven cost-cutter that also happens to improve the lives of people suffering from brain disease is a mystery to us.

Visit our blog archive to read all our recent posts.

Colorado program for mentally ill offenders cuts costs of justice system - The Denver Post

Colorado program for mentally ill offenders cuts costs of justice system - The Denver Post

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sorry, America has moved on ...

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2011 AT 12:01 A.M.

If there was hope for anything good to come out of the tragedy in Tucson that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically injured, six people dead and 13 more wounded, it was the promise that it would spark important new public discussion – about civility of public discourse itself, about mental health and people falling through the cracks, and about how firearms can so easily end up in the hands of the wrong people.

But that terrible Saturday, just four weeks ago by the calendar, now seems a long time ago.

The tone of some public discourse again seems shrill and coarse. Sure, some members of Congress crossed the aisle to sit with political rivals at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. And, unlike in 2009, no congressman interrupted the president with a shout that he is a liar. But if those voices are thankfully softer, there is little sign of a mellowing on soapboxes heavily used by the populace. A public comments section on the Union-Tribune website had to be closed last week because of vile remarks posted anonymously. And on Twitter, a prominent player in San Diego civic issues last week used high school locker-room language to criticize members of the City Council. To be honest, this editorial page has on occasion in times past been guilty of unproductive personal attack. But isn’t it time we all looked in the mirror?

On mental health, there was a flurry of newspaper editorials and commentaries in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, but not much else. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal would make sharp cuts in mental health programs. And the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, responsible for the mental health system here, has still made no move consider implementation of “Laura’s Law,” an important if controversial California mental health law enacted in 2002.

And on firearms, the political power of the gun lobby appears to be squelching debate before it even gets started. Obama, who campaigned in favor of sensible gun control in 2008, made no mention of it in the State of the Union. Modest proposals to ban the type of high-capacity magazine used by the Tucson gunman to fire off 30 rounds in just a few seconds have been introduced in Congress, and California’s Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced a bill regarding concealed weapons in public places. But the consensus seems to be that they will not advance. Reinstitution of a national assault weapons ban, or even ideas to tighten regulations regarding the purchase of firearms by mentally troubled people, seem unable to even get on the table for discussion.

Sorry, Rep. Giffords. Sorry, Judge John Roll. Sorry, little Christina Green and the other victims of the Tucson rampage. America seems to have moved on.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Officers Learning How To Recognize Signs Of Autism - News Story - WCYB Tri Cities

Kudos to Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson, right here in TN!

Officers Learning How To Recognize Signs Of Autism - News Story - WCYB Tri Cities

TN has a new Commissioner of Mental Health - Doug Varney

Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam announced mental health non-profit executive, Doug Varney, as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health. Varney will assume his post in the Cordell Hull Building on Tuesday, January 18, 2011. The cabinet-level agency was formerly known as the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, and as of January 14, 2011, became the Tennessee Department of Mental Health.
Varney spent his professional career with Gray, Tenn.-based Frontier Health, a community mental health center serving families and individuals affected by behavioral health, substance abuse and intellectual deficit issues. He worked his way up from psychological examiner, counselor and therapist to President and CEO.
The department's mission is to plan for and promote the availability of a comprehensive array of quality prevention, early intervention, treatment, habilitation, and rehabilitation services and supports based on the needs and choices of individuals and families served.
"Doug Varney has spent his life dedicated to helping those affected by these issues, and I'm pleased he will be part of our team," Haslam said. "He has spent his career at the community level and having that perspective makes him uniquely qualified to this position."
Varney is active in the Northeast Tennessee region. He was a board member and past president of the Tennessee Association of Community Mental Health Organizations.
He is a member of the faculty at the Healthy Appalachia Institute; adjunct faculty member at East Tennessee State University; past chairman and board member of Carespark, a regional health information exchange; and a member of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
He has a master's degree in Psychology from East Tennessee State and was formerly licensed as a psychological examiner, marriage and family counselor and professional counselor.
"I'm a mission-oriented person, and I'm excited to use my experience and years spent in this field to help all Tennesseans facing these challenges," Varney said. "I'm honored to be selected by Gov.-elect Haslam, and I'm looking forward to working with the great staff at the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities department."
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Friday, February 4, 2011

It has been said that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. That statement is also true when it comes to mental health.

