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Lillehammer to Sochi, Not Much Has Changed – personally speaking

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(Feb. 7, 2014) Today all of the world will have its eyes on Sochi for the much ballyhooed Olympics Games. Many tales of grit and heroism will be told and we will enjoy many deeds of overwhelming strength against all odds that will inspire us. 

sochiYet, as we hold aspirations for our ice dance team, the lyrical and lovely Meryl Davis and Charlie White, everyone’s favorites for the gold, I am reminded of another American ice dance team from exactly twenty-years ago in Lillehammer, Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow. 

A week before this team embarked for the Olympics, Punsalan’s father, Dr. Ernesto Punsalan was stabbed to death by her brother, Ricardo, who was mentally ill and on a pass from a psychiatric facility. Yet, the ice dancing team carried on and continued in the competition even though they had this devastating sorrow hanging over their heads. 

Twenty years have passed and the mental illness treatment system is still fractured and psychiatric treatment beds are continuing to shrink. We need more professionals ready to help, longer stays in hospitals and better education for the public about the consequences of untreated serious mental illness. Most of all it should be easier to get someone who needs help into treatment. 

If these lessons from the past are learned and applied, it will certainly level the playing field for the person suffering from a serious mental illness. This would be a victory of the ages and would match any of the feats that will be performed on the slopes and on the ice rink. Let us step up to the plate and make things better for the mentally ill and their families now! We will save so many lives.

Brandon W. Fitch  

Brandon Fitch is recovering from a serious mental illness and has received great help from treatment. He is the program annotator for the Cleveland Philharmonic and the Black River String Quartet. His interests are Russian and medieval history and classical music.

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"Ashamed of the Crazy"

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(Feb. 6, 2014) “I was ashamed of the crazy. I thought the best way to make it go away was to pretend it wasn’t happening,” Kate Woodsome writes about her mother’s struggle with mental illness (“Mental illness, suicide, depression were in my family. But they didn’t have to be in me,” the Washington Post, Feb. 3).

mentally_ill_motherFew people knew of Woodsome’s tormented life at home with her mother and the psychiatric disease that consumed her. “I didn’t tell anyone that she would fly into violent rages, pummeling me for stretching out the collars of my T-shirts…or that she would punish me by refusing me food,” Woodsome writes.

Too scared to tell her friends or anyone else about her mother’s mood swings and erratic behavior, she believed if she said anything her friends would avoid her because “the crazy might rub off on them.”

In her adulthood, she sought out unstable relationships and tumultuous situations because they seemed more familiar to her.  “I lived in a high functioning state of chaos,” she writes.

After spending much of her life running from her mother's mental illness and its effect on her, Woodsome has finally come to peace with confronting her mother’s illness and the stigma that kept her quiet for so long.

In therapy, she explored how mental illness shaped her childhood. "I stopped believing I was unlovable just because my mom hadn’t loved me right," she writes. Eventually Woodsome was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“People are afraid that if you name it, your life is over,” she concludes. “The truth is, once you name it, your life can finally begin.”

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Indiana to Improve Care for Inmates with Mental Illness

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(Feb. 5, 2014) It should come as no surprise that confining inmates with mental illness in prison cells without adequate treatment was found to be an inadequate way of dealing with seriously ill prisoners in Indiana (“Prison to show upgrades in care for mentally ill,” the Associated Press, Feb. 5).

prison_mental_illnessBy doing so, “the state system was violating the inmates’ constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment,” US District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled in 2012. “A prison that deprives prisoners of adequate medical care is incompatible with the concept of human dignity.”

Prior to the 2008 class action lawsuit that inspired Pratt’s ruling, mentally ill inmates in Indiana were routinely placed in solitary confinement, which usually results in a worsening of the symptoms including paranoia, depression, suicide attempts and extreme anxiety.

In 2005, an inmate in Indiana’s Wabash Correctional Facility committed suicide by setting himself on fire inside his cell.

Since being found guilty of acting “deliberately indifferent” toward the plight of inmates with mental illness, prison officials say there have been improvements to the system.

We applaud any and all efforts to improve the treatment of incarcerated people with mental illness. But if we really want to help persons with mental illness and severe mental illness who are likely to encounter the criminal justice system, then we need to collectively agree that criminalization of people with psychiatric diseases is a cruel and ineffective public policy and a gross waste of tax dollars.

What we need are public policies that provide treatment for individuals before they end of up in jail.

Read our study, "More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals."

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RESEARCH: Mentally Ill Women More Likely to Experience Intimate Partner Violence

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(Feb. 4, 2014) Abuse from intimate partners is nearly four times more likely for women diagnosed with severe mental illness, according to a new study published in the journal Biomed Central Public Health (“Mentally ill women are much more likely to be in an abusive relationship,” Examiner.com, Jan. 30).

intimate_partner_violencePhysical, sexual, emotional, and financial violence were among the types of abuse that were more likely to occur among women with a mental disorder, the researchers found in a sample of 6,851 women.  

The findings "suggest that prevention and intervention activities may need to better target women with mental health disabilities, to help alleviate the suffering and negative impact of partner abuse,” said the study’s lead author, Janice Du Month of Women’s College Research Institute.

We agree. Although the study did not determine whether mental illness made this victimization more likely or vice-versa, it is clear that in addition to services that address domestic abuse, improved treatment for mental illness is essential.

Better yet, earlier treatment and assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for those who need it can prevent severe mental illness from further disabling those it affects.

We already know that victimization is among the consequences of untreated severe mental illness and now we can add that intimate partner violence is associated with it as well.

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Treatment Gave My Son a Second Chance – personally speaking

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(Feb. 3, 2014) Dealing with my son’s mental illness has been difficult and heartbreaking. Over the past 24 years I have intervened many times. But if I hadn't been there to help, Steve would be in jail or dead.

fathersonAt 40-years old, Steve seems more like a child than an adult. Besides suffering with severe mental illness, he also used drugs and the combination was terrible.  

His anger and behavior were so out of control he was often picked up by the police and carried to the police station or a local hospital. But he was over 18-years old so his father and I were unable to help him as he refused to believe there was anything wrong. Like many people with mental illness, he was unable to recognize his sickness.  

As a result, over the course of his illness he was kicked out of nearly 50 apartments, psychiatric programs and halfway homes. So many people told me to just give up and throw in the towel, to shut Steve out of my life. I never listened to those people and I am thankful that I never lost faith in my son's ability to recover.  

Steve's father and I were finally able to convince the court and medical providers that Steve qualified for Arizona’s assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) program. Now he regularly takes his medication and has some insight into his mental illness.

The difference between him before court-ordered treatment and after is like night and day. Before, getting him to take his medicine was one of our biggest problems. We always knew that when he stopped taking his medicine, trouble with drugs and alcohol and behavioral issues would soon follow.  AOT helped Steve with both of these issues.   

He is smiling again, keeps his anger under control and seems to know that he needs his medicine. We no longer have to convince him to take it.  

I don't know what the future will hold for Steve, but for the first time I feel like he has a chance.

Steve's Mother
ARIZONA

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