Fairfax County Making Progress With Mental Health Dockets: Sheriff Kincaid Launches New Alcohol/Drug Treatment Program Inside Jail. Bravo!

(1-30-19) Great news for residents of Fairfax, Virginia, where I live. We are well on our way to getting an authorized mental health docket and our local adult jail has started an innovative alcohol/drug treatment program to help inmates kick their habits.

Fairfax District Court Judge Tina Snee announced during a community meeting that 160 cases had been heard since August 2018 in a speciality docket that is being used as a pilot program pending Virginia State Supreme Court approval of a  mental health docket. Judge Snee said she hopes that approval will enable a de facto mental health court to begin reviewing cases in April 2019. (You can’t call them courts in Virginia, only dockets.)

The pilot has helped Judge Snee test what works and what needs improvement. Casey Lingan, the chief deputy Commonwealth Attorney (prosecutor) assigned to the docket, said that holding hearings on Friday afternoons was problematic because many of the mental health and housing services that defendants might need can’t process the court’s orders late on a Friday, leaving defendants without much needed help over weekends. He suggested moving the hearings to Wednesday mornings.  Marissa Farina-Morse, the Community Services Board rep  (CSB’s provide mental health services in Virginia), said she obtained a cell phone to a defendant after he complained about not being able to reach court officials, to whom, he was supposed to report or speak to case managers responsible for helping him. She was surprised at how useful that cell phone proved to be. Dawn Butorac, the chief public defender, commented about how useful peers had proven to be in helping defendants transition from court into treatment.

None of these observations will surprise those of you who live in localities that have been operating mental health courts for years. But these practical discoveries in Fairfax will certainly help make a docket successful. Such talk reminded me of how communities had to find ways for the police to drop off individuals at mental health centers as quickly or faster than they could at a jail – otherwise officers took the easier route. I remember Fountain House President Kenneth J. Dudek telling me months ago how issuing cell phones to clients helped them better manage their recovery.  At first, everyone assumed those cell phones would get lost or sold/traded/pawned for drugs and alcohol. But that simply didn’t happen. Instead, case managers were able to keep in better touch with their clients, clients could make appointments, and most importantly, families could communicate with their loved one.
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This Is My Brave Film Being Revealed Thursday In Washington D.C. Area

(1-28-19) Inspiring stories of recovery offer others hope.

I was delighted to be Jennifer Marshall’s guest last week when she was named one of ten Washingtonians of the Year.

Jennifer is the driving force behind the non-profit This Is My Brave, which gives persons with mental illnesses a platform for sharing their poignant stories of recovery. Jennifer and my son, Kevin, first met when both of them were in group therapy and, as regular readers of this blog know, I frequently cite Jennifer as an example of how one determined individual can have a huge impact for good.

This is another big week for This Is My Brave.

This Thursday, January 31st, the non-profit will be previewing a mini-documentary in the Washington D.C. area about its mission.

Kevin and I will be there so be certain to attend and say hello if you live in the DMV.

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Father, NAMI Advocate Frustrated By Flawed System That Sets Up Young Man For Incarceration Instead Of Treatment

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Dear Pete,

Just letting my emotions get the best of me.

 Last Saturday afternoon I received a phone call from a distressed mother.  I have known her for almost 20 years.  She has a son who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  He has been committed to a state hospital six times because of his illness.  He also has participated in a study at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland, on medication management. He also was sent to Stanford University for a trial with an experimental medication. 

There is no question he suffers from a major mental illness. The problem is that he stops taking his medication after he is discharged from the hospital.

 He lives in a different city than his parents. Every Saturday his parents drive to his apartment from their home to buy him food and give him some spending money.  He is on SSDI due to his mental disability.  When the parents arrived last Saturday, they found the food and money from the previous week were still on his kitchen table. 

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Virginia Woman Fatally Shot By Police While Being “Restored To Competency” In A Community Setting Instead Of Hospital. Was Race A Factor?

Angel Decarlo with her mother, Dr. Emily Decarlo (Photo courtesy of family.)

(1-22-19) Angel Decarlo was supposed to get help in her community for her mental illness.

Instead, she ended up dead.

It happened in December in Hopewell, Virginia, a community of about 22,000 residents south of Richmond. News coverage reported that the 31 year-old was fatally shot by a policeman after a robbery.

But a local mental health advocate familiar with Angel’s case and Angel’s mother, Dr. Emily Decarlo, are raising questions about the shooting.

They blame the state’s decision to return individuals who are sick back into their local communities to be made “competent” to stand trial rather than treating them in hospitals.

“I never thought in a million years Angel’s story would turn out like this,” Dr. Decarlo told me. “Angel was not a criminal and like so many others…she was a victim of perhaps an insensitive system that is more punitive in nature than reassuring and rehabilitating.”

According to The Progress-Index newspaper, officers were responding to a report about a robbery when they spotted Angel about a block away from the crime scene. She was reportedly running. They “ordered her to stop several times. At one point, police claimed, Decarlo turned and pointed a handgun at one of the officers, drawing the fire. She was shot once.”

Dr. Decarlo questions the police department’s account of the shooting and believes race might have been a factor. More on that later.

None of the news reports noted that Angel had an untreated serious mental illness – schizophrenia – and had been freed from a jail so she could be “restored to competency” in “the least restrictive” environment, even though she was clearly not stable.

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Why Have The Feds Reduced Testing Of New Drugs For Treating Schizophrenia?

(1-18-19) Dr. E. Fuller Torrey is criticizing the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for failing to fund new drug trials for medicines that could help treat schizophrenia.

Dr. Torrey is one of the nation’s leading experts on schizophrenia and is the author of the groundbreaking 1983 book, Surviving Schizophrenia, widely considered the standard reference book about the illness.

In an article published this week in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Torrey was joined by two other physicians, in challenging a NIMH policy that has resulted in the government founding only two new trials for schizophrenia drugs between 2015 to 2017.

NIMH was created in 1946 to find better drugs for treating mental illnesses.

“It is completely unacceptable for NIMH to virtually abandon the search for new drugs for schizophrenia,” Dr. Torrey wrote in an email, “especially at this time when NIMH has received major increases in funding from Congress over the past two years. All of us who want better drug treatments for individuals with schizophrenia should let Dr. Joshua Gordon (head of NIMH) know how important such trials are, and that we are looking over his shoulder to make sure they are done.”

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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.

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