Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A mother speaks

There are too many stories about mothers with untreated severe mental illnesses who kill their children – and too few answers to the questions of “why?”.

You rarely hear directly from the mothers themselves, people like Andrea Yates or Lashaun Harris.

An unusual jailhouse interview with Naomi Gaines sheds some light … Gaines threw her 14-month-old twin sons into the river in St. Paul and then jumped in after them. She and one of the babies were rescued.
"I know how I was feeling that day. I know I was not the same Naomi who got up with my kids a million times before and fed them and bathed them and walked them and breast-fed them and cared for them," she says. "I wasn't that same person. So I know that I would never hurt them if I had had my sanity."

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Jail offers no cure

Prisons and jails are not designed to be therapeutic.

Yet they are the home of nearly 300,000 Americans with mental illnesses, a large number of whom are imprisoned because of actions at least partially resulting from the symptoms of their disorders.

Especially given the minimal psychiatric care in many correctional facilities, it is not surprising that many of these same individuals are unable to follow prison rules set to maintain order among prisoners. Penalties for these violations include loss of privileges, serving full sentences, and time – for many almost all their time – in isolation. Psychiatric News took a look at this issue …

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

We can no longer turn our back on those who are too ill to care for themselves

The above title comes from a recent advocacy alert by NAMI NJ, New Jersey’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of individuals who have a serious mental illness and their families. NAMI NJ has been actively advocating for the passage of S2760, legislation which would finally allow New Jersey to join the forty-two other states with assisted outpatient treatment. We commend NAMI NJ for their dedication to those most in need.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Law enforcement fights for mentally ill

Law enforcement officers are consistently some of the strongest supporters of assisted outpatient treatment. They deal with the consequences of untreated severe mental illness every day, and recognize that AOT is a means for finally providing these individuals with the care they so desperately need.

In New Jersey, the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police recently adopted a resolution calling for their state to adopt AOT - they are fighting to allow government to intervene to help someone before they are in a crisis situation and a response by law enforcement is required.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Diversion and treatment for offenders

It isn’t hard to find examples of the real-world implications of the high population of mentally ill offenders in our jails and prisons. On November 13 alone, media coverage in Indiana, Oklahoma, and California. The consequences of jailing instead of treating are severe for both the overburdened system and the people who are ill.

So supporters of treatment for people with severe mental illness had many reasons to celebrate the recent passage and signing of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act.

On Capitol Hill, however, "authorizing" is not the same as putting a check in the mail. Congress must then appropriate the actual monies, and it has been reluctant to follow through with the funding authorized for the law. Recently, however, $ 5 million was budgeted for the diversion and treatment grant program.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Yates’ mother: "I'm hoping that they'll realize [Andrea] was sick”

Andrea Yates’ mother and her ex-husband were both quoted in news stories praising Wednesday’s decision to overturn Yates’ conviction on charges of murdering her five children.

"I would like to see a plea agreement, not guilty by reason of insanity, and have her go to a hospital [said Russell Yates]. I don't know if the state's gonna agree to that or not, but certainly I hope the two sides can come together and reach some common ground so that we don't have to go back to trial and Andrea doesn't have to spend the rest of her life in prison."

Yates’ attorney has said that they will plead insanity in hopes of getting her moved to a psychiatric facility.

While we again watch the mental health community rally around Andrea Yates to spare her a life sentence in prison, remember to wonder where they were when she was desperately ill and in need of help …

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Diagnosis: Critical

Severe mental illness makes the news every day, as you can see from any Google search or from checking our newsticker.

But it rarely gets the kind of thoughtful and deep examination offered by Pennsylvania’s Delaware County Times in a recent six-day series called "Diagnosis: Critical."

Diagnosis: Critical, Part 1: When law, illness collide (10/30/05)
"We’re seeing more and more every day," Ridley Park Police Chief Thomas J. Byrne said. "We get the calls from people who want us to ‘do something.’ But how do you make somebody who doesn’t want or doesn’t think that they need it, get help?" Byrne said. "We can’t."

Diagnosis: Critical, Part 2: How the system works (10/31/05)
It's a delicate balance between the individual person's rights and the individual's safety and the safety of others," noted [Jonna] DiStefano.

