I Am Not “Less Than” Because I Have Schizophrenia

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Dustin DeMoss is a Air Force veteran who left the military to take care of his cancer stricken mother. While caring for her, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A long time friend of his, Jonathan Looper, decided to write a screenplay about Dustin’s life. The result is: Light Wounds, a movie scheduled for release this year starring the actress, Brenda Vaccaro, and Tommy Flanagan, best known as a cast member of the TV series, Sons of Anarchy. I asked Dustin to write a guest blog for me about his experiences, which he hopes will help and inspire others.

(5-29-15) In November 2008, I was seriously mentally ill. Among some of the things I did while I was seriously mentally ill was break into a business. I thought I was on a super secretive mission and that I had to capture someone or something. During this time, I had been enrolled in college in three courses and it was less than a year after I was honorably discharged from the United States Air Force. Schizophrenia interrupted all of that.

According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 4.2 percent of adults in the U.S. are affected by serious mental illnesses. SMIs are defined as mental illness in individuals 18 years or older that significantly impact the individual’s ability to live their daily life and function. Serious mental illness definitely affected my life. I went from being a hardworking college student with a future to being admitted into a Veteran’s Administration psych ward in Gainesville, Florida. Just the other night, I had a dream that I was at a club in Gainesville and this woman said to me, “You know, just over there they house lunatics,” and in that dream, I replied, “You’ll never know what it’s like until you become one.”

My point in telling you about my dream is that the scars of stigmatization and perceptions of being less than continue to haunt those of us who are seriously mentally ill, even when we sleep.

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New Movie Shows Successful Ways To Defuse Confrontations In Jails and Prisons

Six minute CODE Trailer from NAMI, TN from Dixie Gamble on Vimeo.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Tennessee has created a training film specifically aimed at correctional officers. It is called CODE, an acronym for Correctional Officers De-escalation Education. Filmmaker Dixie Gamble gained unprecedented access to the Tennessee state prison system where she interviewed inmates and correctional officers. She also spoke to me and numerous mental health experts including LEAP Institute’s Dr. Xavier Amador, NAMI’s Ron Honberg and Dr. Ken Duckworth, and CIT Expert Sam Cochran. The film is narrated by Steve Lopez, author of the best-selling book that inspired the film The Soloist.

NAMI Tennessee Executive Director K. Jeff Fladen announced that the World Premier for CODE will be held Thursday, June 18th, at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $15 and will be used to help defray the cost of the film. CODE also will be shown at this year’s NAMI Convention in San Francisco on July 8th. I will be in the audience for that event.

We know that Crisis Intervention Team training has revolutionized how police departments interact with individuals who are in the midst of a psychotic break. Now, CODE offers us training specifically aimed at Correctional Officers. Given that jails and prisons have become our new mental asylums, this is an important film. Please circulate the trailer, make your local correctional departments aware of CODE and spread the word.

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Helping Calm A Delusional Passenger: A Peer Specialist Comes To the Rescue


Mental Illness Crisis at 35,000 Feet

By Gabe Howard

When I saw the young woman reach for the cockpit door on a recent cross-country flight, I knew there was going to be trouble.

 A few moments earlier, I had watched her come down the aisle to use the lavatory at the rear of the aircraft near where I was sitting. She tried to open its door but couldn’t. She tried again.

 A flight attendant noticed and told her the bathroom was occupied and that she would need to wait her turn.

 The woman insisted the door was just stuck and kept struggling with it.

 I was sitting close enough to see the woman’s eyes and what I saw troubled me.  Total anxiety. The fear and confusion radiating off her was as clear as day to me because I had experienced panic and anxiety attacks.

 The flight attendant suggested she try the rest room in the front of the aircraft. The woman started to cry, gasp for air, and whimper unintelligibly, as she returned up the aisle.

Mental Illness can cause confusion.  This confusion, coupled with desperation and fear, can lead to frightening outcomes. When she reached the front, she started to grab various handles in an attempt to gain entry to the bathroom. One of those handles was the cockpit door.

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Join Me Tuesday Night Speaking About RESILIENCE


If you live in the Fairfax County area, please join me Tuesday night for an informal talk about RESILIENCE, the book that I helped Jessie Close write about her struggles with addiction and bi-polar disorder.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Meet the Author: Pete Earley
Cascades Library  21030 Whitfield Pl, Potomac Falls, VA 20165
Tuesday, May 19, 7:00 pm
Pete Earley will discuss his new book, Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness, written in collaboration with Jessie Close. The book tells of the Close sisters’ journey; from a cult school in Switzerland, to the Belgian Congo where their father became a surgeon in the war ravaged republic, to boarding school in the US, where Jessie first started to exhibit symptoms of severe bipolar disorder (she would later learn that this ran in the family, a well-kept secret). Through a series of destructive marriages, Glenn was always by Jessie’s side and it was not until Jessie’s son Calen entered McLean’s psychiatric hospital that Jessie herself was diagnosed. Fifteen years and twelve years of sobriety later, Jessie is a stable and productive member of society.
Book sale and signing to follow.

Two Everyday Incidents Reveal How Sick Individuals End Up In Jail When They Need Help

Restraint Chair Similar To One Used At Jail

Restraint Chair Similar To One Used At Jail

A 27 year-old man, who we will call Charles, was trying to kill himself when workers at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Falls Church intervened. He began hitting them. The state police were called and Charles was taken from the residential treatment center to the jail, charged with five counts of misdemeanor simple assault.

This is the same Fairfax detention center where Natasha McKenna, a 37 year-old woman with schizophrenia died after being shot with a 50,000 volt taser four times while in shackles with her head hooded.

Charles was booked into jail on April 28th. He had a long history of suicide attempts.

Two days later, April 30th, Charles began hitting his head against the cell wall. He was put into a padded cell and then strapped into a restraint chair.

On May 1st, deputies decided he was calm enough to move him into a single cell, but Charles began threatening suicide and so on May 2nd, he was put back in the restraint chair. On May 3rd, he was calm enough to return to his cell.

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My Son Shares His Recovery Story: Becomes Emotional Talking About The Plight Of Others

Green Door, a Washington D.C. mental health organization, honored Kevin and me last week at its fund-raising gala. During his four-minute acceptance speech, Kevin became emotional as he described his remarkable journey to recovery. I remember a time when my son, who was called Mike in my book, was shot by the police with a taser, hogtied, and taken to a mental health center. I wondered if this would be our future. Fortunately, Kevin finally got the help that he needed to succeed and now is doing well working as a peer-to-peer specialist.

When Kevin was at his sickest, I was grateful to individuals with mental illnesses who were brave enough to tell their stories. Many gave me hope. I am now thrilled and proud that Kevin is one of those story tellers.

A few days after the gala, Kevin participated in the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s  31 Days, 31 Stories — Stepping Up Initiative.

Thank you Kevin for fighting stigma by speaking so passionately in public. It is, indeed, an incredible journey that we are on together.

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