The Future of People with Severe Mental Illnesses is in the Wrong Hands

Planning for the future presents serious problems for parents of people with significant disabilities; when those families are dealing with psychotic illnesses, the future is especially frightening.

Organizations have become skillful at lobbying for humane supports for people with most disabilities. However, for people impacted by the most severe mental illnesses, the future is in the wrong hands.

To understand the problem, look at the taxpayer-funded Alternatives conference being held this week in Austin, Texas. Anyone assuming that this large, annual mental health event is designed to help people with the most severe mental illnesses just needs to study the program carefully.

While its theme promotes “Valuing Every Voice,” try to locate what the conference offers for people with psychotic disorders. Actually, you won’t find the words “psychosis,” “bipolar disorder,” “schizophrenia,” or even “mental illnesses” in the program, since this kind of labeling is considered to be the problem.

….The term “alternatives” refers to alternatives to science-based approaches to mental illnesses. Neuroscience understands schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to be brain disorders. Instead of letting the conference participants understand what is known about these disorders, this conference assumes that neuroscience has nothing useful to offer in understanding mental illnesses.

by Susan Inman, The Huffington Post

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Scholarships and Financial Aid for Students With Disabilities

Dollar signThis comprehensive, easy-to-use guide includes over 70 scholarships specifically for students with disabilities, thoroughly explaining eligibility, award amounts, and most importantly, how to apply. Please forward this info to anyone you know who is disabled and college-bound/in college!


Certain Protective Factors do not Exist in Those with Severe Mental Illness

People with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder have a higher risk for substance use, especially cigarette smoking, and protective factors usually associated with lower rates of substance use do not exist in severe mental illness, according to a new study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Estimates based on past studies suggest that people diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders are about twice as likely as the general population to also suffer from a substance use disorder. Statistics from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate close to 8.4 million adults in the United States have both a mental and substance use disorder.  However, only 7.9 percent of people receive treatment for both conditions, and 53.7 percent receive no treatment at all, the statistics indicate.

Studies exploring the link between substance use disorders and other mental illnesses have typically not included people with severe psychotic illnesses.

“Drug use impacts many of the same brain circuits that are disrupted in severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia,” said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “While we cannot always prove a connection or causality, we do know that certain mental disorders are risk factors for subsequent substance use disorders, and vice versa.”

–National Institute on Drug Abuse

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True Suicide Prevention Comes in the Form of Treatment, Bob

Former interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Bob Rae (who is also a former NDP Premier of Ontario), wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail calling for a national strategy on suicide to remember Chris Peloso who recently ended his own life. While Rae is undoubtedly moved by sadness at this tragic loss of life, he has failed to do his homework.

His suggestion assumes that suicide prevention does not already exist and that no one is working on it. The fact is that Canada passed the Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention Act on December 14, 2012. Rae was still a Member of Parliament when this legislation was passed but, as one cynic said, maybe he was on a Rae Day when it was passed. For those too young to remember his tenure as the NDP Premier of Ontario, Rae Days refers to his 1993 Social Contract which imposed a wage freeze and mandatory unpaid days of leave for civil servants.

And of course Rae also does not seem to be familiar with the Mental Health Commission of Canada who are also working on suicide prevention and have developed a mental health strategy for Canada.

And, on Sept 10, 2013 Louise Bradley, the CEO of the Mental Health Commission addressed people on Parliament Hill in Ottawa for World Suicide Prevention Day. She talked about people requiring access to treatment services as a method to help prevent suicides.

The question then, Rae is not “why aren’t we doing anything about suicide prevention?” but “is suicide prevention effective?”.

by Marvin Ross, HuffPost Living

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Your Mental Illness May Get You Stopped at the Border

I was not the least bit surprised when I read that Ellen Richardson was banned entry into the U.S. because she suffered with depression and had a history of attempted suicide. That was unconscionable, but I do have a suggestion that may help prevent this for others.

When I was involved with the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario in Hamilton a number of years ago, we took up the case for a member who had requested a police check for volunteer work and was upset with the report. While this individual had no criminal convictions or charges, the report mentioned an emergency contact with the police for hospital transport. That was because they had attempted suicide, 911 was called and the police arrived along with fire and ambulance. The responding officer had filed a report and that event made its way into the police database.

We arranged a meeting with the police and a number of relevant agencies in the city. The police explained that many, if not all, contacts with them end up in their database. However, they said, when issuing a police check, they do use discretion and will not list something like transport to hospital if sufficient time has passed and there are no other incidents that might be of concern.

by Marvin Ross, HuffPost Living

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A Trip To Cuckoo’s Nest Museum And Reminder Of How Far We Have To Go

A light snow was falling and motorists unfamiliar with slick conditions were moving slower than usual as I headed from Portland, Oregon, on Friday to nearby Salem to meet with Dr. Dean Brooks’s three daughters.

My friend, Dr. Brooks, died in July at age 96, after spending much of his life advocating for persons with mental disorders. He was best known for being the superintendent at the Oregon State Hospital when the movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, was filmed there. Dean played himself in that classic film.

I was meeting with Dennie Brooks, Ulista Jean Brooks, and India Brooks Civey to tour a new museum that opened at the state hospital, in large part because of their efforts. More about the museum in a moment. First, I want to mention what I heard broadcast on the local National Public Radio affiliate as I was driving.

Several local reporters were discussing news events and because snowfall is unusual in Portland, one mentioned that the city only had 1,000 emergency shelter beds for the estimated 2,500 homeless persons living on its streets. She then mentioned that many homeless individuals were refusing to go into shelters despite the cold.

