Reflection of Memorial Day

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Memorial Day was great this past weekend. Normally, this is a somber time for those of us who are veterans. As a veteran I can tell you that often I do not look forward to these veteran holidays and July 4th due to the fact that it often times brings up memories of not being able to do more to serve the country, and there is survivor’s guilt knowing that so many of our fellow Marines, Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers, and Coast Guardsmen have died in the wars.

This past weekend was great though. Activities everywhere brought back a sense of nationalism that often times seem lost in the narrative of our country these days. But I’d like to speak about something different about this Memorial Day.

On my twitter feed Monday Anthony Bourdain said, “Remember the fallen, the wounded and let us make SURE we start paying some real attention to all the sufferers of TBI.” Some celebrities are understanding the effects of service members with wounds that can’t be seen.

This one statement by a celebrity was courageous in and of itself. Yes, let’s start paying attention to traumatic brain injury and other unseen illnesses. Thank you, Anthony Bourdain!

 

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Mental Health and the Media

The media, mental illness, and another shooter is securing the spotlight on a holiday that is meant for memorializing our heroes and honoring them. It is troubling and sublimely disheartening that our media focuses on yet another shooter. The most troubling aspect of this is that the media consistently no matter which shooter it is speculates that they have schizophrenia. It’s a dilemma that is all too familiar for those of us who have schizophrenia.

 

Today, I heard numerous mentions of schizophrenia on the news and none of it was good. Schizophrenia is the cop-out, the AIDS of mental illness, and the only mental illness that media ignores until it is time to bring it out in order to demonize, stigmatize, and enable the perception that the individuals with it are inhumane, cruel, or subhuman.

 

The reason this is the case is because the media doesn’t know any better. They haven’t seen the good in each of us. How we care for one another and encourage one another. How we live among them. Because it has been in the closet for so long.

 

The statistics with mental illness and violence are there for anyone that does a simple search of “Mental Illness and Violence” in Google. The statistics show that the significance of the mentally ill and violence is small and relatively insignificant. The statistics show that people with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violence rather than become violent. But these facts will not come to light with journalism in the state that it is in today. Not unless we become our own truth deliverers by living our lives with purpose and actively showing the media that anyone can have this illness, and we are successful because we are living with it.

 

So if you’re like me and are disgusted with the way in which the media keeps bringing up schizophrenia in a negative light just keep on keepin on. It’s all we can do. Just be one with who you are and continue to be positive. Be outspoken. Only we can change this narrative about schizophrenia.

Photos and Archive of Radio Interview with SARDAA Executive Director

SARDAA Executive Director Linda Stalters was interviewed on Small Business Today Internet Radio on April 16, 2014. Listen to archive: www.mjwjtalkradio.com

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The Cost of Not Caring: Nowhere to go

The Financial and Human Toll for Neglecting the Mentally Ill

More than half a million Americans with serious mental illness are falling through the cracks of a system in tatters, a USA TODAY special report shows.

The mentally ill who have nowhere to go and find little sympathy from those around them often land hard in emergency rooms, county jails and city streets. The lucky ones find homes with family. The unlucky ones show up in the morgue.

“We have replaced the hospital bed with the jail cell, the homeless shelter and the coffin,” says Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a child psychologist leading an effort to remodel the mental health system. “How is that compassionate?”

States looking to save money have pared away both the community mental health services designed to keep people healthy, as well as the hospital care needed to help them heal after a crisis.

States have been reducing hospital beds for decades, because of insurance pressures as well as a desire to provide more care outside institutions. Tight budgets during the recession forced some of the most devastating cuts in recent memory, says Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10% of the total supply, he says.

The result is that, all too often, people with mental illness get no care at all.

by Liz Szabo, USA Today

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Electronic App May Help Schizophrenia Patients to Avoid Hallucinations

It turns out that the frontal lobe in the brains of schizophrenia patients does not function exactly the way it should. As a result, these patients have a lesser degree of impulse control and are unable to filter out their inner voices.

“Every one of us hears inner voices or melodies from time to time. The difference between non-afflicted individuals and schizophrenia patients is that the former manage to tune these out better,” the professor points out.

If patients could learn to stifle inner noise it could have a huge impact on our ability to treat schizophrenia, he states. To this end, Professor Hugdahl’s research group has developed an application that can be used on mobile phones and other simple electronic devices, to help patients improve their filters.

Wearing headphones, the patient is exposed to simple speech sounds with different sounds played in each ear. The task is to practice hearing the sound in one ear while blocking out sound in the other. The application has only been tested on two patients with schizophrenia so far. The response from these patients is promising, Dr Hugdahl relates.

–News-Medical

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Mental Health Now Covered Under ACA, but Not for Everyone

Several states are trying new experiments to ensure complete coverage, while others opt out altogether.

Mix mental illness with politics and the business of health insurance, add heavy doses of stigma and judgment, and it’s not surprising that providing mental and behavioral health treatment is as complicated as ever, despite promising language in the Affordable Care Act.

