I Am Tired and Angry – personally speaking


(August 5, 2014) I am angry and I am tired. In a four day span in Helena, two of our young citizens lost their lives due to the consequences of serious mental illnesses. 

fatherOne was a beloved son and father whose family will wonder every day for the rest of their lives what they could have done to prevent this tragedy. The other was a former neighbor who was a babysitter for our two sons many years ago. 

Deaths like these remind me that psychiatric diseases are very treatable but not the way our system functions today.

Effective treatments can help improve functioning and allow some people with severe mental illness to begin the road to recovery and re-integrate with their families and communities. But we are still waiting for better antipsychotics that genuinely change the course of the illness and help people avoid some of the major side effects. 

The way I see it, this won’t happen because I live in a world that does not recognize serious mental illness as a legitimate disease and there is no push for better and more effective medicines for the most seriously ill. 

I am angry that people in a psychiatric crisis cannot access respectful, thoughtful, compassionate and caring treatment. I am angry that our jails and prisons are overwhelmed with people suffering from serious mental illnesses. I am angry that there are more people in prison with mental illness because there are no inpatient beds when they become sick and very few treatment options. I am angry at our elected officials, public health servants and mental health professionals who tell me that they understand the problem but don’t do anything to improve the situation.

I am angry at families that do not recognize mental illness or advocate for their family members who are suffering.  I am angry at people who live with serious mental illnesses and - maybe because of shame and discrimination – don’t try to access treatment. 

Finally, I am tired of attending funerals for the children of families who have been lost due to serious mental illnesses. 

Remember, the enemy is the illness.

Dr. Gary Mihelish
President of NAMI Helena

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Patient Says Laura’s Law Worked for Her


(Aug. 1, 2014) After burning down a local hotel during a suicide attempt in 2012, Pattie Jill Radabaugh, 51, was ordered into treatment for her schizophrenia by a judge in Nevada County, California (“A pioneering county test the limits of Laura’s Law,” the Fresno Bee, July 30).

parentslostchildAs a participant in court-ordered outpatient treatment, also called “Laura’s Law,” Radabaugh admits she initially did not enter the treatment program willingly. But now, 4 years later, she lives in a shared home with other people who have severe mental illness and volunteers at a local animal shelter.

“I ruined an apartment building. I’m not proud of that,” Radabaugh told the Fresno Bee. But the assisted outpatient treatment program showed her that “somebody cares.”

My next goal is to get a job, she said.

But for other families living elsewhere in California, it is too late.

George and Carol Allen, residents of Tulare County believe that Laura’s Law could have saved their son’s life, had a judge been able to order him into outpatient treatment. Their son, James Allen, 25, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had a long history of violent behavior and a suicide attempt.

But Tulare County is one of 52 counties that hasn’t implemented Laura’s Law. So rather than being in treatment, James was shot by police after threatening his mother.

While it is unknown whether Laura’s Law would have saved Allen’s life, Radabaugh certainly believes it saved hers.

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Mentally Ill Inmate Cannot Understand Why He Is Behind Bars


(July 31, 2014) Diego Dietche, a 26-year-old man with schizophrenia struggles to understand why he is behind bars, reports the Daily Astorian (“Jail struggles to house mentally ill,” July 25, 2014).

jail barbedwire“Undressed and covered in human waste,” Dietche was arrested in June for violating a stalking order.

But he won’t be transported to a mental health facility for at least another month – which is how long correctional officials estimate it will take for a bed to become available, said Deputy Stephen Johnson, who works at the Clatsop County Jail where Dietche is being held. “Right now, the mentally ill issue is worse than I have ever seen it. There's nowhere to put them and not a lot of options."

But it’s hard to get mentally ill inmates out of the jail and into a treatment facility.

“Once they get in here, it really becomes difficult to unturn the key,” said Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin. “We have to go through the process of finding them a bed somewhere.”

Other employees of the jail also raised concerns. “The folks who are in jail who are suffering from mental illness are not getting the treatment that they need,” Shelley Morgan, Interim Jail Supervisor told the Daily Astorian. “It's a jail. It's not a mental health facility to treat folks. And while they are here waiting to get treatment, they're decompensating for days, weeks, months before they get back in front of a judge to get an evaluation ordered which takes, at minimum, 30 days."

