A Mother Who Lost Her Daughter But Is Saving Others One House At A Time

Today is Mother’s Day and I would like to tell you about an extraordinary mother who also is an amazing mental health advocate. Her name is Trudy Harsh and she lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

Trudy’s daughter, Laura, developed a brain tumor when she was eight years old. Doctors at Georgetown Hospital in Washington D.C. were able to remove it, but they warned Trudy that Laura would only live for six more years at best. 

As often happens to persons who undergo traumatic brain injuries or have parts of their brain removed, Laura awoke from her surgery a completely different person. She was not the bright, sensitive and loving child that Trudy had given birth to. The parts of her brain that controlled her emotions, especially anger, had been destroyed. 

Tasers and another fatality

Sadly, here we go again.
Another person with a mental illness from Fairfax County, Virginia, where I live, died in an incident with the police on Friday. This time it was after he was shot with a Taser stun gun.
The police responded at 12:41 a.m. to a report that a man was in “psychiatric distress.” When they arrived, he was naked and “uncooperative.” He ignored officers’ commands and became combative, the police said. At that point, an officer shot him with a Taser to bring him under control. The man stopped breathing and died.

Sex and the Saddle

 “Why don’t you reporters simply tell the truth?” a frustrated public official once asked me.

Whenever I hear a question like that, I think about an incident that happened when I was a young reporter at The Tulsa Tribune in Oklahoma and a woman called and told me that she needed my help.  

 She said  her husband was in prison and that she was being sexually harassed by a high -ranking prison official. She claimed this man had threatened to have her husband beaten unless she did what the official wanted sexually.

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Crisis Care Centers vs ERs

The first time Mike became psychotic, I drove him to a hospital emergency room. We didn’t know any psychiatrists and Mike needed immediate help. Taking him there turned out to be a mistake.

Emergency rooms are where everyone goes nowadays whenever they have any kind of health-related crisis, but many are poorly equipped to deal with psychiatric patients in the midst of  a mental break.  

Some patients are turned away, as Mike and I were, without getting help. Or a patient might be held down and given a shot of Haldol or another strong anti-psychotic  that will help stabilize him but also can turn him into a walking zombie for days.

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Is Solitary Confinement Cruel?

      Is being confined indefinitely in  a solitary prison cell “cruel and unusual punishment” and does it violate a prisoner’s right to due process?

    A team of students at the University of Denver Strum School of Law and two of their professors claim the answer to both questions is yes. In 2007,  they filed a civil rights lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on behalf of a familiar name: Thomas Silverstein.

Silverstein sent me this drawing after I mailed him one of my books. Several BOP officers were angry that I gave him a copy but didn't offer them one.

     Silverstein is a major character in my book, The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison, and someone I have known since 1987. That’s when I became the first and – to date — the only reporter ever allowed to interview him in prison.

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Psychiatric Advance Directives Make Sense!

If you have read my book, this blog, or heard me speak, then you know that the first time my son, Mike, became psychotic, I raced him to a hospital emergency room seeking help. Mike was delusional, but he didn’t believe anything was wrong with him, and he was convinced that all “pills were poison” so he refused treatment. The emergency room doctor told me that he could not intervene until Mike became an “imminent danger” either to himself or others. That was the law. Mike had a right to be “crazy.”  Forty-eight hours later, Mike was arrested after he broke into an unoccupied house to take a bubble bath.
The second time Mike became psychotic, I waited until he became dangerous and what happened?
Our local mobile crisis team refused to come help me, the police were called, and Mike was shot with a Taser.
As a father, those two situations frustrated and enraged me.
What I didn’t know at the time was there was an alternative that could have helped Mike and possibly  prevented what had happened to us. 
It’s called a Psychiatric Advance Directive and this week, I received a wonderful email from my state National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter telling me about how PADs, as they are known, are becoming more common in my home state of Virginia.
A PAD is a legal document that is filled-out by a person with a mental illness while he/she is  well. (One of the biggest myths about persons with mental disorders is that they are always psychotic and, therefore, incapable of rational thought.)
PADs are generally divided into two sections.