Friday, June 28, 2013

Mentally ill homeless people on US streets lack support

Al Jazeera has been in Knoxville, investigating our homeless mentally ill situation.

Homelessness rampant among US mentally ill - Al Jazeera Blogs

Homelessness rampant among US mentally ill

A lack of mental health services hurts the homeless in the United States
Last modified: 6 May 2013 06:21

Kimberly Halkett is a Canadian born journalist, covering the United States since her move to Washington, in 1998.

Decades ago, the mentally ill in the United States were often locked up in institutions, isolated from the rest of society.  But, in the 1980s, overcrowding and shrinking government budgets created a movement away from mental institutions.
Still, as hospitals closed down, community based mental health services didn’t always open up.  Decades later, huge numbers of America's mentally ill are trapped on the street. 
David Marko is one of them.  Marko is mentally ill and needs medication.  He says he wants to kill himself, but just can't do it.
He's almost 60 years old and for 15 of those years, he lived under an oak tree in Knoxville, Tennessee. Then Caroline Carter, a social worker with Knoxville's Volunteer Ministry Center, found him, helped him sober up and moved him a rundown motel on the outskirts of town.  He pays for his room by working odd jobs.  Still, Marko’s depressed, delusional and he’s started drinking again. 
Carter’s urgently trying to get Marko the medication he needs.  Without it she says, like so many in his situation, he’s almost certain to end up back on the street.
Carter told me: “Once we get them in housing, if we can’t connect them with (mental health) services, I mean who knows how long they’ll last before getting evicted?”
Most homeless shelters in the US only take in people who are deemed mentally stable.  Most don’t offer anything beyond basic shelter.
Housing programs that also provide psychological services are in the minority, homeless advocates told me.  The harsh reality is that most homeless people living in the US who also suffer from serious illnesses like bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and a host of other mental health disorders, are typically turned away from shelters on a nightly basis.    
 It's a disturbing statistic when you discover, as I did, that more than 50 percent of the people living on the streets in the US are mentally ill.  Of that number, I was told, less than half are receiving any mental health treatment.
For years, Candace Wood was one of them. I met with Wood in the dining room of Knoxville’s Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC). 
For years the mission has dedicated itself to ending homelessness by providing not just housing, but the mental health services that ensures its residents don’t just get off the street, but also have the ability to stay off the street.
Wood told me that before she was connected with the VMC, she was, "wandering around aimlessly." 
"But, I was sick.  I was sick because I didn’t take the medicine," she said. 
Wood said she is bi-polar.  Since she was previously not on medication and was unable to manage her symptoms.  She used to break into buildings to stay warm, hoping it would also get her arrested.  Wood said that in jail she knew she’d get the meals and medication she needed.   
Ginny Weatherstone is a passionate advocate for Knoxville’s homeless, she’s also the CEO of Volunteer Ministry Center.  She says Wood’s story is a common one among the homeless who are also mentally ill. 
"Three 'hots' and a cot.  You get that in jail.  For them, jail is their mental health hospital.  Jail is their housing," Weatherstone told me. 
That kind of support is exactly what Charlie Turpin says he needed to break his own cycle of homelessness.  Turpin told me he also has bi-polar disorder and his symptoms landed him in jail. 
When he was released he had nowhere to go but the streets. Now, with regular counseling and medication he’s able to hold down a job.  He’s even enrolled in university and hopes to complete his degree in biology in a couple of years.  He says none of this would have been possible if he’d stayed at a shelter that didn’t also offer mental health supports.
"Giving food is one thing and it's great, but it needs to go further than that. That's not going to solve the problem of homelessness," Turpin told me.
It is the reason why so many like Marko will never get the care they need and still struggle.  It's also the reason Carter won’t stop trying to help Marko and so many others just like him. 
On the day we met however, Marko's immediate needs are more grave.  He needs convincing that there's a reason to live for one more day.
He wonders aloud, "Why do people want me to stick around?"
"Because we need you Marko," says Carter. 
Still, Carter knows the challenges Marko faces are daunting and the odds are against him.  As long as the needs of America’s mentally ill go unmet, she understands their struggle with chronic homelessness will go on. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prison system plans to centralize inmates with severe mental illness -

Indiana Department of Correction officials said Wednesday they hope to move all of the prison system’s seriously mentally ill inmates to one central location designed for their care by the first of next year.  