Op Ed in today's Troy Record
Guest Columnist Sen. Neil Breslin represents the NY 46th Senate District.
Friday, February 4, 2011

Since the shootings in Tucson, we’ve all spent a great deal of time considering and discussing matters of extreme political rhetoric, matters of gun control, and a call from President Obama for new civility. Unfortunately, despite the importance of these discussions a serious topic remains chronically overlooked: the state of our mental health care system which, in this country, is deteriorating fast.

Simply put, we can no longer drop the ball and allow adequate resources and services for the mentally ill to be compromised; more than 50 million Americans have mental illness. Sadly, despite our mental health care delivery system being at its breaking point, some are targeting additional cuts in this year’s budget. That’s not surprising — Albany has a history of cutting those who can least afford it. But this year, we must cut with care.

As the son of a lawyer who worked for the Office of Mental Hygiene for many years and who was responsible for a great deal of legislation in this area, I am particularly sensitive to the needs of the mentally ill. We simply must do more to make sure their needs are taken care of and the services they require remain in place so they can lead happy and productive lives.

n For every person who cannot be helped, tens of thousands can be

No one knows for sure what drove this young man to slaughter and terrorize his fellow citizens, but we know there were symptoms of mental instability that may have led to the horrifying moment. Yet for every individual like him, there are tens of thousands of non-violent individuals that are being denied the adequate resources that they desperately need in order to be solid, stable members of our society.

The simple answer is to get the mentally ill more treatment, but that is easier said than done today.

The mental health treatment system in the United States is broken, and the situation is becoming more ominous by the day. Instead of attempting to improve the circumstances, lawmakers instead rush to eliminate funding for mental health treatments when looking to cut down state and federal budgets.

n Treating illnesses early

It has been said that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. That statement is also true when it comes to mental health. Housing these mentally ill individuals in prisons and detention centers cost substantially more than it would to combat the illnesses early on. Mental health problems affect one in five young people at any given time, and the first signs of 75 percent of all psychiatric disorders appear by the age of 24.

Mental health systems and services should be coordinated between schools, after-school care programs, and the criminal justice system. However, the system has become decentralized over the years and moved towards privatization, and things have been allowed to deteriorate to the point where very little coordinating occurs.

n The Importance of Funding Mental Health Care

As bad as the situation is presently, misguided budget cuts could make things worse. Many seriously ill people will be left without critical resources to help them live productive lives. Mental health funding is a relatively small part of the overall budget, smaller than it should be already; it should not be the first area targeted for cuts.

We have met the challenge of dealing with mental health in the past. Passing an extension of Kendra’s Law last year was the right thing to do. I was also especially proud of my bill last year which protected children with autism from daunting insurance costs. When I think back to the work of my father, I see the champion for these issues New York has been and can continue to be.

No more slipping. We can’t afford it. Our healthcare system cannot afford it and certainly our friends, family and neighbors needing our support cannot afford it. For the sake of our society’s overall well-being, let's rise to meet the challenge this time. Before we decide to once again sacrifice these vital resources to steep budget cuts, let's remember our duty to the mentally ill now instead of having to revisit the issue in a time of tragedy.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

No Laughing Matter

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Outpouring of Frustration - What's Next?

From the blog of mental health advocate, author and father - Mr. Pete Earley

I have been inundated this week with emails, mostly from parents and family members, expressing frustration and anger about our broken mental health care system. Here is a sampling:

*You touched my heart today on Sunday’s CNN show. I tried to get my son help over and over. He is now in prison. .. What now? No education, no job, a criminal record….no help.

*Unless someone has had a mentally ill family member, and had to go through this, they just simply don’t have a clue, so it’s very easy to pass judgment. My Mom would frequently go off her medication. My siblings and I struggled with this for years, and the upshot is, an adult has a right to be mentally ill and cannot be forced to take medication. I actually had someone who said, well you need to just force her to take her medication. Oh yeah, that works!

*My anger is not with Jared Loughner’s parents. My anger is directed at our national mental health programs that come nowhere near bringing awareness to the public – so that family members and loved ones can identify mental health problems, before it is too late. I am also angered at laws that protect the mentally ill – which allows them to reject necessary intervention.

*I’m sitting watching you with tears – State of the Union - Candy Crowley/CNN - I am the sister of a paranoid-schizophrenic man who committed murder in 1977 when he heard voices in his head and couldn’t be stopped -Our lives were shattered and we had to stay virtually silent for years because no one wanted to hear our story – because it was mental illness, we were shunned.

