A Poignant PBS Segment: Jerri Clark Describes Her Family’s Struggle To Get Help For Son With His Mental Illness.

(1-14-19) Jerri Niebaum Clark has told her family’s story in a powerful segment on PBS News Hour.

She documents just how difficult it is for a family to get help when signs of mental illness emerge.

I believe personal stories are the most effective way for us to educate the public and our elected leaders – especially if they are told as poignantly as Jerri does.

People are dying. Others – whose only crime is that they got sick – are inappropriately locked inside our jails and prisons.

You are an inspiration Jerri!

This is not the first time she has spoken out. Jerri is the founder of MOMI – Mothers of the Mentally Ill. She is an inspiring example of how one person is making a difference.

Thank you Jerri for your courage and thanks to your son, Calvin, for allowing you to share his story.

Jerri received so many requests for help after the segment aired that she posted a follow up blog that contains smart advice.

By Jerri Clark founder of Mothers of the Mentally Ill
PBS News Hour featured me and my family’s story on its segment, Brief But Spectacular. 
Within a few hours, my various inboxes were flooded with requests from family members seeking help in their personal situations. I do not have capacity to address each of these cases individually, so I’ve written a starter list of ways that ALL OF US can get involved in systems advocacy. Mental Health Reform is an idea whose time has come, and it will take all of us with the courage to share our personal stories to inspire true change. Here are some ways that you can start:
  1. Ask every single person that you contact seeking help for your loved one: “What should I do?” RECORD THE ANSWERS. My friends and I have been advised from providers and county crisis workers: “Provoke him to hurt you;” “Take out an Order of Protection in order to get him arrested;” “Stop trying—he will have to figure this out on his own;” “Wait until he’s violent and then we might be able to do something;” “Call the police and try to get him arrested.” Of course these are ludicrous answers, but most officials and the general public have no idea that this is what providers are telling families and that it’s happening with consistency all over our country. The truth is that nobody has any idea what to do or what to tell us. There isn’t a system or any significant help available from anyone, almost anywhere.
  2. Take those answers to ANYONE with any power to elicit change: Legislators, governors, jail directors, reporters, law enforcement leaders (sheriffs), attorneys, heads of mental health centers and general hospitals, insurance carriers and case managers, disability rights organizations, state Departments of Health, DSHS, SAMSHA….anyone you can think of with power and responsibility related to mental health.
  3. Learn your state laws. Most Involuntary Treatment Act laws are not written to always, explicitly require imminent threat … but in practice this is what is being consistently applied because of the SHORTAGE of services and hospital beds. Treatment Advocacy Center’s Grading the States report can help you know what laws related to treatment access apply in your state.
  4. If agencies aren’t following the law, there is potential for class action litigation. A lawsuit related to hospital denial is being researched by DJ Jaffee, who wrote the book, “Insane Consequences.” Read the book. Talk to attorneys in your state. Attorneys in Arizona filed a class action suit that influenced application of their ITA laws.
  5. Follow the blogs and websites of Pete Earley and Treatment Advocacy Center and participate in those social media conversations
  6. Hold public officials and professionals accountable. If your loved one is in danger, figure out who should be responsible for helping and go to the top with a letter, email and/or a phone call and tell that specific person that you are holding him/her PERSONALLY accountable.
  7. Educate everyone you encounter about anosognosia—the biological inability of the brain to perceive its own impairment (present in at least half of all cases of Severe Mental Illness). This is one of the reasons that involuntary treatment is the ONLY treatment for so many individuals with the most extreme forms of illness.
Peace and solidarity: We have lots of work to do!
Jerri Clark, director of MOMI–Mothers of the Mentally Ill
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.