Storytelling Saves Lives: Jennifer Marshall Inspires and Challenges Washington D.C.’s Powerful Women

(10-28-19) Jennifer Marshall, co-founder of This Is My Brave and one of my favorite advocates, delivered the keynote address at Washingtonian Magazine’s recent luncheon honoring DC’s Most Powerful Women.

I’ve cited Jennifer before as an example of how one determined individual can help change the lives of others and have a positive impact on society. I call it the Power of One!

I first met Jennifer when she and my son, Kevin, were in group therapy together. Jennifer was writing a blog about her experiences as a young mother who’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Later, she happened to meet Anne Marie Ames, a kindred spirit, at a neighborhood party and together, they decided to take on the challenge of staging a broadway quality show called THIS IS MY BRAVE in our area. The cast would be individuals with mental illnesses and addictions sharing their stories through personal readings, songs, and poetry.

Their first show in 2013 sold out and marked the beginning of what has become a thriving non-profit organization that now hosts shows across the U.S. and in foreign countries. The sudden death of Anne Marie in 2017 only made Jennifer more determined to build on their earlier successes.

In her keynote to many of Washington’s elite power brokers, Jennifer said:

“Compassion means entering the suffering of another in order to lead the way out. Looking back on my story, the bloggers who shared their stories so vulnerably online were leading me to the way out: the knowledge that I could have a future despite this condition. We’re all going to experience painful events in our lives: from losing a loved one, to divorce, to mental illness and addiction. When we’re able to open up and share our stories, we can connect on a deeper level with others and guide each other through life’s struggles.”

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Halloween Stigmatizing Mental Illnesses: An Annual Embarrassment That Should Stop

(FROM MY FILES FRIDAY) With Halloween approaching, I thought it appropriate to revisit a 2015 fight that mental health groups waged about an especially insensitive Modern Family episode. A year earlier, I’d called attention to the episode only to catch ABC airing it again. After publishing this blog, I reached out to former Sen. Gordon Smith who promised to get involved in fighting stigmatizing programs on TV. Will this holiday be different?

ABC Thumbs Its Nose At Mental Health Groups, Airs Modern Family Episode. We Lost, Right? 

First published Oct. 29, 2015

Paul Lee, the head of ABC Entertainment Group, which oversees the television network ABC and its production arm ABC Studios, ignored requests by the nation’s six largest mental health groups to deep six a Halloween episode of Modern Family last night that belittled Americans with mental illnesses.. He thumbed his nose at the tweets, the blogs, and the complaints asking him to not show the episode.

For a fun-filled half hour, viewers got to belly laugh at “nut jobs,” “deranged mental patients,” a “sadistic nurse” and a “demented doctor.” The screenwriters didn’t miss a trick — there were chains on hospital beds, straight jackets and a husband who calmed his “looney bin” wife by giving her a “box of Cap’n Crunch and letting her stare at a fish tank.” 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, which led the campaign to sideline the program, came under criticism. So did I and others who joined NAMI in protesting. “Who appointed you the morality police?” one emailer asked. “C’mon, lighten up. This is comedy.”  Another wrote, “We shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.” 

Those comments sounded familiar to me. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, racist jokes, anti-Semitic jokes, and gay bashing jokes were common. So were racial slurs, anti-Semitic slurs, and anti-gay slurs. My father was a minister and he told me that those hateful words and jokes dehumanized, stigmatized and belittled people. As a youngster, I refused to utter them and didn’t laugh when I heard them. When I was old enough to speak out, I did. It wasn’t always easy, but I believed it was the right thing to do.

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Her Son Survived Two Tours In War Zones But Attempted ‘Suicide By Cop’ After Being Rebuffed By Veterans Administration

Dear Pete,

I want to tell you about my son and how the Veterans Administration failed to treat him, contributed to him having a mental breakdown, and then refused to help him.

As you know, as many as twenty veterans a day choose to end their own lives. In our son’s case, we believe the VA’s failure to help our son caused him to attempt “suicide by cop” with tragic results.

