December 14, 2012 started out as a normal day. Home sick from school, I got up a little late, showered,
and turned on the news while eating breakfast. Suddenly a headline flashed across the TV screen: “ELEMENTARY
SCHOOL SHOOTING IN CONNECTICUT.”
Over the following days, each time I read about the shooter, who killed his mother, 20 children and 6 other adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut before killing himself, my heart dropped a little. He was described as mentally ill and prone to violent, uncontrollable outbursts—like my brother.
My brother has a mood disorder. He has characteristics of bipolar disorder, but not full-blown bipolar; at least, not yet. He has intermittent episodes of violent rage in which he’ll scream, throw things, and sometimes attack my parents. He has also suffered from prolonged depressive episodes with suicidal thoughts, for which he’s been hospitalized twice.
As a kid, he was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin (though my father, who distrusts medication, encouraged him to spit out his pills). Then, around 7th grade, his violent rages materialized. They have continued for the past six years, often exacerbated by marijuana or alcohol use.
He has been to several therapists, but usually doesn’t like them and stops going. He’s also been on many different medications. While none completely suppressed his symptoms, my parents and I think the drugs were very helpful. Every time he was on them he did better in school, his mood was more stable, and he didn’t have as many “episodes.” But they had side effects, like hair loss and weight gain.
About a year ago, my brother stopped taking medication. He thinks the psychiatric industry uses medication to “control” people. He claims he can do perfectly fine without meds, even though nowadays his episodes happen more often than not. And what can we do about it? Nothing.
Before, he acquiesced somewhat reluctantly to my parents’ demands, but now he’s refusing them altogether. We can’t forcefully spoon-feed him pills, nor can we admit him to a mental health care facility, unless a court decides he’s a danger to himself or others—and that’s very hard to prove.
I don’t know if he deserves to be institutionalized, but living in the same house as him is awful. Yet his disorder results in his inability to live independently. He’s very irresponsible—he can’t manage his time or money, he’s impulsive, and sometimes too depressed to get out of bed. I don’t know how he’d be able to maintain a job or pay bills.
At least in a psychiatric hospital he’d be getting therapy and medication. With consistent treatment, maybe he could become more functional and independent. Instead, he’s languishing at home. Affected by his mental illness, he refuses to take pills, thereby remaining incapacitated. Without help, he’ll likely continue to suffer from deep depression and uncontrollable anger.
We Need Reform
Because of this, I identify with the families of the people who go on shooting sprees and the frustration they must have faced. Too often, the public chooses to vilify the shooter’s family rather than examine the conditions that may have led to a shooting. Cases like these remind me of how helpless and scared I feel in the face of my brother’s outbursts. Most people don’t know what it’s like to live with a family member who is violently mentally ill, and how hard it is to get appropriate help.
I believe our mental health care policy needs to be reformed so that families can compel mentally ill people to get treatment. We also need to reduce the stigma around mental illness and seeking help.
I’m always scared my brother is going to snap and commit a random act of violence one day. While it’s unclear if the Sandy Hook shooter had a diagnosable mental illness, the shooters in mass killings at Virginia Tech in 2007, in Tucson, Arizona in 2011, and at the Aurora movie theater in 2012, all had histories of mental illness.
Gun control is the traditional response to shootings like these—and for good reason, since a violent person with a knife is a lot less dangerous than someone who can shoot 50 rounds a minute. But I think that mental health reform needs to get just as much attention, even though most mentally ill people are not violent.
The main problem with our current system is that it’s too difficult for families of mentally ill people to get appropriate help for their loved ones. For one thing, there’s no way to legally compel a mentally ill person to take their medication. Yes, I do believe in free will and patients’ rights. However, if someone is seriously mentally ill, they do not have the capacity to make decisions in their own best interest. The small number who are a danger to themselves or others need to be medicated, even if they don’t want to be.
