Federal Government’s Isolation of Prisoners With Serious Mental Illnesses Needs Monitoring

(10-11-19) FROM MY FILES FRIDAY: One of my objectives, after I was appointed as the parent member on the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC), was to shine a spotlight on the federal Bureau Of Prison’s treatment of prisoners with mental illnesses.

ISMICC was created by Congress as an advisory committee to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) which is responsible for encouraging federal agencies to cooperate and coordinate mental health funding and programs. One of ISMICC’s recommendations, which I helped draft in our report: The Way Forward: Federal Action for a System That Works For All People Living with SMI [Serious Mental Illnesses] and SED [Serious Emotional Disturbances] and Their Families and Caregivers, calls for the government to “strictly limit or eliminate the use of solitary confinement.”

It took more than a year, but my fellow ISMICC members and I were finally able to get the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin participating in our discussions. I am looking forward to hearing from that BOP representative at our next meeting about what steps the bureau is taking to better handle prisoners with serious mental illnesses.

As you can read from this blog that I posted in October 2017, the bureau has much to do.

Prisoners With Serious Mental Illnesses Held In Isolation For Up To Six Years. Where? In Federal Prisons.

(10-16-17) Public outrage about how Americans with mental illnesses were treated inside state mental hospitals helped spark de-institutionalization.

So where is that anger and fury now when it comes to abuses of Americans with mental illnesses currently being warehoused in our jails and prisons?

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Neighbor Was Following Her With Camera. Civil Courts Also Dealing With Mentally Ill Without Many Tools

(10-7-19) The neighbor asked the judge for a restraining order against the man who lived next door.

He was video taping everyone. Each time he stepped outside, he had a camera and recorded whoever crossed his path, including children. He became fixated on her. If she left her house, he appeared with his camera. She couldn’t go on a walk without being followed. Couldn’t visit the grocery store.

It got to be too much.  She suspected he was mentally ill. The judge did too. He issued a restraining order for one year.

The judge asked: How could this matter have been handled better?

Mark Gale, Criminal Justice Chair for the NAMI Los Angeles County Council, and I struggled to answer.

We were speaking at a judge’s conference in Palm Springs, California, arranged by San Bernardino Presiding Judge John P. Vander Feer. We were taking questions after telling the judges about jail diversion, Crisis Intervention Team training, and problem solving courts. Mark has a son with a serious mental illness who has been entangled in the criminal justice system but now is doing well. Mark is also one of the smartest and most knowledgeable criminal justice advocates I’ve met.

Other civil court judges in the audience quickly joined their fellow jurist in recounting their experiences in civil courts with individuals who were showing symptoms of a mental illness. (Usually, someone was seeking a restraining order against the ill person.)

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Psychologist Argues Mental Health Bible – The DSM – Causes More Harm Than Good

(10-4-19) From My Files Friday: Back in 2012, questions were being raised about the usefulness of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which defines what is and isn’t a mental disorder.  A Washington Post opinion piece by a prominent psychologist got considerable attention and this 2012 blog response from me. Would love to read your reactions on my Facebook page.

“Psychiatry’s Bible: The DSM is doing more harm than good.”

This was the headline of a guest opinion piece printed in yesterday’s Washington Post. The editorial was written by psychologist Paula J. Caplan who argued that “hundreds of people  [are being] arbitrarily slapped with a psychiatric label and are struggling because of it.”

As an example, Caplan recounted the story of a “young mother” who had been told after a quick assessment by an emergency room doctor that she had bipolar disorder. The woman was committed to a psychiatric ward and started on dangerous psychiatric medication.

  Over the next 10 months, the woman lost her friends, who attributed her normal mood changes to her alleged disorder. Her self-confidence plummeted; her marriage fell apart. She moved halfway across the country to find a place where, on her dwindling savings, she and her son could afford to live. But she was isolated and unhappy. Because of the drug she took for only six weeks, she now, more than three years later, has an eye condition that could destroy her vision.

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Tears of Joy, Tears of Sorrow: My Son Shares His Recovery Story While I Listen To Others’ Tragic Outcomes

(10-1-19) As soon as I entered the psych ward, the memories came. Painful memories of my adult son, Kevin, hospitalized five times because of his unchecked bipolar disorder.

Only this time, the dread of him being inside a hospital quickly dissipated. Replaced by pride and admiration.

Kevin had been invited onto this closed ward last week by the University of Alabama Center for Psychiatric Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama, to share his recovery story with fifty patients receiving treatment there.

Standing before them, he spoke unscripted from his heart, recalling how he had been arrested and shot twice by the police with a taser. How for five years, he’d been caught in a self-destructive psychotic revolving door. How he’d eventually accepted that he had a serious mental illness and with the help of a compassionate case manager named Cyndi Anderson, how he’d started on his journey to recovery.  Today, he works full-time as a peer specialist, lives independently, and is earning a Master’s Degree in social work.

He finished his speech by singing a rap song called In My Feelings that he’d composed and will be released Friday. A part of its second verse:

Remember when nobody cared
now its like an answered prayer
used to push the shopping cart in the parking lot that was my job
I came up from the group home
remember when I was all alone
banks didn’t want to give me a loan
no girlfriend to call my phone
where were you when I needed help?


Patients reacted by rising spontaneously from their chairs to sing along and dance to the beat as he performed. It was electrifying. A tear formed in my eyes.

Less than 24 hours later, more tears – but for an opposite reason.

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“The More Sensitive A Person, The More Susceptible They Are To Mental Illness”

(9-27-19) From my files Friday. I am speaking in Nashville this morning at the Tennessee National Alliance on Mental Illness state convention and as I was getting ready, I thought about what Sander Pick said in 2012 when he appeared with his mother, Jessie Close, at a similar conference. You might recall that I helped Jessie write her memoir, RESILIENCE. 

“I’ve always thought that the more sensitive a person is, the more susceptible they are to mental illnesses. A sick joke in our universe is that the more it allows a person to see its beauty and deep connectivity, the more difficult it becomes for that person to maintain good mental health.

     “In our culture, we tend to treat this tradeoff with a fierce double standard. As long as they are sharing with us beautiful insights into humanity, we will love and cherish them as heroes, but if they fall into substance abuse, depression or any other form of mental illness, we tend to say, ‘It’s not our problem.’

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Homeless Solutions: Hospitals Paying For Housing, Jail Cells Converted To Rooms

(9-23-19) We’ve all heard the cliche, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Yet that often seems what we continue to do when dealing with the chronically homeless and mentally ill.

Which is why I’m always on the lookout for out-of-box ideas. I’d like to cite two examples of such thinking in helping individuals step away from the streets-jail-emergency room treadmill.

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