Diagnosis: Critical, Part 3: When training falls short (11/01/05)
[Magisterial District Judge Peter] Tozer said he’s encountered several cases involving people frustrated by mentally ill neighbors -- as well as caretakers who were overcome with frustration in caring for a mentally ill loved one. "In that situation, I would love to know how many times mom or dad or whoever said, ‘Did you take your medication today?’"

Diagnosis: Critical, Part 4: Jails house the mentally ill (11/02/05)
"Prisons are housing more and more mentally ill people because we have no other place to put them," said Jessica Raymond, a member of the Pennsylvania Prison Society who monitors conditions at the county prison.

Diagnosis, Critical, Part 5: Services evolve as needs change (11/03/05)
In the two decades since a mentally ill woman named Sylvia Seegrist gunned down nine people at the Springfield Mall, killing three and seriously injuring six, the Pennsylvania mental-health act, which governs commitment procedures, has not changed. But the modes of treatment for the mentally ill have changed, especially since the closing of Haverford State Hospital in 1998.

Diagnosis: Critical, Part 6: A man unravels, with tragic results (11/04/05)
Jaep remembers thinking … that the tragedy could have been prevented if the laws in place then were less restricted and her parents could have had more control.

A proposal for reform to get help with mental-health issues (11/04/05)
Her mother believes that if Seegrist had had court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment such as that proposed by Pennsylvania Senate Bill 213, she may have been stabilized and the Springfield Mall tragedy may have been averted. "That would give people like Sylvia some real good monitoring," said Ruth Seegrist, who has been an avid advocate for the mentally ill and their families in the 20 years since the mall tragedy.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Asking "why?": First step in reform

Perhaps looking from almost 2,000 miles away at a mother who ended the lives of her three children allowed the editor of the Texarkana Gazette to gain this thoughtful perspective. Lashaun Harris, as you will recall, threw her three young children to their death off a pier in San Francisco – she was not taking medication for her schizophrenia at the time.

The editor of this Texas paper – a state all too familiar with tragedies like this one – chooses not to finger-point but instead to ask questions about what could have brought a woman and her three sons to the end of that now infamous pier. The answers hold the beginnings of solutions that can bring help instead of headlines to the next Lashaun Harris, Andrea Yates, Dena Schlosser, Julie Rifkin ...

And the main question?
The problem with the benchmark of having to be a danger to oneself or others is that often the damage has been done - tragedy has struck - when the dangerous behavior becomes, at last, recognizable enough to meet that standard. Why can we not make sure people who need medication stay on it?

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

TAC ED appointed to NY AOT panel

Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, has been appointed by the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health to serve on a special quality assurance panel that will work to even further improve New York’s stunningly successful assisted outpatient treatment law, known as Kendra’s Law.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to help make a great program even better,” said Zdanowicz, who is an attorney and a nationally known and respected legal expert on assisted outpatient treatment. “It is important to support and promote proven programs like AOT. The creation of this panel is another phase in New York's continuing work to ensure that AOT can continue to save lives while improving the overall system."

The panel will be chaired by Pat Webdale, mother of Kendra, for whom the law is named.

"I speak for my entire family when I say that we applaud the formation of a quality improvement panel focused on Assisted Outpatient Treatment, and I am honored to serve as the panel's chairwoman," said Pat Webdale. "Kendra's Law has proven to make a positive difference in the lives of many persons suffering from a serious mental illness. As more research becomes available, it is apparent that every human being has a stake in mental health issues. The formation of this panel will assure that we will progress in making AOT as viable as possible."

Among other things, assisted outpatient treatment:

Other newly appointed panelists include:

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

CA especially bad for homeless people

What will it take for California to start implementing Laura’s Law?

Homeless man suspected in fatal torching
"He has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic,'' he said. "He refused to take his medication. He went off the wall. That was two years ago.'' He said his son had been arrested for bizarre behavior before but had never been charged with a crime. "I have no idea where he goes, what he's up to,'' the elder Kinney said. He said he had tried to have his son institutionalized but had failed to persuade a court to have him committed. – San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 2

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