Part Two: Daughter Wanted Help But There Was A Ten Week Wait. The Grim Harm Of Not Helping A Teen

Marie’s wrist strapped to hospital bed after suicide attempt

(1-9-20)  In Part One of The Shape of Loss: Teen Suicide and the Failure of Mental Health In Public Schools posted yesterday, the mother of a teenager described the attempts that she made to help her adopted daughter, Marie, before she attempted suicide in December 2019. Both mother and daughter agreed to share their story but pseudonyms are being used to protect the family’s privacy. 

The Shape of Loss: Teen Suicide and the Failure of Mental Health in Public Schools: Part Two

Just before starting high school, Marie spent the summer living with her father, my ex-husband, holed up in a dark room, easily weakened from a walk in the woods or around the track. She complained of depression, isolation, a vulnerability that spoke of clipped wings, and I saw a new gauntness around her eyes when she returned home.

During a trip to the Oregon shore, which she loved, I noticed when she pushed up the bottoms of her pants to wade into the ocean, her calves were marked with razor thin white scars that turned shades of pink and purple in the cold water.

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Part One: “No One Wanted The Baby!” I Did and Still Do: A Mother and Daughter’s Story About Mental Illness, Lack of Treatment, Waitlists & Suicide

(1-8-20) Sadly, this first-person account by a mother whose daughter recently attempted suicide has a familiar ring. I asked her to write about the experience and after consulting her daughter, both agreed. Even so, I’ve chosen pseudonyms to protect the family’s privacy.

The Shape of Loss: Teen Suicide and the Failure of Mental Health in Public Schools : Part One

On June 15th, 2004, I was called by the adoption agency and told they had a newborn baby girl they wanted me to consider for adoption. Her birth mother was a patient at the state psychiatric hospital, and, I was told, “no one wanted the baby.” Chances are, she would likely end up in foster care.

The following day, I arrived at the agency to read through the birth mother’s file before making my decision. What I read was heartbreaking.

The twenty-three year old birth mother — Jean — lived with a diagnosis of bi-polar schizoaffective disorder and had endured repeated traumas beginning at the age of fifteen, with a sexual assault and subsequent suicide attempt. In her photo, she looked like a tangled-haired hippie who had just walked out of the woods after a week with no food. The medication she must have been on appeared to have replaced her youth with eyes dull and hopeless, her mouth was closed shut in what must have been a ferocious silence.

I would like to say that I knew the risks before I agreed to adopt her daughter, whom I will call Marie.

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Linda Bishop Described Her Own Death From Mental Illness A Decade Ago: What’s Changed?

Watch this 2 and a 1/2 minute documentary trailer about Linda and Joan. Courtesy Todd and Jedd Wider, and Brian Ariotti.

(1-2-20) Happy New Year!

First, a clarification. My recent post about a White House mental summit by the Trump Administration drew a complaint from a reader because I mentioned that neither President Obama nor his cabinet members had attended a 2008 White House mental health conference, at which I spoke.  The reader reminded me that President Obama had attended an earlier summit in 2013 on mental health, that I did not attend, along with several cabinet members. The reader explained that my most recent blog suggested that President Obama had not shown personal concern for mental health reform, which is not accurate. After all, it was President Obama, who during the final days of his administration, signed the most significant mental health bill in recent memory into law. I apologize for the mischaracterization. 

Remembering Linda Bishop and her final days of madness

From My Files: A seriously mentally ill woman denies that she is sick and after a year of refusing treatment is released from a state hospital.

She gives discharge officials a fake address, walks a few miles from the hospital and breaks into an unoccupied farm that is for sale. Afraid to venture out, she survives by eating crab apples from the backyard while writing her thoughts in a diary, chronicling her own starvation until she becomes so weak she can no longer write.

I first heard this incredibly sad story in 2008 from the woman’s sister, Joan Bishop, who was outraged because the hospital had discharged her sister, Linda, a year earlier knowing she was seriously ill without notifying anyone because of HIPAA privacy rules. Joan showed me a local newspaper article that contained portions of Linda’s diary. She let me read parts of Linda’s diary.