All of us have heard this before along with the explanation that the homeless actually prefer living outdoors under the stars to coming inside. This is nonsense. Having spent time actually talking to homeless individuals I can tell you that this explanation is more rooted in our desire to feel better about ourselves — for leaving them to freeze to death on the streets —  then in reality.

Yes, people do refuse to go to shelters. But if you dig deeper, you will discover that many refuse to go to shelters because (a.) shelters are often dangerous (b.) homeless individuals who go into shelters often lose all of their earthly possessions because there is no place to put them in a shelter so they are left behind and often destroyed on the streets (c.) shelters don’t allow you to drink or use drugs and many homeless individuals have co-occurring drug and alcohol problems as well as underlying mental disorders and are immediately kicked out if they drink or use drugs.

–Pete Earley

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Dr. Torrey Questions New NAMI Director About Her Views On Closing Hospitals

The new director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness doesn’t take command of our nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization until January 2nd, but Mary Giliberti already is being grilled by long-time NAMI activist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey.

Torrey, who has been critical of NAMI lately, has fired off a letter demanding the new director publicly state her views about the closing of state hospitals. Torrey and his followers are suspicious of Giliberti because she once worked for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a driving force behind “deinstitutionalization.”  Bazelon also strongly opposes the passage of Assistant Outpatient Treatment laws, which Torrey endorses.

I warned readers earlier this year of a split that was forming between NAMI members.  NAMI was formed by parents who were frustrated with the mental health system, but in recent years more and more consumers have joined its ranks and some of them are opposed to issues that NAMI has traditional supported.

Torrey has become the de facto leader of the so-called “NAMI CLASSICS” who believe NAMI should focus on serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. This group is largely pro-medication and pro Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws, which require individuals who have multi-hospitalizations and/or violent pasts to be forcibly treated. In recent years, more and more consumers  (persons with mental illnesses) have joined NAMI and they often oppose “paternalism” in favor of self-determination.

Although Torrey helped build NAMI into the most influential mental health organization in the nation, he angered many when he created his own non-profit, the Treatment Advocacy Center, to push for passage of AOT laws as well as other changes. A favorite speaker at past NAMI national conventions, Torrey has not been invited to speak in recent years and the last time his name was raised, some board members threatened to boycott the convention if he appeared. This year, NAMI invited journalist Robert Whitaker, known for his books that question the use of anti-psychotics,  a move that would have been unheard only a few years ago.

–Pete Earley

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A Year of Firsts for Mental Health

In the year following the Dec. 14 mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, reforms across the country show that public officials might just be getting serious about addressing the nation’s broken mental health system.

funding_mapLast week, the White House announced that it will devote $100 million to increasing access to “mental health services.”

Later in the week Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) introduced the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” which aims to provide help to the most severely ill patients and their families. The proposed changes include exemptions to the HIPAA privacy rule, funding for mandatory outpatient treatment programs and clarification of standards that allow involuntary outpatient and treatment.

Earlier in November, the mental health community cheered when the Obama administration announced regulations that help make mental health parity a reality. Under the Affordable Care Act private insurers will now be required to provide coverage for mental illness equal to what they provide for physical illnesses.

At the state level, nearly a dozen state legislatures passed or improved their laws that determine who receives court-ordered treatment for symptoms of severe mental illness.  In the same period, thirty-six states and the District of Columbia increased funding for mental health.

We’ve seen a new and real public and political resolve to address the issues that involve people with serious mental illness, and the resulting breakthroughs will help lower barriers to treatment for severe mental illness, but many remain.

A half-century of abandonment and neglect will not be reversed by a single banner year (“USA has made slight progress on mental health since Newtown,” USA Today).  Help us keep the momentum going:

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The Treatment Advocacy Center

Fifteen Years After Tragedy

Fifteen years ago, 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed to her death in front of an oncoming subway train in New York City by Andrew Goldstein, a man with untreated schizophrenia.

New York recognized the significance of her preventable death by passing an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law, known as Kendra’s Law, six months later to help those with severe mental illness who struggle with treatment adherence.

In the years since, New York has emerged as a leader in the use of court-ordered outpatient treatment, though the state’s criteria for providing court-ordered treatment in a hospital  remain woefully inadequate, as noted by the Treatment Advocacy Center’s Brian Stettin in a 2013 New York Daily News op-ed.

Multiple studies have documented the effectiveness of Kendra’s Law in improving outcomes for its target population, enhancing public safety, and conserving scarce mental health resources.

As we do every year on this date, we pause today to pay tribute to the remarkable and inspiring Webdale family, who almost immediately after Kendra’s death began channeling their grief into advocacy for mental health reform. Thanks to them, something horrible led to something great. Our thoughts are with the family on this painful anniversary.

–The Treatment Advocacy Center

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For the Mentally Ill, Finding Treatment Grows Harder

To the outside world, it came across as mood swings and anger. But Regina Cullison would later be told by psychiatrists she struggled with depression and anxiety—and that she needed help. And that is where her trouble began and ended.

According to her mother, there were few psychiatrists in the county who took private insurance. When Ms. Cullison lost her job as a dentist’s assistant, and with it her insurance, she switched to a nonprofit facility. Doctors came and went, and none stayed long enough to establish a regular pattern of treatment.

After two years, Ms. Cullison abandoned her search for professional help and tried marijuana. Her mother, Carolyn Cullison, who is the director of a mental-health peer support group, said that helped push away the demons. But in May, while living together, the pair argued. Ms. Cullison apologized, retreated to a bedroom and shot herself. She was 26.

As hard as it might be to acknowledge having a mental-health illness, finding professional help can be even harder.

by Gary Fields and Jennifer Dooren, The Wall Street Journal

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