Why Do We Abandon Them When Their Skies Darken? Wise Words About Mental Illness

(10-20-17) From my files Friday. I am in San Antonio speaking today at the Bexar County Behavioral Health and Wellness Conference, but I awoke this morning thinking about what Sander Pick, the son of Jessie Close, said at another conference years ago.

I helped Jessie, the sister of the famous movie star and mental health advocate Glenn Close, write her memoir, RESILIENCE.  Pick’s few words, which I first shared with you in 2012, remind me why we must continue to speak out for reforms. Please read what he says:

“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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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?

This week, the Chicago Sun Times newspaper reported:

“Thousands of  (Illinois state) prisoners are experiencing the symptoms of untreated or inadequately treated mental illness, including paranoia, hallucinations, anger, withdrawal, confusion, agitation, anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation…To allow one human being unnecessarily to suffer these symptoms is unacceptable. To allow thousands to suffer is a moral and legal catastrophe.”

When I spent a year inside the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, reporting for my book, The Hot House, the federal Bureau of Prisons set the highest standard for professionalism.

But an Office of Inspector General report released earlier this year reveals our federal prison system, which houses 148,227 prisoners in 122 institutions, has become one of the most abusive and neglectful in its handling of inmates with serious mental illnesses.

Among the most damning findings is how prisoners with serious mental illnesses are being held in complete isolation not for days, weeks, or even months, but for years. That’s right: isolation for as long as six years!

The Office of Inspector General found that on average, BOP prisoners with serious mental illnesses were confined about 896 consecutive days, or about 29 months, in so-called “special management units (SMUs)” between 2008 and 2015.  Incredibly, 13% of these inmates with serious mental illness were released directly into the community after spending an average of 29 consecutive months in isolation cells.

Meanwhile, the BOP insists it does not place a single prisoner with mental illness or any other inmate in solitary confinement.

This is because the BOP refuses to use the word solitary confinement. Instead, it calls it “single celling” – a wonderful euphemism as pointed out in a Washington Post editorial entitled Solitary confinement is torture. Will the Bureau of Prisons finally stop using it?

“You have no contact, you don’t speak to anybody, and it’s a form of torture on some level,” a BOP psychologist quietly acknowledged to OIG investigators.

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CIT Trainer Says Cops Shouldn’t Be Sent To Non-Violent Mental Health Calls. Asking Too Much From Officers.

(10-13-17) I met Undersheriff Booker T. Hodges when I spent several days speaking to officers at the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office in Saint Paul, Minnesota during an officer training week. Given that police see more persons who are in the midst of a psychiatric crisis than most mental health professionals, I want to share his perspective.

Two reasons cops should not respond to non-violent mental health calls

By Dr. Booker Hodges.

Society cannot expect police officers to handle mental health calls with the same expertise as mental health care professionals

In July 2016, former Dallas Police Chief David Brown said, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it.”

I could not agree more with former Chief Brown’s statement that we are asking cops to do too much, especially in the area of mental health response.

I have been a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) coach for over a decade and believe the current push for more mental health care training for police officers is a good thing in part. I say in part because after years of experience and research, I do not believe that law enforcement should be responsible for responding to non-violent mental health calls.

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Shamefully, The NRA Tries To Link Las Vegas Mass Murders To Mental Illness When Its Solely About Guns

(10-09-17) Even though there is no evidence that Las Vegas mass murderer Stephen Paddock was mentally ill, NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch was quick to link mental illness with mass murders when she appeared on Fox and Friends shortly after the shooting.

At the 2:46 minute mark of the embedded video above, you can hear Loesch citing the shootings at Virginia Tech University and in Aurora as evidence that “Monsters exist. It’s a scary thing to realize evil is among us. … Our members and millions of innocent Americans just want to know what they can do to protect themselves from those monsters.”

She was joined Sunday by her boss, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre who stated on Face the Nation that a failed mental health system is a major contributor to mass shootings.

I mean, the outrage they’re trying to stir against the N.R.A. they ought to be stirring against the mental health system, which has completely collapsed.

Those two NRA figures were not the only high profile spokesmen tying guns to mental illness.

“Mental-health reform is the critical ingredient to making sure that we can try and prevent some of these things that have happened in the past,” House Speaker Paul Ryan chimed in on Tuesday in response to reporter questions about mass shooters.

And during the last twenty-four hours, stories have been making the rounds that authorities believe Paddock may have had a mental illness – it just wasn’t diagnosed. This appears to be based on a common assumption that no one would commit a mass murder unless they were clearly mentally unstable.

So here we go again. Americans with mental illnesses are being demonized and portrayed as those most responsible for mass murders when that simply is not true.

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Rep. Murphy Quits Congress, More Staffers Complain Sending Him Packing

U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy in August 2017. (Nate Guidry/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

(10-5-17) I had just finished giving a speech in Colorado and was driving through the Rockies when this story broke. I don’t like re-posting news stories but given Rep. Murphy’s high profile in the mental health community, here’s the latest from Politico. 

Tim Murphy resigns from Congress

The anti-abortion Republican was embroiled in scandal after reportedly encouraging a woman he was romantically involved with to terminate a pregnancy.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), the embattled anti-abortion lawmaker who allegedly encouraged his lover to terminate a pregnancy, on Thursday announced his plan to resign from office later this month — just a day after announcing his plan to retire following the 2018 election.

The Pennsylvania Republican’s about-face came after House GOP leaders and senior Republicans upped the pressure on Murphy to step down. Republican sources familiar with Murphy’s thinking said the married father of one child initially believed he could weather a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story revealing he had sent a series of text messages to his girlfriend — a psychologist half his age — encouraging her to have an abortion. Murphy had been a strongly anti-abortion lawmaker during his 15 years in Congress.

“This afternoon I received a letter of resignation from Congressman Tim Murphy, effective October 21,” Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. “It was Dr. Murphy’s decision to move on to the next chapter of his life, and I support it.”

But many senior Republicans did not believe Murphy could — or should — survive until the end of his term. Several top Republicans said Ryan, who met with Murphy Wednesday evening to discuss his future, also wanted him to step down.

GOP insiders were also worried additional damaging stories could surface on Murphy and his office. The Post-Gazette revealed that his staff was in turmoil for years, with the congressman yelling at aides and throwing folders.

“As I said last night, the circumstances surrounding this situation are extremely disappointing to me,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (Ohio) said in a statement.

But Stivers predicted that Republicans would easily hold Murphy’s district, despite the scandal that destroyed the GOP lawmaker’s career.

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Mental Health Advocate Rep. Tim Murphy Will Not Seek Re-Election Amid Scandal

(10-4-17) The Pennsylvania Republican released the following statement today following a series of embarrassing revelations published in the Pittsburgh Gazette about his personal life.

Representative Tim Murphy

Statement From Congressman Tim Murphy

For Immediate Release: October 4, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC – Today Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18) released the following statement:

“After discussions with my family and staff, I have come to the decision that I will not seek reelection to Congress at the end of my current term.

“I plan to spend my remaining months in office continuing my work as the national leader on mental health care reform, as well as issues affecting working families in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“We have accomplished much in the past year through the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and there is much work yet to be done.

“In the coming weeks I will take personal time to seek help as my family and I continue to work through our personal difficulties and seek healing. I ask you to respect our privacy during this time.”