*I am desperate. My daughter C. graduated from high school in May ’09. She graduated 3rd in a class of 500 students. She was chosen to give the farewell speech at the graduation ceremony. She went off to a good university with a top scholarship. Six days later she called me and I knew something was very wrong. She is unsuccessfully battling Bi-Polar disorder as I write this. The same disorder her father was diagnosed with nine days before he committed suicide in 1996. ..

*I was in the middle of crying for my son, his 39 birthday is tomorrow. Yes, the illness is merciless. I am a member and contributor to NAMI. I just don’t see any big nationwide effort coming from them. The lobby is not strong enough. I wonder how many more tragedies like the one in Tucson, that involve well known people ( thousands die every day on the streets of our cities and in the homes from violence, nobody bothers to give them a minute of silence! ) is needed before we as a society bring mentally ill into the fold of empathy. This is not about a group here and there, it has to be a movement of most of the people. .. If medical professionals united and stepped in, our world would be a different place. Maybe then a lot more money would be given to the brain research, and there would be help for our loved ones. In comparison to cancer research, the money given to the brain research is dismal.

*Every single day we fear the phone call to come that our dear daughter, our only child- has died. She is 34 and we love her so much. She used to LOVE FAMILY and LOVE US. And now – she is alienated from us and we are scared. She has so many problems.

*We have a 39 year old son who has a mental illness and is not on medication. We tried a NAMI support group and didn’t find it helpful. Everyone sat around meeting after meeting just repeating all the sad stories. I don’t know where to get help…My son is in denial with his illness. He is not a threat to anyone and in years past, we had called police and mobile crisis and they said there was nothing they could do. In fact, one counselor told me he has a right to his delusions…

*Our loved one is 32, BP, has tried to kill himself five times. During his last suicide attempt in June, he’d found a gun, but it wouldn’t fire. Fearing he’d find another way to harm himself, we called 911 and when two police officers arrived, he decided on suicide by cop and came out of the house pointing the gun and yelling, “Shoot me. Kill me,” and one officer did shoot. It’s a miracle he survived. He spent time in the hospital healing before being declared mentally insane…Once he’d been stabilized, he was sent to jail, charged with 2 counts of attempted assault on a law enforcement officer, 2 counts of armed criminal action, 1 count of unlawful use of a weapon and since a third officer rolled his car on the way to the scene, a charge of causing serious physical injury to an officer reporting to the scene.

*My son died of suicide. He was 36. I travelled a long road of mental illness together with him. The mental health system failed us. It is a long story and I will not take your time for writing about it. Suffice it to say that my son was a sensitive highly intelligent child and adult, diagnosed with Major Depression, Dysthymia, Anxiety, Borderline personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive personality disorder, non 24 hour circadian rhythm, chronic nightmares and sleep apnea. In addition he had chronic pain in the thoracic area for which he was on Fentanyl. We were with psychologists who did not know how to address my son’s problems. He was afraid to go to big hospitals where there might have been professionals who new how to use DBT to help him, he was afraid they would tell him that he was crazy. He was not, and your son was not either. That word scares general public and medical professionals. I can see a lot of smaller attempts to help mentally ill. There is no big comprehensive movement to do so. Can you or somebody you know, start the movement and get millions of us parents to join you, we are a huge population that wont to do something but don’t know what to do and where to turn?

With so many people suffering, with so many people seeking help, the question now becomes: what’s next?

The Tucson tragedy has gotten the nation’s attention. There have been countless news articles, TV reports, much talk on the radio. My good friends at Fred Friendly Seminars persuaded PBS to rebroadcast the Minds on the Edge debate nationally to encourage debate about civil rights laws, a lack of community services, and our failed system.

But how do we change this conversation into action?

I have been invited by the Congressional Mental Health Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives to discuss mental illnesses, specifically stigma. It is an opportunity for me to make recommendations to the staff members of our congressional leaders.

I welcome your suggestions. Tell me what message you want me to deliver. Tell me your ideas.

The State of Mental Health Care

The case of Jared Loughner and his apparent mental illness have raised questions about mental health care in America. Why do some people get treatment for mental illness while others don’t? Are there holes in the system that need attention? In this hour of Radio Times, we’ll look at the state of the mental health system and discuss the stigma attached to mental illness that may keep people from seeking help. We’ll also look at the rights of the mentally ill and debate the issue of involuntary commitment. Our guests are MARK SALZER, Professor and Chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at Temple University; JOSEPH ROGERS, President of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and JEANETTE CASTELLO, a family mental health advocate with the Pennsylvania Treatment Law Advocacy Group.

Listen to the mp3


The State of Mental Health Care