Glenn Close, Joey Pants and Fighting Stigma


Everyone complains about stigma and I am convinced that the best way to end it is by putting a human face on mental illness.

It is much more difficult to walk by a person who is homeless and psychotic if that person is your son, your daughter, a member of your family or someone you know. This is why I encourage people with mental disorders and their loved ones to speak out and tell people that mental illnesses are exactly that – illnesses – which can happen to anyone.

Last week, I appeared on a panel at the National Association of Black Journalists Conference on Health Disparities in Washington D.C. that was sponsored, in part, by Eli Lilly. It was an interesting conference for me because I learned a lot about cultural disparities from Dr. Henrie Treadwell of the Morehouse School of Medicine, and Dr. Annelle B. Primm, Director of Minority and National Affairs at the American Psychiatric Association. Both explained that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression do not pay attention to skin color. But there is a huge difference in how various ethic groups react to mental illnesses. Many African American males are reluctant to seek help because they are afraid of being perceived as being weak in their communities.

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Making a Difference: CRISISLINK benefit

It’s not uncommon for parents to approach me after I give a speech and tell me that their son or daughter has attempted suicide or successfully ended their own life. These are always heartbreaking moments and I am always at a loss for the right words.

What do you tell a parent when their child has committed suicide?

One of the most poignant encounters I have had was with two emotionally distraught parents who approached me after a speech in Philadelphia. The couple explained that their son had ended his life and then they told me that they were both psychiatrists. “Even we didn’t know how to save him,” the father said.  

Suicide is something that terrifies all of us who have a loved one with a severe mental illness.

Which is why I was both thrilled and honored when I was invited to participate in CrisisLink’s annual fund-raising banquet March 24, 2010 between 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at The Clarendon Ballroom, 3185 Wilson Blvd., in Arlington, VA.

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Linda’s Story: Part Two

Joan Bishop tried to help her sister, Linda, after she developed a severe mental illness while she was in her 40s. But Linda didn’t want her help. She refused treatment and medication and Joan’s attempt to obtain a guardianship over her sister was rejected by a judge.

After a drunk driving incident, Linda got further into trouble by throwing a cup of urine at a correctional officer while  in jail. She was charged with a felony. Eventually, she was involuntarily committed to the New Hampshire State Hospital, but she refused treatment and would not take medication. After a year, she was released without any follow-up.

Because Linda had refused to sign a HIPPA wavier, Joan had no idea that her sister had been discharged until several months later.

What follows now comes from a journal that Linda began writing four days after her discharge.

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Linda’s Story: Part One

If you had known me as a child, you would not have suspected that I would become an author. I was horrible at spelling and poor at grammar. As a teenager, I wasn’t much of a reader, either. But I always have been fascinated by people and their experiences and some of my favorite memories are of the times when my father, a minister, would take me with him at night to go “call” on members of his church. I don’t think many preachers actually visit people at their homes anymore, but in the 1960s in rural Colorado, they did and I discovered early on that nearly everyone has a story to tell.

Adding Anosognosia to the DSM

As many of you know, I became an advocate for mental health reform because I could not get my son, Mike, help when he first became psychotic. I had rushed him to an emergency room only to be told that he was not sick enough. He was not considered an “imminent danger” either to himself or anyone else even though he was obviously delusional. Forty-eight hours later Mike was arrested after he broke into a house to take a bubble bath.
I was outraged and that experience caused me to begin campaigning for reforms in our current involuntary commitment laws. I think “dangerousness” is a horrible criteria. It is one reason why our jails and prisons are filled with persons whose only real crime is that they have a mental disorder. It stops loved ones from intervening before an ill person gets into trouble and it contributes to persons becoming homeless and dying on our streets.Click to continue…

A Lecture from a Hero of Mine

I was delighted when I opened my email and discovered that Major Sam CochrenMajor Sam Cochran, who often is called the “Father of Crisis Intervention Training,” had sent me a note. Sam is one of my heroes and has probably saved more lives of police officers, persons with mental illness, and their loved ones, than anyone else in our nation in recent times. He is also a modest and decent guy who is dedicated to helping persons such as my son even though he does not have a family member with a mental illness.

I tell Sam’s  story in my book and describe the key role that he played in developing CIT in Memphis, then spreading it across the nation and now internationally. Talk about someone who is making an impact!

The reason Sam was writing was to give me a well-deserved lecture — in his gentle, Southern way.

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