I Urge Senators To Support CIT and Jail Diversion By Telling Our Family’s Story

(2-10-16)  I was honored to testify today at a hearing before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee entitled Breaking the Cycle: Mental Health and The Justice System. I was invited at the request of Sen. John Cornyn (R. Texas), who has introduced the Mental Health and Safe Community Act of 2015, which calls for continued funding for Crisis Intervention Team Training, Mental Health Courts, Assisted Outpatient Treatment, jail diversion and other programs related to our criminal justice system.

The other four witnesses were:

Dr. Fred Osher, Director Of Health Systems And Services Policy Council of State Governments Justice Center

Sheriff Susan L. Pamerleau,  Sheriff Bexar County, San Antonio , TX

Mr. William Ward, State Public Defender, State of Minnesota Board of Public Defense, Minneapolis , MN

Mr. W. David Guice, Commissioner, Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice | North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Raleigh , NC 

I was asked by Sen. Cornyn to put a human face on criminal justice programs by telling my family’s story, which I was happy to do. Sitting behind me during my testimony was my son, Kevin, and Cynthia Anderson, who runs the jail diversion program in Fairfax.

Although I have told our story many, many times, I always become emotional because of the flood of memories that rush up inside me when I speak.  I also become emotional because I know, that while Kevin is doing great, there are hundreds of families who are in the midst of a mental health crisis right now in our nation. They need help.  This hearing was no different.

I will be writing a blog soon about all of the legislation that is being offered this congressional session about mental health. I am hopeful that the Senate and House will take steps to enact real reforms. Meanwhile, I want to thank Kevin for allowing me to continue tell his story and for his willingness to appear by my side.

(My testimony begins at 36:23 if you don’t have time to watch the entire hearing. I spoke for 5 minutes and later answered questions. You can also read all of the witnesses’ written statements on the committee website.)

People, Not Programs, Change Lives: How One Person Can Make A Difference


(2-8-16) I believe in the power of a single individual to cause change.  I believe in the power of one because of what I have personally witnessed visiting all but two states during the past ten years and what I continue to see each day.

Consider Vontasha Simms.

She is the 47 year-old mother of Romechia Simms, who was charged with manslaughter and child abuse after her 3-year-old son, Ji’Aire Lee, was found dead on a Maryland playground sitting in a swing. Romechia, who has schizophrenia and depression, had been pushing him for forty continuous hours and was still pushing him when the police arrived. An autopsy showed he died of hypothermia and dehydration.

Last week, Vontasha borrowed a car and drove 45 minutes from her home in Waldorf, Maryland to the state capitol in Annapolis, to talk to  lawmakers about the need for mental health reform, according to a story  by Fenit Nirappil in the Washington Post.

Vontasha had never been to the State House before and didn’t recognize any of the key players there but she went anyway to urge them to make it easier for parents or close relatives to take charge over adults who had mental disorders.

At the time of her grandson’s horrific death, Vontasha was living in a motel on public assistance. She is not someone who is a polished lobbyist but since Ji’Aire’s death and her daughter’s arrest, she has testified before her county commissioners and used the public outrage about the playground tragedy to talk about how she repeatedly tried to get her daughter help for her mental illness but couldn’t.

That takes courage.

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Duke Psychiatrist Counters Robert Whitaker’s Statements: Calls Some “Unproven Theory.”


On Friday, 1-29-16, I posted a blog by  journalist/author Robert Whitaker questioning the value of anti-psychotic medications. Whitaker felt compelled to explain his position about medications because of statements challenging him made by Dr. Allen J. Frances, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical School in an email.  Here is Dr. Frances’ response to Whitaker’s response.

Do Antipsychotics Help Or Harm Psychotic Symptoms?

By Dr. Allen J. Frances

This is the latest, and perhaps last, of several debates with Bob Whitaker on the role of antipsychotics in treating psychotic symptoms. It was triggered by a recent email exchange that clarified our areas of agreement and disagreement. 

Bob and I agree strongly on the following:

1) Antipsychotic medicines are used far too often in people who don’t need them.

2) Even when necessary, doses are often too high and polypharmacy too common.

3) Antipsychotics are neither all good, nor all bad. Used selectively, they are necessary and helpful. They are harmful when used carelessly and excessively.