Provisions of the new law, along with the 2008 Mental Health Parity Act, represent the latest attempts to provide preventive services and comprehensive treatment for mental health that is equivalent to that provided for physical health. No oncologist would say, “You’re entitled to 10 treatments, and then your cancer coverage stops.” Yet that’s exactly what mental health patients have heard. No cardiologist would tell a patient, “If you relapse into high blood pressure, your treatment is considered a failure.” And yet that’s been the message to alcohol and drug addicts.

by Susan Brink, U.S. News

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Murphy Discusses ‘Helping Families’ Legislation at APA Assembly

Patients with serious mental illness have a right to treatment and a right to get better. That’s what Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said in an address this morning to the APA Assembly, in which he discussed the bill he is sponsoring in Congress titled the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” (HR 3717).

The congressman received a standing ovation following an impassioned talk in which he discussed the need to fix this country’s broken mental health system. Prior to his address, Assembly members viewed a brief video of Murphy grilling an official with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about the administration’s proposal earlier this year to eliminate antidepressants and antipsychotics from the Medicare Part D prescription drug program’s six protected classes of clinical concern. That proposal was rescinded after vigorous protests from Murphy, APA, and other medical and mental health organizations (psychiatric news, March 6, 2014).

A licensed clinical psychologist, Murphy described his own experience working as a volunteer at Walter Reed Medical Center with veterans with PTSD. He also recounted case examples from his home state of Pennsylvania of individuals with serious mental illness, unable to access treatment, who later killed themselves or others.

In January 2013, not long after the Newtown, Conn., shooting, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (of which Murphy is chair) launched a top-to-bottom review of the country’s mental health system. The investigation revealed that the approach by the federal government to mental health is a chaotic patchwork of antiquated programs and ineffective policies across numerous agencies.

In response, Murphy wrote the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

–Psychiatric News Update

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I am My Brother’s Keeper

I first came to understand mental illness through my brother’s experience.

Never understanding what mental illness was until years later, I came to know my brother’s diagnosis as severe bipolar disorder. Watching my brother struggle is similar to observing a roller coaster: he will have manic episodes where he speaks quickly and paces up and down hallways. Then he will have depressed episodes in which he will lie in bed for days with a curtain drawn. There was one incident in which my brother stole my car and disappeared for two weeks and I did not know where he was.

Current HIPPA laws kept me from trying to help him. The HIPAA privacy rule kept me completely locked out of his care and I was powerless to help him.  The first time I encountered this roadblock was when my brother was admitted to the psychiatric hospital a few years ago. I went to visit him but he was gone. The nurse told me that she couldn’t give me any information about my sick brother’s whereabouts because of the privacy rule. So I was left to worry about where he was and what he might be doing. It was a wake-up call to realize that to help my brother, I could only count on myself and not the system.

For years I have been told by mental health professionals that my brother is an adult and can take care of himself. However, the truth of the matter is that he is not mentally capable of taking care of himself as I am now finally his caregiver.

I am my brother’s keeper.

–The Treatment Advocacy Center

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Steps Forward in Maryland

Our neighbor Maryland has long been among the very worst states in the union for those who cannot seek or agree to essential treatment for their severe mental illness. Marylanders in this condition (and the families who love them) currently face a tragic triple whammy:

1. A hospital commitment standard requiring a finding of “danger to life or safety,” which is often interpreted to slam the hospital doors on anyone who doesn’t appear imminently violent or suicidal;

2. The notorious “Kelly Decision” of 2007, in which the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a patient committed to a mental hospital who refuses medication cannot be medicated over objection without evidence that the person poses a danger while in the hospital, irrespective of the danger the person would pose in the community if released in his or her current unmedicated state;

3. The lack of an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law to help those caught in the revolving doors of the mental health and criminal justice systems to survive safely in the community. (Only four other states share this dubious distinction.)

With the strokes of several pens yesterday morning, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley gave hope for a brighter day ahead. The governor signed two bills championed in this year’s legislative session by the Treatment Advocacy Center and our indefatigable partners in NAMI-Maryland.

One bill, HB 592/SB 620, nullifies the Kelly decision (effective October 1) by amending the state law interpreted by the court. The new language makes explicit that a committed patient may be medicated over objection if a review panel finds the patient’s mental illness symptoms cause dangerousness in the hospital, caused the dangerousness that led to commitment, or would cause dangerousness if the person were released.

The second bill, HB1267/SB882, represents progress towards addressing the two other glaring flaws in Maryland’s treatment laws. It directs the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) to convene a work group to examine AOT and deliver to the legislature by November 1, 2014 “a proposal for a program that … best serves individuals with mental illness who are at high risk for disruptions in the continuity of care.” It further directs DHMH to “evaluate the dangerousness standard for involuntary admissions and emergency evaluations of individuals with mental disorders, including … how the standard should be clarified[.]” (DHMH is already on record acknowledging the state’s need for both AOT and a consistent, more flexible interpretation of “danger to life or safety.”)

For now, we’ll say “one down, two to go,” with optimism that by this time next year, Maryland will stand proudly among the best states in meeting the needs of those whose anosognosia puts voluntary mental health care out of reach. We offer heartfelt thanks and kudos to the Maryland lawmakers who this year carried the mantle of this too-often-voiceless population: Senator Dolores Kelly and Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County, and Senator Mac Middleton and Delegate Peter Murphy of Charles County.

–The Treatment Advocacy Center

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