Jay’s Story: No One Should Be Left Behind, Thankful But Still Much To Be Done

homeless youth

( From My Files Friday: This Thanksgiving marks the beginning of my son’s eighth year in recovery! I am grateful to the many people who helped him and am proud of him for finally accepting his illness and taking steps to recover. I realize, however, there are many who are very sick and for their loved ones, Thanksgiving can be a difficult time. A year ago, I published a powerful blog by Joanne Kelly about her son, Jay. I recently asked if Jay’s situation had improved and, sadly, the answer was no. Joanne, please know that you and Jay are in our thoughts and prayers. You are why we must continue our fight for a better system. No one should be left behind.)

Please God Keep Jay Safe For Another Week: A Mother’s Ritual

          RITUALS   —   By Joanne Kelly

If you are an astute observer and you stand in the courtyard of my son’s apartment building, you might notice that everyone’s window blinds are white except Jay’s. The blinds in his windows are a golden brown, the outward manifestation of a two-packs-a-day smoking habit multiplied by four years of occupancy in this particular apartment. joanne

Today is pretty typical of my visits over the last few months. Jay hasn’t answered any of my phone calls this week. It is 4:00 in the afternoon on a sunny day in late November. I knock. I wait. I knock again. I wait some more. Finally I hear him unlock the deadbolt. He opens the door looking disheveled and groggy. Obviously, I have interrupted his sleep.

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Judge Steve Leifman Is Honored At U.S. Supreme Court For Mental Health Advocacy


My good friend, Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman, received one of the highest honors awarded to a jurist during a recent ceremony held at the U.S. Supreme Court. I was privileged to be his guest and sit with his family when he received the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence from U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts. The award recognizes a judge each year who exemplifies judicial excellence, integrity, fairness, and professional ethics.

Judge Leifman was honored by his peers because of his tireless efforts to improve the lives of Americans with severe mental illnesses. True to form, he made an impassioned plea to his fellow judges during his acceptance speech, asking them to join him in diverting persons with mental disorders out of the criminal justice system and into community treatment.

If you have read my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, you will recall that it was Judge Leifman who arranged for me to spend ten months inside the Miami-Dade detention center following persons with severe mental illnesses through the criminal justice system out onto the streets. I had not planned on doing research in Miami, but the Los Angeles jail kicked me out after two days, claiming that I was violating HIPAA. (That was simply an excuse to keep me from documenting the dreadful conditions I was seeing there.) I tried to visit jails in Chicago, New York, Baltimore and Washington D.C. but none of them would allow me access. I would not have been able to write my book had it not been for Judge Leifman who invited me to Miami.

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Suicide In Jail Spurs Action After Mother Shares Son’s Story

Josh_Sales Specialist-1

From My Files Friday: A year ago, I published an email from Anne Francisco whose adult son, Josh,  ended his life in a jail cell.  Her account led to several newspaper articles in Missouri about how persons with mental illnesses are treated in jails. A network news program also expressed interest and last week, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) showed a photo of Josh and mentioned his death during the markup session of his Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act. Anne told me this week that a St. Louis civil rights lawyer has stepped forward to file a lawsuit for better mental health services in Missouri.

My Son Killed Himself: Josh Deserved Better!

Dear Pete,

My 39-year old son killed himself today.

Josh hung himself in a solitary confinement cell in a prison south of St. Louis, Missouri.   He died alone, afraid, and powerless. Josh needed help. Instead, he got punishment.

Like all mothers, I had dreams for my children — dreams that didn’t include mental illness or prison. My husband and I knew very little about mental illness until four years ago when we received a long distance phone call from our daughter-in-law telling us that Josh’s behavior had changed and she needed our help to convince him that he should enter a hospital for psychiatric treatment. She explained that Josh was sleeping very little and was having racing thoughts. He’d become hyper-vigilant about national/government affairs and hyper-religious, praying in strange tongues. Josh was 35 years old at the time — a handsome and energetic young man who adored his wife and two children. Always ready to lend a helping hand, Josh would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He had a special place in his heart for people who were hurting.

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Tragic Stories Fuel Interest In Mental Health Reform


I had lunch Monday with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tx) who has introduced the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act, which will fund mental health courts and crisis intervention team training, among other things. (More about that bill in future blogs.) On Friday, I will be speaking at a morning conference on Capitol Hill sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) entitled Addressing Over-incarceration of the Seriously Mentally Ill As Part of Criminal Justice Reform. 

