The Unashamed Schizophrenic – personally speaking


(Aug. 29, 2014) Like most people with serious mental illnesses, I have as a result of my illness experienced my share of  prejudice and discrimination.

joseph-bowersI have been denied jobs, lost jobs and had acceptance to grad school rescinded because of my illness. I would probably never have landed the good job from which I am retired had it not been illegal to ask questions about past mental illness on a job application at that time. When I experienced a psychotic episode several years after landing the job, I had proven myself enough of an asset to the company that they decided to keep me on. It was the first time I had an episode without it costing me something substantial. I never advanced from that point on, but I did keep my job.

Now I am over 60 and retired, and I intend to speak out to anyone who will listen. The first thing I want to speak out about is shame.

When I looked up the incidence of serious mental illness from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), I found that more than one percent of the population is schizophrenic and more than two percent are bipolar. Most sites set the figure at four percent of the population with serious mental illnesses. That's a lot of people. Most of us would be astonished to think that four of every hundred people we meet or know are seriously mentally ill.

Like many families, my family never talked about my issues or my mother's, who was twice hospitalized because of a serious mental illness. It was as if mental illness in a family member brought shame upon the whole family. We were ashamed because we had some bad genes.

Society generally seems to believe that unlike a disease of the heart or liver, there is something shameful about a disease of the brain. True, our brain diseases sometimes cause us to behave in embarrassing ways and sometimes in dangerous ways. But I don't feel personally responsible when I do something embarrassing because of my disease. That's not me acting. It's my disease acting. This is not a cop-out or a failure to accept personal responsibility. I have done many things while psychotic that I would never have considered doing when it was me in control and not the disease in control. Should I be ashamed of those things? I don't think so. I regret many of them, but I am not ashamed,

On the day that he resigned as president of the United States, Richard Nixon told his staff that the people who hate you don't win unless they get you to hate them. When people tell us we should be ashamed, we lose when we agree.

It's easy for me to say, “Speak out! Tell everyone about the issues you deal with! Educate everyone you can!” I'm over 60 and retired.

But the gay pride movement proved that public opinion can be transformed if people speak out. It's harder for us -- it's true. Many of us don't know we have a problem. Those of us currently psychotic are unable to articulate our cause. But those of us who have learned how to manage our diseases have an obligation to speak out for all of us. Logically, mental illness is no more shameful than heart disease or cancer.

Whether or not you want to speak out, don't be ashamed.

Joseph Bowers
Author of Life Under a Cloud: The Story of a Schizophrenic

Purchase a copy of the book here

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Long Waits for Psych Beds Keeps Many Languishing Behind Bars


(Aug. 28, 2014) Kyle, 24, was kept in solitary confinement for nearly six months at the San Diego Central Jail while waiting to get into treatment for his schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to the San Diego City Beat (“Lost in the criminal justice system,” Aug. 27).

mother criminaljusticesystem“Five-and-a-half months. No medication, in his own cell in isolation,” his mother, Sarah, said. “All he did was sleep.”

Kyle has been in and out of treatment facilities since he was 18. But last June he was charged with assaulting and verbally threatening a police officer nearly a week after walking away from a psychiatric hospital. The encounter was his first with law enforcement and it landed him in jail.

Even though Kyle was diagnosed with a severe mental illness, he waited six months behind bars before a judge declared he was incompetent to stand trial and ordered him into psychiatric treatment at Patton, California’s largest public hospital. He still waited another 70 days in jail before a bed opened up and he was transferred to the hospital.

Kyle is not alone in this type of mistreatment. “Statewide, more than 200 inmates who’ve been declared incompetent to stand trial are waiting in jail,” notes the San Diego City Beat.

Sarah told the City Beat that she hopes the right outpatient treatment program will help her son stay in treatment and out of jail.

Sarah's hope reminds us that San Diego cannot afford to wait to implement Laura’s Law for Kyle and the countless others like him who are also languishing in jails and prisons. Just this week Placer County voted to implement the assisted outpatient treatment law and in the last two months, Orange and San Francisco counties have voted to implement while Los Angeles has expanded its pilot program.