Similarly, I think it’s a problem that it’s so difficult to compel mentally ill people to get treatment—either outpatient (where you attend therapy or day treatment) or inpatient (where you stay in the hospital for a period of weeks or months).
In New York, a judge can compel someone to get outpatient treatment, but their mental illness has to have landed them in a psychiatric hospital or correctional facility within the last 36 months, and they have to have demonstrated serious violent behavior towards themselves or others within the last 48 months. The point of getting help is to prevent violent behavior and to prevent landing in a facility; help shouldn’t only be available after these things happen. The same issue exists with laws on compelled inpatient care.
While I think my brother definitely meets the criteria for outpatient treatment, I don’t know how well we would be able to provide evidence of “serious violent behavior,” or what those standards are. When he’s not in the midst of a violent or depressive episode, my brother acts like a normal person; it wouldn’t be easy to prove (to a judge who doesn’t know and live with him) that he needs this care.
And I know my brother would hold a grudge against us if we did try to compel him into treatment. If we went through all that only for the judge to decide against treatment, his “episodes” against my parents would probably get a lot worse.
Jail Is Not the Answer
Therefore, I think the criteria should be less stringent. It should include mentally ill people who show potential for violence, without having to wait until they’ve been institutionalized or have committed a crime. And families should be able be able to testify because they know the person better than a judge or doctor. (Psychiatrists, of course, should also examine the person to determine what treatment they need.)
As of now, many people who need long-term, intensive mental health care end up in jail. According to a 2006 report from Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons and jails has quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and continues to rise. Public psychiatric hospitals have been closing since the 1980s, and now the three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country are in jails: Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island, and Cook County Jail in Illinois.
I don’t think that’s fair. Mentally ill people often aren’t cognizant that they’re committing a crime, or, like my brother, they have poor impulse control. Getting into legal trouble because of that is totally avoidable. My brother’s rages are a result of untreated mental illness. If he doesn’t seek help through medication and therapy, I worry that he could end up in jail too. The question is, how we can we make him get help, if he’s not willing to do so on his own?
Reducing Stigma, Improving Care
I think my brother’s reluctance stems from the stigmatization of mental illness. He never told his friends he was taking pills because he didn’t want to be considered “the crazy one.” If we let people seek mental help without destroying their pride in the process, I’m sure many more people would choose to take medication. No one wants to take pills if society tells them only “insane” people do that.
To combat this, I think there should be a national awareness campaign. President Obama has called for a “national dialogue” on mental health. I think we should include a massive advertising campaign, with posters and TV ads that show people with mental illness, unashamed to acknowledge it and explaining that, with treatment, they lead normal lives. They should also show where and how to get help.
Why It Matters
Enacting these kinds of changes could help prevent senseless acts of violence. But that’s not the only reason they matter. While people with serious mental disorders only account for 4% of violent crimes overall—it’s far more likely that someone with a serious mental illness will be the victim of violence than the perpetrator—changes in our mental health care system in response to Sandy Hook would help the nonviolent ones, too. Research shows that roughly one out of every five American adults experience some type of mental illness each year. Shouldn’t we help those more than 45 million people, and their families?
If we make it easier for those with mental illnesses to get help, we’ll be improving the lives of innumerable people. We need to make mental health treatment more available and affordable, and give families a better way to compel mentally ill loved ones to get treatment when they need it but don’t have the capacity to make that judgment themselves. Lastly, we should work to reduce the stigma of mental illness and medication through awareness campaigns. I think that will make more mentally ill people want to seek help.
It’s certainly what my brother and my family deserve - and all the families who are struggling to find a way to help a troubled love one.
This story is part of the health literacy series, which is generously supported by the Cigna Foundation.
The Kim Foundation is proud to partner with Husker Sports Marketing and several local
organizations to launch a mental health public awareness campaign corresponding with
Husker athletic events. The campaign, Don’t Be Sidelined, will kick-off Saturday,
September 1, as Nebraska opens its season against Southern Mississippi.