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled Dec. 31 that by simply locking mentally ill prisoners up in their cells without adequate treatment, the department was violating the inmates’ constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

Read about it here:
Prison system plans to centralize inmates with severe mental illness -

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

KPD probe raises questions about beating. During the 6-minute attack on the homeless and mentally ill Mallicoat, officers rushed to get licks in, cursed him and threatened to rape him, even after he was hogtied face-first on the ground.

Scroll down here to view article:

Friday, June 14, 2013

... and here is the study, published by the APA.

... and here is the recently released North Carolina study that proves treating mental illness prevents crime, saves money.

Research from North Carolina State University, RTI International (RTI) and the University of South Florida shows that outpatient treatment of mental illness significantly reduces arrest rates for people with mental health problems and saves taxpayers money.
“This study shows that providing mental health care is not only in the best interest of people with mental illness, but in the best interests of society,” says Dr. Sarah Desmarais, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research.
The researchers wanted to determine the extent to which treating mental illness can keep people with mental health problems out of trouble with the law. It is well established that people with mental health problems, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, make up a disproportionate percentage of defendants, inmates and others who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
The researchers identified 4,056 people who had been hospitalized for mental illness in 2004 or 2005 and then tracked them from 2005 to 2012. The researchers were able to determine which individuals were receiving government-subsidized medication and which were receiving government-subsidized outpatient services, such as therapy. The researchers were also able to determine who was arrested during the seven-year study period.
“Our research shows that people receiving medication were significantly less likely to be arrested,” Desmarais says. “Outpatient services also resulted in a decreased likelihood of arrest.”
The researchers also compared criminal justice costs with mental health treatment costs. Individuals who were arrested received less treatment and each cost the government approximately $95,000 during the study period. Individuals who were not arrested received more treatment and each cost the government approximately $68,000 during the study period.
“It costs about $10 less per day to provide treatment and prevent crime. That’s a good investment,” Desmarais says.
The paper, “Effects of Outpatient Treatment on Risk of Arrest of Adults With Serious Mental Illness and Associated Costs,” was published online May 15 in the journal Psychiatric Services. Lead author of the paper is Dr. Richard Van Dorn of RTI. Co-authors include John Petrila, Diane Haynes and Dr. Jay Singh of the University of South Florida. The research was supported by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.
“Effects of Outpatient Treatment on Risk of Arrest of Adults With Serious Mental Illness and Associated Costs”
Authors: Richard A. Van Dorn, Research Triangle Institute; Sarah L. Desmarais, North Carolina State University; John Petrila, Diane Haynes and Jay P. Singh, University of South Florida
Published: Online May 2013, Psychiatric Services
DOI: 10.1176/
Abstract: Objective: This study examined whether possession of psychotropic medication and receipt of outpatient services reduce the likelihood of posthospitalization arrest among adults with serious mental illness. A secondary aim was to compare service system costs for individuals who were involved with the justice system and those who were not. Methods: Claims data for prescriptions and treatments were used to describe patterns and costs of outpatient services between 2005 and 2012 for 4,056 adult Florida Medicaid enrollees with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder after discharge from an index hospitalization. Multivariable time-series analysis tested the effects of medication and outpatient services on arrest (any, felony, or misdemeanor) in subsequent 30-day periods. Results: A total of 1,263 participants (31%) were arrested at least once during follow-up. Monthly medication possession and receipt of outpatient services reduced the likelihood of any arrests (misdemeanor or felony) and of misdemeanor arrests. Possession of medications for 90 days after hospital discharge also reduced the likelihood of arrest. Prior justice involvement, minority racial-ethnic status, and male sex increased the risk of arrest, whereas older age decreased it. Criminal justice and behavioral health system costs were significantly higher for the justice-involved group than for the group with no justice involvement. Conclusions: Routine outpatient treatment, including medication and outpatient services, may reduce the likelihood of arrest among adults with serious mental illness. Medication possession over a 90-day period after hospitalization appears to confer additional protection. Overall, costs were lower for those who were not arrested, even when they used more outpatient services.

