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Homelessness Is Not a Human Right, Says Massachusetts Man

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(Oct. 21, 2014) Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, 68-year-old Nancy Wenzel has spent the last two decades cycling in and out of psychiatric hospitals, homeless shelters or living on the streets.

josephparkerWhen Joseph Parker, Wenzel’s son, reunited with her after nearly two decades earlier this month, Wenzel was sleeping on a cement slab next to an abandoned restaurant. Parker determined he would get his mother into treatment (“A son fights to save mother from Fitchburg streets,” Telegram and Gazette, Oct. 20).

He did not know how difficult that would be in Massachusetts.

Parker tried to bring his mother to the local hospital in attempt to get her back onto medication, but she refused treatment.

“The mental health program is not for me,” she said. She also accused Parker of posing as her family.

Parker was told by hospital staff that if he tried to get his mother to stay against her will the hospital would call the police and Wenzel could press charges against her son for kidnapping.

“They said it is all about human rights, but it is not a human right for her to go homeless, refuse medications and treatment and kill herself,” Parker told the Telegram and Gazette. “I think I have a human right to intervene with my mom and not watch her die on the streets."

But in order for someone with severe mental illness, like Wenzel, to qualify for court-ordered treatment in a hospital in Massachusetts, she would need to be a danger to herself or to someone else.

"I cannot fathom for the life of me how difficult it is to help your loved ones," Parker said. "How a man-made law on the books trumps my human right to help my mother. There has to be a better way.”

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Orange County Residents Already Benefitting from Laura’s Law

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(Oct. 20, 2014) Orange County rolled out Laura’s Law at the beginning of this month for the most hard-to-reach people with severe mental illness (“How can Laura’s Law help Orange County’s mental health community?,” Oct. 20).

laurawilcoxJohn and Susan, who have an adult daughter with severe bipolar disorder, have seen their daughter cycle in an out of hospitals more times than they can count. Each time she leaves the hospital she stops taking her medication because she does not believe she is ill, only to end up in the hospital again.

Now they will count on Laura’s Law for help, they say.

Key benchmarks of implementation in Orange County will include a county behavioral health team to engage patients with individual services like health care, housing, life skills training and for some, court-ordered medication.

“This is another tool to get people into services,” said Anthony Delgado, a county adult behavioral health division manager.

Nevada County launched the program in 2008. Since then the consequences of untreated mental illness have declined by nearly 50 percent for county participants with severe mental illness. Homelessness has dropped 54 percent, days spent behind bars have declined 52 percent and days spent in a psychiatric hospital have declined by 43 percent.

“Achieving lasting treatment for these individuals is not impossible,” said Carol Stanchfield, a licensed therapist and treatment center director in Nevada County. “People are going to get better.”

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Public Policies Render People with Serious Mental Illness ‘Invisible’

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(Oct. 17, 2014) People with serious mental illness are often rendered invisible, writes Liza Long in the Idaho Statesman (“Guest Opinion: Ignoring the mentally ill won’t make them go away,” Oct. 10).

homeless photoLong drew her observations after speaking with members of her community who live with severe mental illness at a lunch in her hometown of Boise, Idaho.

“They just want to sweep us under the rug. We are invisible. People want to pretend we don’t exist,” said David who spoke up about his struggles. Another attendee said he could barely afford the cost of medications he needs to manage his mental illness.

Stories like these highlight the destitution the most severely ill often face, frequently further complicated by insurance issues.

A large majority of people with severe mental illness are underinsured, covered by Medicaid or not insured at all.

Medicaid is now the single largest payer of mental health care in the United States, and psychiatrists, including those in community-based hospitals and clinics, academic medical centers, and private practice, play a central role in treating Medicaid beneficiaries with serious mental illness.

“Medicaid expansion would go a long way to helping adults who have mental illness,” Long said. But in states choosing not to expand Medicaid, things will likely only get worse for people with SMI.

Idaho, which has chosen to reject the expansion, will likely see a substantial loss of funding for state hospitals and additional psychiatric bed loss.

The flip side of rejection could mean more people in psychiatric crisis will fill emergency departments, end up in jail or prison or among the homeless population.

“Mental illness is not a personal choice or a character flaw,” wrote Long.

Our public policies need to reflect that.

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Mental Health System 'Utterly Useless' for Massachusetts Man

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(Oct. 16, 2014) Bodio Hutchinson stabbed two park rangers several times after they responded to calls that he was threatening passersby with a knife at the Boston Common in Boston, Massachusetts.

bodiohutchinsonHutchinson, a homeless man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, has a long and sordid history of violent and bizarre behavior, including unprovoked attacks on strangers. He punched a woman in Newtown Square and bit the man who came to her aid last year. In total, he has over 17 convictions.

When one of his convictions led to jail time at Nashua Street Jail in 2010, it took nine officers to restrain him during a violent outburst.

But “perhaps the worst part of this is that through it all, our court and mental health systems have been utterly useless — unable to save Hutchinson from himself, or to protect us from him,” writes Adrian Walker for the Boston Globe (“Why couldn’t anyone stop Bodio Hutchinson?” Oct. 16).

Hutchinson’s lawyers say he struggles to understand reality and that he has no memory of the attack.

“That’s tragic,” says Walker. “But his daily struggle shouldn’t imperil anyone who happens to cross his path. Plainly our mental health system doesn’t seem to be up to the challenge posted by a 290-pound paranoid schizophrenic.”

Walker wonders why our mental health system is failing people like Hutchinson. He implores legislative candidates to stop paying lip-service to mental illness treatment issues and actually take action.

In Massachusetts, where there is no assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law and a high threshold for inpatient treatment, passage of AOT and less restrictive inpatient treatment criteria would be a great place to start.

 

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"The Suicide Crisis"

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(Oct. 15, 2014) Kevin Briggs recalls the day in 2007 when he was unable to talk a jumper back from the ledge of the Golden Gate Bridge in an interview with Gregg Zoroya for USA Today (“The cost of not caring: The suicide crisis,” Oct. 9).

goldengatebridgeBriggs, a California Highway Patrol officer, has talked many potential jumpers back from the ledge of San Francisco’s most famous bridge and is one of the searing stories presented in USA Today’s examination of suicide as a consequence of letting people with mental illness fall through the cracks of our fragmented treatment system.

The lifetime risk of suicide among individuals with schizophrenia is about five percent and about 10 to 15 percent for people with bipolar disorder, according to a Treatment Advocacy Center backgrounder.

“The country seems almost complacent with this staggering death toll,” writes Zoroya. “But the suicide rate keeps climbing.”

My son would be alive today if there had been a way to keep him medicated, Pat Milam said. Milam’s son killed himself in 2011 with a homemade explosive and frequently refused treatment for his mental illness.

But most lawmakers are not interested public policies that would provide treatment for people at risk for suicide. “If the public doesn’t think you can do anything about it, they won’t support it,” said Alex Crosby, a CDC epidemiologist. (HR 3717 does provide a glimmer of hope for the most severely ill).

“The nation must find a way to treat despair before the only resort is a police officer begging someone not to jump,” Briggs told USA Today.

We couldn’t agree more.

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