This campaign will feature radio spots, in-stadium signage, print advertisements, a Facebook page, a website (DontBeSidelined.com) , radio interviews, a day at the Husker Nation Pavilion on September 29, and a presence on Huskers.com, all to occur between now and the end of the Husker’s basketball season. Please watch for more information, and help us promote this great campaign!
Don’t Be Sidelined will focus on spreading the word that mental illness does not discriminate, and can happen to anyone from all walks of life. We will educate the public on the many types of mental illness, as well as provide resources and links for finding help. Those affected by mental illness may be one’s friends, neighbors, a family member, or even themselves. Many times people try to minimize the impact of mental illness, and we want to let people know that it is real, and more common than some think. We’ll highlight general symptoms, and encourage people to realize that mental illness is treatable.
We would like to give a big thank you to our partners in this effort. Thank you to BryanLGH Medical Center, Catholic Charities, CenterPointe, the Department of Health and Human Services, Husker Sports Marketing, Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska, Lutheran Family Services, National Alliance of Mental Illness – Nebraska, National Association of Social Workers – Nebraska Chapter, Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, and Voices for Children.
Be sure to visit the website and like the campaign on Facebook. We are very excited for this opportunity to potentially reach millions of people as we build awareness around the incredibly important topic of mental health. If you would like more information about Don’t Be Sidelined please contact Julia Hebenstreit.
Not Alone, a weekly radio program developed by The Kim Foundation through the support of C&A
Industries, Inc. in an effort to reduce the stigma often associated with mental illness, is
excited to announce its expansion into five new cities. The show, which seeks to assure individuals,
families, and communities that they are not alone, mental illness affects everyone, will now air on
stations in Colorado, California, Minnesota, and Florida reaching an even greater number of listeners.
Because of the strong listener response to Not Alone, Salem Communications, owners of KCRO-AM (660) and KGBI-FM (100.7) where the Omaha broadcasts originate, encouraged The Kim Foundation to begin broadcasting on five additional stations in June. Please join us in welcoming listeners from:
Not Alone will remain on KCRO-AM (660) in Omaha, NE airing at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The Not Alone broadcasts on KCRO are heard in eastern Nebraska, as well as parts of South Dakota, Iowa,
Missouri, and Kansas.
The program, which addresses issues specifically relating to mental health care in Nebraska, or features treatment options, community support services, or speakers unique to the needs of Nebraska area listeners, will now include broadcasts highlighting opportunities for recovery developed in other geographical locations, or will feature speakers offering a recovery perspective everyone can learn from and appreciate regardless of location.
Help The Kim Foundation reach more listeners by spreading the word about Not Alone to friends and family who may live within any of the broadcasts areas. Past Not Alone broadcasts may also be heard on The Kim Foundation Web site on the Not Alone podcast page.
In recognition of the accomplishments of The Kim Foundation’s Not Alone radio program in
promoting awareness for mental health topics, Diana Waggoner, Director of The Kim Foundation,
and The Kim Foundation were honored with the Recovery is Real Media Award at the third annual
Nebraska Statewide Behavioral Health Conference 2012 held in Lincoln, Nebraska May 21 – 23.
The annual event welcomed renowned mental health advocates from across the country as keynote
speakers and session leaders as well as nearly 450 mental health practitioners and consumers
Family member Mark Wolf accepted the award on behalf of The Kim Foundation along with Diana Waggoner who both noted the tremendous support of listeners, program guests, and the staff at KCRO, the station which airs Not Alone, for helping to make the broadcast the successful program it has become. The Kim Foundation was one of several award winners each recognized for their valuable contributions in the field of mental health.
The Kim Foundation was also proud to help support this year’s Nebraska Statewide Behavioral Health Conference as a luncheon sponsor, during which a new Kim Foundation video was aired highlighting some of The Kim Foundation’s most recent mental health advocacy initiatives. To view The Kim Foundation video, click here.