Kyle, his family and everyone else with severe mental illness who is boucing between jail and treatment cannot wait any longer.

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Stigma and Serious Mental Illness: What is the Relationship?


(August 26, 2014) Stigma is one of the most important problems encountered by individuals with severe psychiatric disease, lowering self-esteem, contributing to disrupted relationships and negatively impacting the ability to socialize, obtain housing and become employed.

stigmaAnd it’s getting worse, recent studies report.

The Treatment Advocacy Center’s backgrounder, “What is the main cause of stigma against individuals with serious mental illness?” updated in March 2014, explores three topics:
•    Increased stigma against individuals with mental illness
•    The association of violence and stigma
•    How stigma can be decreased

According to the backgrounder, it is “self-evident that stigma will not be decreased until we decrease violent behavior committed by mentally ill persons, and this can only be done by ensuring that they receive treatment.”

Treatment Advocacy Center backgrounders are useful tools for raising awareness about mental illness and treatment issues. For a complete list of backgrounders, visit the “Reports, Studies, Backgrounders” page of our website. To see the Treatment Advocacy Center’s original research, visit our site.

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If I Could Turn Back Time, Part II – personally speaking


(August 22, 2014) My beautiful son deserves to receive help in his life and a chance for happiness. But instead, we feel like second class citizens, neglected by friends, neighbors and law makers who slash funding and block access to care.

ninamcdanielpart2My name is Nina McDaniel and I am the proud mother and advocate to my 32-year-old son, Michael, who has schizoaffective disorder.

Michael asked us to drive him to the hospital on his grandmother’s birthday in 2010.

“I feel like I am a burden on society and I have no purpose in life, I want to kill myself,” he told the emergency room. I received a phone call from the hospital 12-hours later that they had discharged him and he will be waiting for us on the curb outside.

We went home with Michael and 4 days later, he asked to be taken back to the hospital, getting there via ambulance and finally being admitted. The diagnosis was still chronic paranoid schizophrenia and he was hospitalized for only 7 days. Again and again the same cycle, the hospital has become the revolving door yielding no results toward insight or recovery. Just like other discharges, Michael stopped taking his medicine.

It was obvious that Michael was deteriorating at a rapid rate. Because of mental health laws and falling through the cracks, there was nothing that we could do to intervene. We watched this internal torture and endured the verbal abuse while praying to God to end all our pain. Michael stopped watching television, spent all of his time in the pool room or bathroom and talked to himself continuously.

Michael’s enduring torture is just one symptom of this disease.

It is not a political issue, it is a humanitarian issue. Thousands are being lost every single day and families are falling apart due to the challenges of being a caregiver. Every tragedy that involves severe mental illness makes me wonder if anyone in Washington is listening.

I respectfully challenge members in government and advocacy groups to set aside their differences and take a UNITED stand for mental health.

Nina McDaniel
Mother of Michael
Part I of Nina’s story ran last week.

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GET HELP: When Mental Illness Leads to Criminal Justice Involvement


(August 20, 2014) More than 40% of individuals with severe mental illness end up behind bars at some point in their lives.

gavelAs a resource to family members whose loved ones become involved in the criminal justice system, the Treatment Advocacy Center has created a web page of steps caregivers can take both before and after a family member or friend becomes involved with law enforcement, the criminal justice system or both.

For example, if a loved one is untreated and has a pattern of unpredictable behavior, visiting your local zone or police precinct station during business hours and explaining the circumstances with the community resource or other officer may help officers be better prepared to respond appropriately if a psychiatric crisis erupts.

If your family member is arrested and charged with a crime, determining whether his or her charges would merit consideration for mental health court will equip you to be more effective in advocating for jail diversion.

Links are provided to Treatment Advocacy Center reports that will help you determine what mental health diversion programs exist where you live.

For more resources for use in a mental health crisis, visit the Get Help section of our website.

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