Treating Mental Illness Prevents Crime and Saves Us Money

What a concept!  And it's the right concept ...

Treating Mental Illness Prevents Crime and Saves Us Money

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Treatment of Individuals with Serious Mental Illness in Jails and Prisons - A Survey

The Treatment Advocacy Center is collecting anecdotal information about the experiences of individuals with serious mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder or severe depression with psychotic features) who should have been treated involuntarily while they were in jail or prison but, for whatever reason, were not treated.

Action Requested from E. Fuller Torrey, MD - Treatment Advocacy Center

Send by August 1 to: 

"We believe this mobile application will help address the need for immediate, practical information that families, friends and others experience when someone with a severe mental illness is in crisis," said Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Be prepared for any psychiatric emergency.  Download this mobile app to your smartphone today:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Thursday, June 6, 2013

USA Today allows Pete Earley to share the real truth! Obama deserves praise for focus on mental health, but failed to invite right experts.

USA Today allows Pete Earley to share the real truth! Obama deserves praise for focus on mental health, but failed to invite right experts.

Lesson from a Hummingbird

This morning I came across something I'd written back several years ago when we were in crisis.  I forwarded it to my friend and fellow mental health advocate GG Burns of GG's Functional Art, and told her the story reminded me of one of her recent paintings.  She encouraged me to post the story to my blog and graciously gave me permission to use her beautiful hummingbird artwork.  Enjoy ~

Purchase reprints of GG's "Humming Birds in Flight" here on coasters:
Or reprints to frame or on canvas here:

Lesson from a Hummingbird

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26 NIV)
Talk about stress!  My 19 year old mentally ill son had just moved back into my home.  Still refusing to take his meds, it had been an especially tough week. 

I was walking into work one morning, mulling over possible solutions to life’s recent problems, when I almost stepped on it. 

At first I thought “it” was a dead jar fly so I almost gladly squished it underfoot.

But something told me to stop and take a closer look.  Was I ever glad!  When I bent over the mystery object, I saw its eyes blink … once … twice … three times.  I quickly realized that the insect in question was actually an injured hummingbird, the tiniest bird of God’s great creation!

My first inclination was to cry for help.  But since I was standing at the entrance of a Level I trauma center for human beings, I thought that might be a bit of an overreaction.  Instead I gently scooped the hummingbird up and took it inside for further examination. 

The little thing appeared sickly, not moving except to blink.  My co-worker began making calls to the nearby vet school where we decided would be the best place to take it for examination.  I placed the bird into an empty Kleenex box lined with tissues when all of a sudden its right wing fluttered slightly.  “Uh-oh”, I thought, “Mr. Hummingbird just might be catching his second wind!”

I quickly covered the box with a tissue and took it back outside to a grassy area. I slowly and delicately pulled back the cover, not knowing what might happen next.  The precious little creature blinked at me one last time before flying straight up and disappearing into the green oasis of an overhead tree branch.  I felt like a proud mama bird whose baby had just flown the nest!  Apparently the little thing had only dazed itself from flying into a window and with a little TLC and patience was ready to fly along its merry way. 

All of a sudden, the similarity between the hummingbird and my son hit me square between the eyes - so much that I am convinced God used this incident to speak directly to me about my son. 

You see, he is a lot like that hummingbird.  Dazed from attempting to live independently and failing miserably, he’s grounded for awhile until he receives enough TLC, patience and treatment for his illness so he may try out his wings again. 

You see, his illness has long been misunderstood by those who usually don’t take the time to look beyond their first impression of him ~ unfortunately akin to an ugly, loud and annoying jar fly (cicada for those of you who don't live in the South).

While I, intimately familiar with ALL of his struggles, look closer to see a beautiful and unique creation ~ much like a tiny hummingbird ~ although somewhat dazed and confused in his current state of mind -- symptoms of psychosis misunderstood by the general public -- yet keenly understood forever by us, the moms of the hummingbirds.

Lesson learned.
Karen Easter  
Copyright 2008