My son was the third of five children. He grew up in a happy home, was intelligent and friendly, independent, and enjoyed finding the exception to the rule. He worked construction jobs while a teen, which provided a good income and enabled him to buy a car before his older siblings.

At 17, he joined the National Guard and tested in the 90% range. They wanted him to go into military intelligence, but he chose to be a regular soldier. His unit was sent to Iraq. He later volunteered to go to Afghanistan with another unit.

While deployed, he was involved in multiple violent conflicts. Our son was always able to remain calm, and he saved lives due to his training and ability to provide medical first aid. He was awarded an ARCOM – an Army Commendation Medal for heroism.

We were proud of him and his service to our nation.

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Parents Rejected Death Penalty For Daughter’s Killer: Demanded Better Access To Mental Health Treatment

(Amanda Wilcox’s recent congressional testimony.)

(10-18-19) FROM MY FILES FRIDAY – Arguments about guns, the death penalty and mental health continue eight years after I wrote this blog about the death of Laura Wilcox and her parents’ reaction.

A Different View of Executing the ‘Insane’

Nick and Amanda Wilcox’s daughter, Laura, was nineteen, beautiful and talented. She was a sophomore at Haverford College, a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, and in the midst of a campaign for the student body presidency when she came home for Christmas Break in 2000.

Laura had worked during the summer as a receptionist at the Behavior Health Department in her hometown of Nevada City, California, which lies between  Sacramento and Reno. When her boss called and asked if she could fill-in for a few days over the holiday season, she immediately agreed.

Her mother, Amanda, would describe her daughter to me this way when we first met last summer.

“Laura had extraordinary capabilities, kindness and spirit. She was an outstanding student, graduating as high school valedictorian and was attending a highly regarded college. She was extremely organized, disciplined and motivated; she had boundless energy. She lived life fully as she danced through her days, easily juggling academics, service work, clubs and student council, piano, ballet, and exercise. Laura touched and inspired everyone she met, she had a big circle of close friends; her teachers adored her. My daughter was beautiful, but her inner beauty was even greater. Her strong sense of compassion, respect, justice, and truth were beyond her years. All of that changed when she crossed paths with Scott Thorpe.”

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In A Candid Speech, My Son, Kevin, Describes His Experiences While Psychotic & His Ultimate Recovery

(10-14-19) So proud of my son, Kevin, who recently was invited to describe what “it feels like” to have a serious mental illness. He recounted his rocky road to recovery – how he broke into a stranger’s house to take a bubble bath, was hospitalized five times, arrested and shot twice by police with a taser – before his  “light bulb” moment when he accepted that he was sick and needed help.

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Federal Government’s Isolation of Prisoners With Serious Mental Illnesses Needs Monitoring


(10-11-19) FROM MY FILES FRIDAY: One of my objectives, after I was appointed as the parent member on the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC), was to shine a spotlight on the federal Bureau Of Prison’s treatment of prisoners with mental illnesses.

ISMICC was created by Congress as an advisory committee to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) which is responsible for encouraging federal agencies to cooperate and coordinate mental health funding and programs. One of ISMICC’s recommendations, which I helped draft in our report: The Way Forward: Federal Action for a System That Works For All People Living with SMI [Serious Mental Illnesses] and SED [Serious Emotional Disturbances] and Their Families and Caregivers, calls for the government to “strictly limit or eliminate the use of solitary confinement.”

It took more than a year, but my fellow ISMICC members and I were finally able to get the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin participating in our discussions. I am looking forward to hearing from that BOP representative at our next meeting about what steps the bureau is taking to better handle prisoners with serious mental illnesses.

As you can read from this blog that I posted in October 2017, the bureau has much to do.

Prisoners With Serious Mental Illnesses Held In Isolation For Up To Six Years. Where? In Federal Prisons.

(10-16-17) Public outrage about how Americans with mental illnesses were treated inside state mental hospitals helped spark de-institutionalization.

So where is that anger and fury now when it comes to abuses of Americans with mental illnesses currently being warehoused in our jails and prisons?

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