Bergin is tired of his staff working as defacto mental health workers. “My deputies cannot be the caretakers for these individuals,” he said. “We need to get the mentally ill better help that they truly need from doctors and psychologists and psychiatrists, to get them back on their meds or off of whatever drug they may be on."

In the meantime, while waiting to get treatment for his mental illness, Dietche will continue to decompensate in his jail cell, covered in human waste.

For more about the treatment of prisoners with mental illness, Read our study, “The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey.”

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I Was Taken to Jail Instead of Treatment - personally speaking


(July 28, 2014) In my experience, being poor, homeless and African-American landed me in jail instead of in psychiatric treatment.

sakeenahfrancisI developed schizophrenia at age 25 and was put on medication. But shortly thereafter I stopped taking medicine because I was gaining a lot of weight and felt tired all the time. I abandoned my middle-class family and moved into my own house. But without my medication I was unable to take care of myself. My house deteriorated to the point where ants filled the kitchen. I wasn’t able to take care of myself so I thought it would be better to just leave the house. When I eventually decided to return home, the door was locked. I was homeless.

My voices told me I need to get out of town fast. So I climbed on top of a train that was halted for the evening, planning to catch a ride. Someone saw me and called the police. When the police came they didn't even talk to me. If they had spoken to me, they would have known that I was acting on my voices and in the middle of a psychotic episode.

They would have known immediately that I belonged in a psychiatric hospital, not a jail - which is where they took me. For the next 10 days I was with sex workers, a bank robber and a murderer. I was also still off my medicine, but nobody asked if I needed medicine and no doctor came to give me a psychiatric evaluation.

When I am off medicine I have a quick temper so it wasn't long before I got into my first fight inside the jail. I stood in the face of another inmate and told her she was taking too much of the mirror. It never would have happened if I had been on my medicine. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor fighting with the ladies cheering us on.

This might never have happened if the criminal justice system didn't assume that black homeless people are criminals, when actually a lot of us just need treatment.

Author of Love's All That Makes Sense
Living with Schizophrenia


How Many People with Serious Mental Illness Are Homeless?


(July 25, 2014) “Anyone walking the streets is familiar with the problem of lost souls too disoriented to take care of themselves,” the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote in an appeal for Laura’s Law. “Though many mental patients seek treatment, others refuse and wind up drifting on the streets, a risk to themselves and others (“Laura’s Law at last for SF,” June 24).”

homelessness-feetApproximately one-third of the total homeless population includes individuals with serious, untreated mental illnesses according to a research summary compiled by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

The Treatment Advocacy Center’s newly updated backgrounder, “How many individuals with a serious mental illness are homeless” examines the percentage of homeless individuals with serious mental illness and their abysmal quality of life.

  • Approximately 33 percent of the homeless are individuals with serious mental illnesses that are untreated;
  • Many of these people suffer from schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or major depression;
  • The homeless population has increased steadily in cities and small towns since the 1970s;
  • In Massachusetts and Ohio, 27 and 36 percent of people released from mental institutions became homeless within 6 months;
  • Previously hospitalized people were three times more likely to obtain food from the garbage;
  • Studies show that psychotic individuals are much more likely to get assaulted or threatened while homeless;

Though officials believe that they are saving money by releasing patients from mental hospitals, there is a significant cost to the patient and to society at large.  “In 2001, a University of Pennsylvania study that examined 5,000 homeless people with mental illnesses in New York City found that they cost taxpayers an average of $40,500 a year for their use of emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, shelters and prisons.”

Though homelessness is an accepted part of the urban landscape for city dwellers in public spaces, there are many individuals who suffer and go unnoticed. A substantial number of the psychiatrically ill live in the outskirts of cities, under bridges and even tunnels that carry subway trains beneath cities.

As states continue to close down psychiatric facilities, there will be an increasing number of individuals with serious mental illness who are homeless. In Seattle in 2013, the mayor called the number of untreated mentally ill people on the street “an emergency.” Unless local and national measures are taken to protect and treat the mentally ill, this trend will likely continue well into the future.
For access to more of our backgrounders, which summarize information about severe mental illness, policies and programs related to its treatment, and the consequences of lack of treatment, visit the “Reports, Studies, Backgrounders” page on our website.

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