BITS AND PIECES FOR FRIDAY
* Jessie Close’s memoir, which I helped write, has made it through the editor’s hands and will be published in January. It’s called RESILIENCE and recounts Jessie’s recovery from a debilitating mental illness and alcoholism which together drove her to the brink of suicide. I’ll tell you more closer to the book’s release but I wanted to share the book’s cover art with you. Bravo to Jessie for having the courage to tell her story and thanks to her sister, Glenn Close, for her support, enthusiasm and encouragement throughout the book writing process.
*My Monday blog about alternatives to calling the police when someone is having a mental health crisis prompted a slew of emails. Several readers told me they didn’t want to comment on Facebook because they are strong supporters of Crisis Intervention Team training and were afraid that saying anything that might be viewed as being critical of the police could be discouraging to the CIT program.
I made it clear that I support CIT and understand the police have an often impossible job, especially when dealing with someone who is psychotic. That doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t have an alternative to call. I continue to believe that prosecutors, judges and jurors are more reluctant to punish police officers in shootings that involve individuals with mental disorders because they automatically believe that someone who is mentally impaired deserves whatever happens. That’s wrong. Here are some snippets from three emails:
1. You wrote: “This is why CIT is important, but let’s stop for a moment and ask ourselves a simple question. Why is calling the police our only option?” Since you also live in Fairfax County you know that the only other alternative is to call the CSB emergency line. We’ve done it and we’ve found:
— The bar for qualifying for a CSB emergency intervention is very, very high
— CSB emergency resources are so thin that even if your situation meets their criteria, you will still need to wait hours, or even until the next day to receive assistance.
— You are charged a hefty fee for engaging the CSB.
There is no charge and a very low qualification bar to bring the police to your house and they will arrive in minutes, guaranteed.
Until the mental health emergency response system is funded and staffed at a comparable level (in terms of need) to the police department, we’ll continue to have sad cases like the one you cited.
2. At a conference on mental health and the law I spoke to officers in a workshop about police shootings. The response was defensive. I was perceived as anti-cop, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The police have a dark, dangerous and dirty job. I couldn’t do that kind of work. But at the same time I’m fairly certain that I could talk down an escalated and disturbed person better than many of them seem to do.
3. Do you believe people aren’t dangerous who have a mental illness? The police don’t need to protect the public from people who are having a heart attack. But they often are needed to protect family, friends, and innocent others when someone becomes sick and violent. That’s why the police are called.
* I wrote a recent blog about how a courageous judge here in Fairfax County was holding a public meeting to solicit opinions and support for a veteran’s docket. One young man who attended was a member of our Northern Virginia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and I was impressed with the questions he asked. My NAMI activist friend, Robert Cluck, told me this young man epitomized recovery and was a blessing to our local chapter. Eleven days after the judge’s meeting, that young man ended his own life. No one saw it coming. It is a reminder of how insidious schizophrenia is. In 2010, suicide ranked 11th for cause of death among Virginia residents and was the third leading cause among 10 to 24 year olds. In 2011, 1,067 Virginians died by suicide. Anyone listening?
*You might recall that Pat Milam testified along with me at the first congressional forum held by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA.) after the Newtown shootings. I first told Pat’s story here about how he and his wife, Debbie, tried to save their 24 year-old son, Matthew, but were prevented by HIPAA and other roadblocks. Since Matthew’s death, Pat has worked tirelessly in Louisiana for reform and has been especially vocal in supporting Rep. Murphy’s proposed mental health legislation that would give parents and others greater access to medical information under certain conditions. Pat notified me recently that the Louisiana State Legislature had passed a resolution through both chambers urging Congress to pass the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 3717) that Murphy is working diligently to get enacted.
It’s not unusual for newspapers to endorse legislation. Both The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have urged passage of Murphy’s bi-partisan bill. Now the Michigan legislature also has passed a resolution urging Congress to approve H.R. 3717. Rep. Murphy and psychiatrist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey squared off against Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), who introduced legislation designed to gut Murphy’s bill, and Curtis Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, in a recent appearance on the Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio. Two regular readers of this blog also were featured as call- in guests. G.G. Burns spoke in favor of Murphy’s bill and Chrisa Hickey criticized it. If you missed the program, you can listen to it here.
Despite the Michigan legislature’s endorsement, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Fred Upton — a Republican from Michigan — has agreed to block H.R. 3717 and/or gut most of its major provisions according to a recent story in The Hill.
It’s one thing for the rival party to stick a knife in your back, but you don’t expect it from one of your own. Maybe that’s no longer true, given what happened in Virginia to Eric Cantor this week. The fact that Rep. Upton is from Michigan makes his actions even more ironic.