I posted two blogs about what happened to Linda. Two years later, Rachel Aviv, wrote a stunning account published by The New Yorker about Linda’s death under the title:  GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM. In 2017, documentary film makers Todd and Jedd Wider, and Brian Ariotti turned Aviv’s account into a powerful documentary under the same name as the article.

I am revisiting Linda’s story today to remind all of us at the beginning of this new year that many of the challenges Linda faced in 2007 remain unresolved. Our New Year Resolution should be to get our politicians to stop such senseless deaths.

She recorded her fears in her diary while waiting for help

Linda, developed a severe mental illness when she was in her 40s, which is later than most.

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Most Impactful Player In Mental Health In 2019: Meet Marianne Kernan

(12-30-19)

Marianne Kernan is my choice for the year’s Most Impactful Player in Mental Health.

If you live in North Carolina, you know Marianne Kernan because she has been a tour de force in Moore County for years. I am choosing her for her accomplishments but also because she is representative of hundreds of dedicated advocates who quietly and steadily work to improve the lives of their family members and others with mental illnesses.

Like so many other parents, Marianne joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness after her son, Keith, became ill in 1986.  She moved up its ranks in her local chapter, working as a Family-to-Family and Support Group Leader, Fundraising Chair, Treasurer, Vice President and finally President.

After eleven years, she took a risky and dramatic step. Knowing firsthand how difficult it was to find housing for adults with mental illnesses, she founded a non-profit, raised funds, and bought a house that she and her supporters named Linden Lodge.

The Lodge’s 7 bedroom and 3 bath home can house 6 residents and one 24 hour staff member and is located in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Its philosophy is that individuals with serious mental illnesses learn to live life by living it!

Linden Lodge provides its residents with employment opportunities, recreational activities, and physical fitness programs and necessary living skills, such as personal hygiene, grocery shopping, food preparation, housekeeping, budgeting, and time management.  It focuses on helping its residents develop friendships and emphasizes the importance of family relations. It is funded exclusively by fundraisers and contributions from local businesses and families.

In the past, I have chosen well-known figures and organizations as my impact choices:  2014 – Rep. Tim Murphy (R.Pa.), Va. State Senator Creigh Deeds, and philanthropist Ted Stanley; 2015 – The Treatment Advocacy Center; 2016 – U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-Tx.) Chris Murphy )(D-Conn.) and Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-La.); 2017 – Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz and Mary Giliberti; 2018 – Dr. McCance-Katz.

Marianne Kernan and those such as her change lives one-at-a-time often without fanfare. I’ve featured others on my blog: Trudy Harsh, Jennifer Marshal, Laura Pogliano; Lin and Ron Wilensky, Kathleen Maloney, Betsy Greer, G. Douglas Bevelacqua, Sandra Luckow, Elena Broslovsky, Dede Ranahan, Jerri Clark…. the list goes on-and-on.

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How Can This Be Happening In America? Homeless, Psychotic, Addicted and Abandoned.

(Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

(12-27-19) More than 44,000 Americans living in Los Angeles will spend tonight sleeping on the streets.

They are homeless.

Twenty-five percentage of them have a serious mental illness. Roughly, 45 percent have a diagnosable mental disorder. Some 38% of homeless people are dependent on alcohol and 26% abused other drugs.

The homeless population in L.A. now is larger than 18,720 American cities, towns and villages. 

That is unacceptable.

Dr. James J. O’Connell, who has spent more than three decades as a street doctor in Boston, recently sent me an email after spending time conducting “street rounds” in L.A. with friends working for the  Los Angeles County and USC School of Medicine.

I quickly learned the task is impossible with the meager resources devoted to this endeavor, but the time I spent with these young physician assistants and their team was as heartwarming as heartbreaking.

Folks with cancer and deep bone infections living under concrete bridges, tents too numerous to count along most of the major roads.  I have been very familiar with Skid Row over the years (and would go there if I were just starting my career now!), but I was not ready to see how the problem has burst past those blocks and now has spread all through LA..

I can’t tell you how many folks we try to care for on the streets who have been discharged from inpatient (short!) psychiatric care because either (1) they are deemed competent to leave and/or (2) there are simply no beds in any facilities that should be caring for them.  

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Wishes of Much Joy & Good Mental Health To You During This Holiday Season

(12-23-19) From our home, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a blessed holiday season! May 2020 bring you much joy and good mental health.