Stevenson Place Helps Those Who Need Extra Care, But It’s Not Being Replicated


homeless 2

(5-2-16) The Justice Department, many mental health advocates and federally funded protection and advocacy groups are opposed to group homes and housing that resembles an institutional setting. The goal is for everyone to live independently in their own apartment.

But is it realistic to believe that everyone can live on their own if they have a severe mental illness and other debilitating challenges?

My good friend Trudy Harsh, the driving force behind the non-profit Brain Foundation, believes that some individuals need services that are best delivered in a group setting or multi-person facility. That’s currently  a politically unpopular point of view, but Trudy is speaking from her experiences not only as a housing  activist but also as a mother.

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Tunnel of Oppression: Campus Event Helps Educate Students About Mental Disorders


Students at University of Miami walk through Tunnel of Oppression

(4-29-16) How do you get someone to understand what it might be like to experience a mental disorder?

Student members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness campus group at Indiana State University in Terre Haute decided to educate their peers by adding a mental health room to the school’s annual “Tunnel of Oppression” event. Many colleges host “tunnel events,” often sponsored by the NAACP or a school’s residential life organization to call attention to how students often stigmatize and marginalize others. This was the first year that the ISU campus chapter of NAMI added a Tunnel of Oppression room that focused exclusively on mental disorders.

“Tunnel of Oppression doesn’t sound too inviting,” ISU student Charlene Johnson explained during lunch when I visited ISU recently to speak. “But we got really positive feedback here and students overwhelmingly reported that the experience felt much more real than they had expected.”

Johnson and her professor, Dr. Jennifer Schriver, described the NAMI tunnel to me. I’ll let Charlene tell you.

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One Jail Death Sparks Reforms, Another Causes Officials To Hide: Leadership vs. Obfuscation

hiding the truth

(4-25-16) Leadership. How do you define it?

I was asked to speak last week at the National Stepping Up Summit in our nation’s capital and when I glanced out from the podium, I spotted a table where a delegation from Fairfax County, Virginia, was seated. Among them was Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, Deputy County Executive David M. Rohrer, Community Service Board (mental health provider) Director Tisha Deeghan and Gary Ambrose and Laura Yager, who are in heading up our county’s Diversion First initiative.  (1.)

As in so many communities, Fairfax officials made jail diversion a priority after a tragedy — the 2015 death of Natasha McKenna, a 37 year-old African American woman with schizophrenia who died after being repeated stunned with a taser while shackled inside the jail. I was one of the loudest critics about how county officials handled that senseless death.

But let’s compare the McKenna case to what is unfolding now in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area where Jamycheal Mitchell, a 24 year-old African American inmate with mental illness died in jail from a heart attack brought on by him starving himself while waiting to be sent to a state hospital.

After McKenna’s death, Sheriff Kincaid banned the use of tasers inside the jail. She stopped locking mentally ill inmates into solitary confinement unless necessary for their own safety. She began training deputies in crisis intervention team training and created special housing units for mentally ill women and men. She also led a delegation to Bexar County, Texas, to learn about its jail diversion program and when she returned, she became a leader in pushing for Diversion First, which Board of Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova has made a top priority. Today, individuals such as McKenna are taken to a crisis center for evaluation rather than directly to jail or an emergency room.

What has happened since Jamycheal Mitchell’s death last August in Portsmouth?

Eight days after his feces smeared body was found in a cell, Lt. Col. Eugene Taylor III, assistant superintendent of Hampton Roads Regional Jail, announced that the jail had conducted a thorough investigation and found no evidence of any wrongdoing or mishandling by jail employees. Despite repeated requests, jail officials have refused to make their internal investigation public. The local police department chose not to investigate Mitchell’s death.

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Federal Agency That Delivers Mental Health Services Doesn’t Believe Serious Mental Illnesses Are Real! Huh?


(4-22-16) The federal agency responsible for running mental health services in our country is openly hostile toward the use of psychiatric medicine, doesn’t focus on helping the seriously mentally ill, and questions whether bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are even real, arguing that psychosis is just a “different way of thinking for someone experiencing stress.”

That scathing charge was levied earlier this week by Dr. Elinoe F. Mccance-Katz, who spent two years as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s first Chief Medical Officer. In an article published in the Psychiatric Times, Dr. Mccance-Katz writes that SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services, which administers federal mental health programs, ignores serious mental illnesses and evidence based practices in favor of feel-good recovery programs that are politically popular but do little to help persons diagnosed with debilitating disorders.

Dr. Mccance-Katz’s broadside against her former employer might surprise some at SAMHSA because she resigned last year after being highly praised by its director.

But her charges echo repeated complaints that mental health advocate Dr. E. Fuller Torrey has been making for years. “SAMHSA knows nothing about severe mental illness and, indeed, is not even certain that it believes such illnesses exist,” Torrey wrote in a 2013 National Review article. He pointed out that SAMHSA’s three year plan at the time was 41,804 words in length but did not include “a single mention of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, autism, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.” He also noted that SAMHSA didn’t employe a single psychiatrist.

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Virginia Officials Sat On Reports About Inmate’s Death Until After State Legislators Had Gone Home

empty room


Did the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) intentionally delay releasing an embarrassing report until the state’s elected legislators had gone home?

The timing of the release of the report and the meeting schedule of Virginia’s General Assembly, which only convenes three months per year, suggests so.

I’ve already published several blogs about Jamycheal Mitchell, the 24 year-old African American inmate with mental illness who suffered a heart attack last August after starving himself while waiting for a bed in a state hospital. His lifeless body was found covered with feces in a cell at the Hampton Roads Regional jail where he’d been imprisoned after stealing $5 worth of snacks from a convenience store. Mitchell had spent 101 days waiting to be transferred and had weighed 144 pounds when he’d died — 34 pounds less than when he had been booked healthy into jail.

Seven months after Mitchell’s death, I began filing freedom of information requests and questioning why the DBHDS, which oversees state hospitals in Virginia, was taking so long to release a report that would explain why Mitchell was allowed to literally starve himself to death. I also questioned why the state Office of Inspector General had not released its investigation since the results of those IG reports historically had been made public about four months after a death.

In response, a spokesperson for the Inspector General’s office explained that it couldn’t finish its probe until the DBHDS released its inquiry. The DBHDS simply said it was moving as quickly as it could. On March 21, the DBHDS finally released its findings and on April 5, the state IG issued its report.

That’s when I noticed a curious, one line statement in the 16-page IG review. It stated that the DBHDS had actually finished its investigation into Mitchell’s death in December 2015 — four months after Mitchell’s death in August.

That’s right. Four months after he was found in his cell that report was done. Why wasn’t it immediately released?

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A Greasy News Clipping Touched His Life: Why We Need To Speak Out


 From My Files Friday (4-15-16)

A reader wrote to me about her adult son, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but didn’t believe he was ill. I wrote her an encouraging note.  More than a year later, she sent me this note and gave me permission to share it with you.
 Dear Pete 
     I just want to tell you how, I believe, that you helped to get my son into treatment that he has steadfastly resisted for these many years. I think I told you of the difficult time I have had to get him to cooperate and to take his medicine correctly for his bi-polar. Even after he became diabetic, he was just as much in denial and un-cooperative.
      I was paying for his apartment and knew he was not taking care of himself. However, he would refuse all of my offers to help him wash his clothes, clean his apartment or any other assistance. His siblings were, also, turned down. He withdrew from all of us.    

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