Peers, Funding, Debate At The Manhattan Institute With Dr. McCance-Katz, D.J. Jaffe and Me

(1-1-17) Answering questions on television and panels is always frustrating to me because I end up watching it later and thinking: “Why didn’t I say this or why did I say that?”

I recently was on a panel at the Manhattan Institute with D.J. Jaffe, founder of MentalIllness.Org and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill  ,whose views about serious mental illnesses being ignored and how New York peers advocate against treatment were clearly expressed. Our conversation was followed by Dr. Eleanor McCance-Katz, the new Assistant Secretary at Health and Human Services for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Every County Needs A John Cook To Fight For Housing And Mental Illness Reforms

(10-31-17) It was a crisp fall morning on a recent Saturday when Pathway Homes held its annual Help The Homeless 5 K Walk here in Fairfax County. Patti and I decided to join our daughter, Traci and her husband Dan, at the walk.

Traci is a clinical social worker for Pathway, which provides non-time-limited housing and supportive services to nearly 600 adults with serious mental illness and other co-occurring disabilities in Northern Virginia.

One of the first persons who I spotted at the walk was Board of Supervisor John C. Cook, who chairs our county’s Public Safety Committee. He gave a short pep talk about the importance of supportive housing in a county that has the highest cost of renting and homeownership in the entire state. You need an annual income of $58,320 to afford a two-bedroom fair-market rental here. Little wonder that despite Pathway’s  best efforts there were 1,059 homeless residents counted in our county last year. 

Cook spoke eloquently about the importance of supportive housing and also discussed relatively recent jail diversion efforts underway for seriously mentally ill residents who commit minor crimes, such as trespassing. He recited the statistics with ease without staff prepared notes because housing and mental illness are subjects, about which, he cares passionately.

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Speaking At Manhattan Think Tank About Mental Health: New Novel Hits Bestseller List!

(10-27-17) I am honored to be speaking this morning at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York think tank, along with Dr. Eleanor McCance-Katz, the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at HHS, and D. J. Jaffe, founder of Mental Illness Policy Org and author of INSANE CONSEQUENCES: How the Mental Health Industry Fails The Mentally Ill.

Obviously, we will discussing the federal government’s role in developing much needed mental health reforms. While not open to the public, the program will be taped by C-Span for later showing.  

I understand that nearly everyone who reads my blog does so because it is about mental illness and our struggle to improve our system and the lives of those we love.

Just the same, I’m an author. It is how I earn my living so I want to share some exciting news with you. My newest novel, VENGEANCE, co-written with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, was released October 10th and this week it appeared on USA TODAY’s bestseller list.

VENGEANCE is the third and final installment in our Brooke Grant series, a trilogy that describes the exploits of a U.S. Marine fighting terrorism. Although Speaker Gingrich certainly is known for his political actions and conservative views, our novels are not written to advance any political agenda. They simply are action/thrillers with a Washington touch.

Our first book, DUPLICITY, introduced Brooke Grant to readers when a master terrorist known only as The Falcon orchestrated an attack on a newly opened U.S. Embassy in Somalia. TREASON, the second volume, centered on the kidnapping of Brooke’s teenage ward by terrorists and the unmasking of a traitor working inside the White House helping The Falcon. It was a Washington Post bestseller. In our final volume, VENGEANCE, The Falcon obtains a nuclear device with the help of North Korea and targets America. We attempt to make each book as realistic and factual as possible, blending news events with drama.

In this final fictional account, Brooke Grant comes face-to-face with the Falcon who has pledged to murder her and everyone whom she loves. I believe it is the best of the three because subtly raises moral questions about revenge, justice, and different religious teachings that rationalize and justify the killing of an enemy.

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Remembering Tim Murphy: No Clear Mental Health Champion To Fill Void

(10-23-17) I’ve always believed what my friend Bryan Stevenson (the hero of my book, Circumstantial Evidence) wrote in his New York Times bestselling book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” 

Which brings us to the case of fallen Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, whose last day in office was last Friday.

Many disagreed with the changes he wanted to institute and were offended by his often arrogant manner, but even his most adamant political enemies must acknowledge that after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012, he emerged as the most influential voice in Congress when it came to demanding changes in our mental health system.

It became his cause and he was doggedly determined to make mental health and substance abuse more of a priority in our federal government. Getting his Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act signed into law was a major accomplishment, especially in today’s political climate. Democrats, many disability groups and some mental health organizations opposed his calls for greater use of Assisted Outpatient Treatment, getting rid of the IMD 16-bed exclusion, limiting the power of Protection and Advocacy (PAIMI) groups, and modifying HIPAA to give caregivers more access. By the time, his bill was signed into law last year during the lame duck session, it had been significantly watered down. But compromise is an essential part of governing.

What’s important to remember is that without Rep. Murphy’s pushing, it’s highly unlikely Congress would have passed any major mental health legislation. I recall one of his then-peers remarking during a public meeting that every time he saw Murphy, all the 15- year veteran wanted to discuss was mental health.

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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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