Is the Past — Prologue?

I gave two presentations last week in Saint Louis at what used to be called the Saint Louis Insane Asylum. It is a magnificent structure with an iron-domed cupola.

Thomas Silverstein, Hot House convict

Before I began writing about the need for mental health care reform, most visitors came to my webpage to read about Thomas Silverstein, a major character in my book, The Hot House. 
 He has been held in solitary confinement since 1983 — the longest any convict has been kept isolated by the federal Bureau of Prisons.
About once a year, I get a telephone call from a reporter from some national news organization asking about him. A couple of weeks ago it was CNN Writer/Producer Stephanie Chen seeking an interview.
I used to talk about Tommy, but not anymore.Click to continue…

Pill Pushers versus Dedicated Doctors

Mike’s first breakdown happened in 2001 and since then he has been seen by nine different psychiatrists – some private, some in emergency rooms, some in community treatment programs. As best as I can tell, only two of them – that’s right two of them – have bothered to learn anything more about him than his name and symptoms.
I remember confronting one of Mike’s first doctors when I realized that he had only spent ten minutes talking to my son and had no family or medical history to review. The psychiatrist explained that he didn’t need to know any of Mike’s past information, only the names of medications that Mike had and was taking.  He explained that his job was to render a correct  diagnosis and then prescribe the appropriate medication. After that, it was up to a social worker to deal with Mike.
I was frustrated and angry.

Behind the Scenes at Minds on the Edge

Many of you are already aware and have seen MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness, an hour long program broadcast on your local PBS television channel. It was released in October and the National Alliance on Mental Illness is pushing each of its chapters to show the film at various times this year.  I want to give you some background about how this show came together.
Not long after CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, was published, I  got a telephone call from Arthur Singer who said that he wanted me to be his guest at a lunch in Manhattan. He had read my book and was concerned about how jails and prisons had become our new mental asylums.  While I appreciated his interest, I couldn’t afford to fly to New York just to have lunch with him, I said. But he was persistent — and he also told me that he would arrange for my flight.
When the taxi dropped me off at one of New York’s most exclusive private clubs, I began to wonder who this guy was.

Life is short

National Public Radio broadcast a thoughtful obituary this week about Judi Chamberlin the author of On Our Own and founder of the Mad Pride movement. You can listen to it through this link:
Chamberlin was one of the first to use the “psychiatric survivors” tag and while we didn’t agree philosophically about how our mental health system needed to be reformed, I admired her tireless advocacy and believe that her’s was an important voice.
I think Chamberlin’s lasting contribution is her insistence that persons with mental illness have rights and need to be heard, especially when it comes to treatment practices. When Virginia governor Tim Kaine appointed a blue ribbon panel to investigate the shootings at Va. Tech that left 33 dead, I urged him to include a consumer on the panel.
You can read my editorial at:

Similar Disorders?

Between 1987 and 1989, I spent time inside the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, doing research for my second book: The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Penitentiary.
I was given free reign to come-and-go as I pleased. I could interview any Bureau of Prison (BOP) employee or federal prisoner who was willing to speak to me. As you might imagine spending time inside a maximum security prison, even as a visitor, has a dramatic impact on your life.
I remember seeing two inmates attack each other one day. One had a “shank” – a homemade knife – and he stabbed another inmate several times before a completely unarmed BOP lieutenant drove in and separated the two men. The raw imagine of that bloody violence and the courage of that lieutenant stayed with me for a long time.Click to continue…