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We Need to Establish a Legal Right to Treatment

Last week, I explained why I believe the “dangerousness” criteria is an impediment to getting people the help that they need. One reason why civil rights activists pushed hard in the 1970s to get “dangerousness” established was because forcing someone into a state mental hospital was a draconion move.  Being committed was often a de facto life prison sentence. Barbaric treatments, such as forced lobotomies, destroyed lives.

What happens today if someone is forcibly committed?

 In Virginia, on average, you will spend five days or less in a locked mental ward. Your “treatment” will be medication and, if you are willing, therapy in groups where the topic will center almost exclusively on the importance of taking medication. After your five days end, you will be discharged. If you are fortunate, you will be linked to community services. But there’s a good chance that you will be released without any serious follow up.

In short, your life will have been disrupted — not only by your illness — but by the state. Yet, little will be done to actually help you recover from your disorder or help you better handle your symptoms.

This is not meaningful treatment. It explains why some critics are so adamant about clinging to the “dangerousness” criteria. Deep down, they do not believe involuntary commitments benefit anyone. Click to continue…

Dangerousness: a foolish criteria

A front page story in The Washington Post yesterday was published under the headline: “Hinckley: Man on the mend or a danger?”

According to the story, a federal judge will decide the fate of would-be assasin John W. Hinckley Jr., this week after listening to five days of testimony.  Hinckley’s family members, as well as his doctors and case manager, claim the now 56-year old Hinckley does not present a danger either to himself or to the community. The depression and unspecified mental disorder that drove him — along with his narcissistic personality disorder — to nearly kill President Ronald Reagan in 1981 are now all under control.

That’s not so, prosecutors claim. They insist that  Hinckley, who has spent the past three decades in mental facilities,  is deceptive, lazy, and can’t be trusted. The Post quoted Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Chasson stating, “Mr. Hinckley has not been a good risk in the past and, therefore, is not going to be a good risk in the future.”

The judge is being asked to determine if Hinckley is “dangerous.”  If he is, the judge will not grant him more freedom than the ten day visits that he currently is allowed periodically with his mother — while being monitored by the U.S. Secret Service.

I often am asked how “dangerous”  became the criteria that is used  to decide if someone is so mentally ill that he/she can be involuntarily held and forced to undergo treatment. The question is an important one, especially for those of us who have loved ones with mental disorders.

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Getting Ready for “Killer” Publicity

The Serial Killer Whisperer Book CoverI’ve been busy getting ready for the release of The Serial Killer Whisperer in January.

Unless there is a pressing reason, most publishers take an entire year to prepare a book for publication after the manuscript is accepted. This can be frustrating for an author. Writers want their work in print ASAP!

Publishers use the time to design a book jacket, put together photo inserts, do final editing, and print advance copies which are then sent to book reviewers and television producers in the hope of creating a favorable pre-release “buzz.”

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Moving at “Glacier” Speed To Find New Drugs

The National Alliance on Mental Illness recently gave its 2011 Scientific Research Award to Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman who has a long and impressive resume in researching schizophrenia. Among his many titles, Dr. Lieberman is chairman of Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and is Director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. 

Before he accepted his award, Dr. Lieberman gave an hour long lecture about his research. I want to share some key points with you that he made about current medications commonly prescribed for mental illnesses.

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Neglect and Abuse in North Carolina Prisons!

Levon Wilson,  a resident of Winston Salem, North Carolina, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was arrested on August 31, 2010, on misdemeanor charges and sent to the state’s Central Prison to await trial. Five weeks later, he was dead.

An autopsy showed that Wilson had been transferred from the prison to Wake Med Hospital in Raleigh with “moderately high levels” of lithium in his bloodstream ten days before he died. Lithium is often prescribed to treat manic symptoms common with bipolar disorder. But taking too much lithium is deadly. Patients taking lithium must be monitored with blood tests because too much lithium can impair the kidneys and obstruct bowels. 

The autopsy revealed that Wilson had died from “complications of lithium therapy,” which led to him suffering impaired kidneys and bowel problems. Despite the obvious — that someone in the prison system had screwed up in dispensing lithium — a state doctor ruled that Wilson’s death was the result of  “natural” causes. No one was reprimanded. No one was fired.

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