Lack of Leadership In Fairfax County Hurts Us

Lack of Leadership in Fairfax County has Failed Us

As my recent flight began its descent into Dulles International Airport, I felt a sense of frustration, embarrassment and irritation. The cause is a lack of leadership in my home county by the Fairfax County Bar Association, Commonwealth’s Attorney, and our local judiciary. Those of us with loved ones who have severe mental disorders deserve better.

First, some background.

I was returning from Utah where I had been invited to give the opening keynote at the 1st Annual Intermountain Mental Health Court Conference being held at Utah State University. Before the conference, I’d appeared on the local NPR affiliate in Logan with Judge Kevin F. Allen, a District Court Judge who oversees a mental health court in Utah.  A political conservative, Allen told listeners that he had been wary of mental health courts until he saw first-hand how they can help break the jail-streets-jail cycle that many persons with mental disorders get caught in and  — also how the courts actually save tax dollars.

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Russian Who Exposed Femme Fatale Is Identified

Former Russian Spy Now Peddles Spy Gear

Thanks to a Russian military court in Moscow, we now know who told the FBI and CIA about ten Russian “illegals,” who were arrested last year in the U.S., including the femme fatale,  Anna Chapman.

In case you have forgotten, Chapman and her colleagues where caught in June 2010 and accused of being “sleeper agents” employed by the Russian Federation’s external intelligence agency, the SVR (formerly the KGB.)  Illegals are a Russian specialty. Yuri Andropov, who oversaw the KGB from 1967 until 1982, was a huge proponent of dispatching KGB-trained Russians into foreign countries under the guise of being immigrants. Their assignment was to blend into a target country’s society and, if possible, quietly work their way into jobs where they could collect information. In some cases, sleepers were told they might never be called on by Mother Russia unless a war broke out. If that happened, the sleeper agents would be ordered to carry out military assignments, such as blowing up targets.

The idea that your seemingly ordinary next-door neighbor might secretly be a foreign spy is juicy stuff and when Chapman turned out to be both young and sexy, her arrest sparked international headlines. Most foreign intelligence agents conduct their spying activities under the guise of being dipolmats. This gives them immunity from prosecution.  But “illegals” don’t have diplomatic immunity, which means they can be arrested, just as Chapman and her co-horts were. They were later returned to Moscow as part of a spy swap. We sent them ten Russians and they gave us four alleged spies from our side.

When Chapman and the others were arrested on June 27th, my phone began ringing. Everyone assumed that Sergei Tretyakov had told the FBI and CIA about the sleeper agents. Tretyakov is the subject of my book, COMRADE J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War.  He began working for the U.S. sometime in the mid-1990s and as the deputy rezident of the KGB/SVR’s New York office, common sense dictated that he must have known about Chapman and her pals.

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Friends and Inspiration at NAMI Convention

Rather than giving a traditional talk at the opening session of the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses’ national convention in Chicago last week, NAMI Executive Director Mike Fitzpatrick asked me to join him in a “conversation” about the state of mental health.   

I was worried because it was supposed to be for thirty-minutes. What could we possibly discuss during a half hour on stage that the more than 2,300 people in the audience would want to hear? Ironically, I only got to my fifth question when we ran out of time.

We began by talking about the shootings in Tuscon and Virginia Tech. How should NAMI members and advocates react when someone with an untreated mental illness causes such havoc? I immediately brought-up the ongoing criminalization of persons with mental disorders. Much of our discussion was about money, especially NAMI’s disturbing report, State  Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis. Mike’s grim warnings about potential cuts to Medicaid and having the states take responsibility for federal funds allocated for persons with mental disorders were insightful and alarming.

Other topics included NAMI Standards of Excellence, welcoming diversity, making sure that consumers and parents had seats at the NAMI table, and the many positive changes that have come about because of NAMI. Mike rightfully bragged about Family to Family courses, In Our Own Voice, CIT training in juvenile facilities, and NAMI Walks which raise millions each year.

He ended by asking an important question: IF NOT NAMI — THEN WHO?  NAMI is the largest, grassroots mental health advocacy group in the U.S. Who will fight for those of us with mental disorders or family members with them?

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Brain Developmental Disorders vs Illnesses

Is it possible that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have  more in common with autism and other brain developmental disorders than they do with what we traditionally think of as illnesses? 

That’s what Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, suggested Wednesday night at the National Alliance on Mental Illness national convention in Chicago.

I’ve just returned to my hotel room after hearing his thought provoking talk, which I hope NAMI will reprint. Insel said that we need to stop thinking about bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression as ILLNESSES and recognize them as disorders that appear to be tied to developmental problems that happen when a child’s brain is being formed. By the time that the acute symptoms of the disorder actually appear (often in the early and mid-20s), doctors are seeing the disorder in its final stages and treating its symptoms — not the cause. Some studies suggest that by the time a person has their first manic attack or schizophrenic breakdown, the disorder itself might have been festering for a dozen or more years.  

He specificially mentioned how some studies suggest that ADHD is now thought to begin forming in children as early as age five when specific parts of the brain are being developed. However, the symptoms do not appear until the teenage years.

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Helpful hints about what to do in a crisis, and a Post editorial

Happy Fourth of July!

A new Psychiatric Crisis Resource Kit that can help families if someone they love develops a mental disorder is scheduled to be unveiled this week in Chicago at the national convention of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s been developed by the Treatment Advocacy Center.    

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind whenever someone mentions TAC  is its aggressive and relentless campaign to promote Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws. But whether you support AOT laws or oppose them really doesn’t matter. All of us with loved ones who have a mental disorder need to be prepared and from what I have seen so far, TAC has done a real service by putting together a mental health first aid kit.

When my son first became ill, I was completely at a loss about what to do. And based on the emails and letters that I receive weekly, other parents, families and friends find themselves in the same situation.

For instance, the kit recommends that families compile a list of telephone numbers for key people, agencies and organizations that should be contacted if there is an emergency. While that sounds like a no-brainer, how many of us have the telephone number of a mobile crisis team, a psychiatric case manager, or an Assertive Community Treatment (PACT or ACT team) handy? Do you know the emergency numbers for your community mental health provider? How about your local suicide hotline? Do you know if your community has a Crisis Intervention Team and, if so, how to contact it. What’s the number of a public defender who knows mental health laws? Or a private attorney? Is there a mental health court in your jurisdiction and, if  there is, do you know what sort of cases it will hear?

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Why Aren’t Our Elected Leaders Listening?

Can you imagine what would happen if a newspaper reported that a hospital refused to treat someone suffering a heart attack? What would the public think if a car accident victim was turned away from an emergency room? Yet, according to a recent report by the Virginia Office of Inspector General for Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, at least 200 persons who were having a mental health crisis and met Virginia’s involuntary civil commitment standard because they were dangerous were refused treatment in the Hampton Roads area between April 2010 and March 2011. 

The practice of turning away psychiatric patients in Virginia has become so common that there is a word for it  — “Streeting.”

The IG’s report cited an example of a 66-year-old Virginia woman who needed immediate care but was turned away by 15 private hospitals. She then was driven a hundred miles away to a crisis stablization unit only to be turned away there because she did not make it through the unit’s medical clearance process due to lethargy, a medication side effect.  Forty-eight hours later she was finally admitted to a hospital emergency room.

She was lucky. At least she finally found a bed.

Where is the community outrage? Why are doctors, mental health professionals, community leaders and elected officials not alarmed?Click to continue…