4) The treatment of people with psychosis relies far too much on medication alone, far too little on social engagement, psychotherapy, vocational rehabilitation, and providing adequate housing. We both like the normalizing, recovery models offered  by Trieste, Open Dialogue, and Hearing Voices. (click here to read more on this subject.)

5) The care provided for the mentally ill in the US is a disaster that shames our country. (click here to read my thoughts about this.) 

Bob and I disagree strongly on the following:

1) Bob believes that long term use of antipsychotics makes psychotic symptoms worse. He therefore recommends that patients try to avoid antipsychotic medicine altogether or taper off them, whenever possible. 

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Two Internal Memos Show Virginia Officials Knew Much Earlier Than Reported About “Streeting” But Did Nothing


Two internal memos, not previously made public, show that state mental health officials in Virginia were warned earlier than has been widely reported about “streeting” – the practice of turning people away from hospitals because of a lack of psychiatric beds.

The two in-house warnings were written by then Inspector General G. Douglas Bevelacqua and sent to James A. Stewart, who was serving as Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) at the time, and his upper management.  The memos are dated April 14, 2011 and May 12, 2011.

The public first learned about “streeting” from media reports when Bevelacqua issued an IG report on February 28, 2012, specifically about the practice.

These earlier two memos establish a timeline that shows DBHDS officials were aware of “streeting” some 31 months before State Senator Creigh Deeds and his son, Austin “Gus” Deeds were “streeted” with tragic results.

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We Must Rethink How We Advocate For Mental Health Reforms

thinking box

I recently asked Washington area management consultant Steven Kussmann to suggest ways the mental health community could be more effective in achieving meaningful reforms. Here is the thoughtful and creative blueprint that he sent me.

Changing The Mental Health Movement From Within

by Steven Kussmann 

Less than 3% of our population self-identifies as gay or lesbian. Yet, the LGBT community created a movement that changed our nation’s definition of marriage and secured same sex marriage as a constitutional right! Change did not happen organically nor overnight. It was the result of a highly-effective social movement strategy and decades of well-targeted action.

The number of U.S. citizens with a serious emotional and mental health disorder is 10-times greater than the LGBT population. Why then do our social and political successes pale in comparison with those achieved by this community? What can we learn from them to achieve similar results? How can we apply those lessons to transform the mental health movement into a powerful engine for effective change?

The lessons are many, and their application requires a fundamental refocus of movement strategy and structure. To succeed as a force for real social and political change, the mental health community, both its leadership and grassroots network, must rethink and retool its strategy and tactics.

Here are five get-the-ball-rolling ‘lessons learned’ from the success of others the mental health community can act on now:

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Robert Whitaker Explains His Research After Being Pigeonholed As Anti-Medication


In the past two decades, Robert Whitaker has published books and articles that challenge the conventional wisdom about the widespread use of medications in treating mental illnesses.  A research paper entitled: The case against antipsychotic drugs: a 50-year record of doing more harm than good, that the journalist/author published in 2004 is representative of the skeptical eye that Whitaker casts.

By chance, I was included in an email exchange where Whitaker objected to being labeled as someone who is unilaterally “against” medications.  Dr. Allen J. Frances, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical School, suggested that Whitaker clarify his views. In this guest blog, Whitaker explains what his research has shown him.

Me, Allen Frances, and Climbing Out of a Pigeonhole

All of this led to my having an email exchange with Allen Frances, who urged me, if I indeed thought antipsychotics had a use, to make this publicly known. My writings on this topic, he wrote, had:

“Caused collateral damage in 2 ways: 1) misleadingly discouraging meds for those who have tragic outcomes without it, and 2) contributing to the adversarial relationship between service users vs providers & families that is unique to the US and a major reason our system is such a mess. I am absolutely frank with you because I think you are intellectually honest and well meaning, but also unbalanced by the pressures of leading a crusade and by a lack of clinical and life experience with the constituency whose needs you ignore. With relatively small changes in the emphasis of your message and a clarification that you support selectivity, you could broaden your mandate to include the needs of the severely ill inappropriately in jail & homeless and could help heal the rupture between users and providers & families. I understand that you haven’t caused the problems and the limitations of any one person in healing them, but you are in a unique position to help and I think it would be irresponsible of you not to try once you fully understand the other side of the story you are presenting.” (Quoted with Allen Frances’ permission.)

Pete Earley also wrote to say that if I wrote such a piece, he would like to publish it on his site.

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