In a press release, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) whose Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, is awaiting further markup, noted that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wi) said Sunday during an interview on 60 Minutes that our mental health system needs attention.

“The other issue we need to take a look at, and I’m pushing this in the Commerce committee, is Congressman Murphy’s legislation on mental health,” said Ryan. “I think we need to improve our mental health laws so we can address these problems before they get out of control because mental health is a component of these shootings that I think we have not looked at seriously enough. So I think that’s an area that we’re going to be taking a deep look at. We’re moving legislation right now in the House Commerce committee.” 

Clearly, mental health reform is an issue on our elected leaders’ minds, spurred partially because of front page news stories such as this one, which my alma mater, The Washington Post, printed today. 

How one of the nation’s most promising basketball players became homeless

By Terrence McCoy, The Washington Post

On a summer day in 2012, a basketball superstar walked into Jimmy John’s in downtown Washington just as employees were attempting to kick out a homeless woman. Chamique Holdsclaw, who was drafted first overall in 1999 by the Washington Mystics and played in six all-star games, tried to ignore the commotion until she suddenly became part of it.

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Proud To Be Part of Lynda Cutrell’s 99 Faces Anti-Stigma Exhibit

99 Faces photo by Louise Michaud

99 Faces photo by Louise Michaud

Lynda Michaud Cutrell, a long-time Boston mental health advocate, recently invited me to participate in a clever anti-stigma project that she is creating called 99 Faces.

Lynda is developing a museum quality display that shows portraits of 99 individuals.  33 of those pictured have been diagnosed on the schizophrenia spectrum, 33 on the bipolar spectrum, and 33 are persons who love them.  However, everyone is mixed up together in the exhibit.

“No one is labeled,” Lynda explained, “and this reinforces that symptoms are not the person.  These portraits honor all faces, regardless of the presence of a mental illness.”

Goals of the 99 Faces exhibit include showing:

Diversity of the US population. 99 Faces, includes ages that range from 3 years old to individuals in their 90th year as well as individuals from every walk of life: Vets, Phds, Artists, Lawyers, MBAs, CEOs, authors, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, etc. 

Our Common Humanity: 99 Faces reveals the beauty, individuality and happiness within all individuals…. regardless of their experiences with BP-SZ-Normal symptoms.  The photography captures personality and spirit, images which reach from the individual to create a connection with the viewer.


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D. J. Jaffe: Why Murphy’s Legislation Needs To Be Passed Now

Families attending the markup wore pink tags to show their support of Murphy's bill (Photo by D. J. Jaffe)

Families attending the markup wore pink tags to show their support of Murphy’s bill (Photo by D. J. Jaffe)

On Tuesday (11-10-15), I posted a blog by mental health advocate Leah Harris who opposes Rep. Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act , which is making its way through the legislative process. Today, D. J. Jaffe, a strong supporter of the bill, writes about last week’s subcommittee markup session and why he believes Murphy’s bill should be approved without amendments.

Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act passes first hurdle

By DJ Jaffe, Executive Director, Mental Illness Policy Org.

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR2646) was passed by the Health Subcommittee last week. (Unamended version here) But sitting in the room watching, was like attending two separate plays going on simultaneously. One play, about substantive ways to help the most seriously mentally ill was put on by Republicans. Democrats put on the other play. It demonstrated how little they know about serious mental illness and how far they had been misled by the mental health industry. It pains me to say that because I am a Democrat.

The Substance of the Bill

Historically, mental health bills in Congress have thrown money at politically correct, feel-good programs that let mental health industry engage in easy and palatable tasks like “reducing stigma,” “education” or “improving mental health,” but rarely deliver actual treatment to adults with serious mental illness. HR2646 has provisions to improve mental health, but it also has five provisions that start to focus government programs on delivering treatment to adults with serious mental illness. And that makes it important and different. If families of the most seriously ill continue to speak-out, this could be the beginning of a shift towards helping seriously ill adults after decades of shunning them. The support for the shift is coming primarily from Republicans who want to reduce crime, incarceration and tragedies. Democrats tend to avoid those issues for fear of causing stigma. They have been taught to ignore unpleasant truths like not everyone recovers, sometimes hospitals are needed, some seriously ill need the help of families, and yes, left untreated, those with serious mental illness are more violent than others. Following is a preliminary analysis of how the five most important provisions came out of the markup, followed by a discussion of what went on at the hearing.

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