A special thanks goes out to all of this year’s Conference organizers and supporters for making the 2012 Nebraska Statewide Behavioral Health Conference the most successful conference to date.
Industries and The Kim Foundation are proud to welcome Julia
Hebenstreit as the new Kim Foundation Administrative Director.
In this role, Julia will use her many years of experience in
development to build a Kim Foundation donor database, create a
fundraising action plan, and strengthen relationships with other
mental health organizations.
Prior, Julia was the Vice President of Advancement at Notre Dame Sisters, a convent in Omaha whose Sisters' ministries targeted education and social service where she focused on major gifts and planned giving. She also spent four years with the Omaha Symphony in fundraising.
Always-on-the-go, Julia enjoys watching her daughter, 10-year-old Alivia, play soccer and dance, while also coaching her volleyball team. In their free time away from sports and dance, the pair enjoys spending time with friends and family and their puppy, Lucy.
“I’m excited to delve in and get started,” Julia said. “Being here is an exciting transition for me after coming from a small organization of only 10. I enjoy the energy of all the people here and am excited to meet everyone Diana has already built relationships with so successfully.”
Julia has a B.S. in Journalism (PR/Advertising) from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a J.D. from Creighton University. She has served as Vice President of the Nebraska Chapter of Grant Professionals Association since 2008, is part of the Women's Fund Circle, is a member of the Omaha Chamber’s Young Professionals group, is a member of St. Cecilia's Women's Guild, and is a Goal Buddy for Partnership for Our Kids.
The imminent closing of Uta Halee Girls Village in Omaha is causing
further concerns among professionals who already were worried about the
availability of residential treatment for troubled adolescents in
Nebraska. Uta Halee has been a reliable, high-quality residential
treatment facility for adolescent girls with psychiatric or
substance-abuse problems, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said.
"Without them there, there's going to be a void," Kleine said.
Click here to read the full story.
Please let us know your experience in finding services such as support
during pregnancy and infancy; health and wellness care, substance abuse
and mental health treatment for parents; treatment of abuse or violence;
help with basic material needs, quality child care, engagement in the
school system, and support for parents when a child has a mental health
disorder. Your comments will help us identify our gaps and strengths. It
should only take about ten minutes to complete, and it’s easy.
The survey is anonymous, but if you include your email address on the first page, we will enter you in a drawing for two $50.00 gift cards
WE HOPE YOU WILL FORWARD OR POST THIS LINK to others you may know who have important opinions to express on this topic We also have a print copy of this survey if anyone prefers to respond in that way. Just contact us by phone or email (below). And on December 2, 2011, at 3 PM, there will be a Community Focus Group at Heartland Family Service, 2101 South 42nd Street; if you prefer to comment directly.
PLEASE RESPOND BY NOVEMBER 30
CLICK HERE to start the survey
This survey is conducted by CCMH on behalf of the State of Nebraska Work Group “TOGETHER FOR KIDS AND FAMILIES”.
In September, The CDC released the Public Health Action Plan to
Integrate Mental Health Promotion and Mental Illness Prevention with
Chronic Disease, 2011-2015. This document highlights the importance of
mental health promotion and mental illness prevention in a public health
context. The document can be accessed at the CDC mental health web page
These developments are very important to the field of mental health, and they reflect the very first efforts to integrate positive mental health into public health interventions.
Thursday, September 12 – Saturday, October 1, 2012
Save the Date - September 29, 30, & October 1, 2012
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome will host its Twelfth International Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma on the North East Coast in beautiful Cambridge/Boston. The conference is being held on September 29, 30 & October 1, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge.
The conference program will focus on four areas of expertise; legal challenges in AHT cases, evidence-based and creative prevention programs and initiatives, the latest medical information and research, and support for families and rehabilitation for victims of SBS/AHT.
Call for Abstracts - Posters & Presentations
This one of a kind international conference provides an excellent opportunity to present and/or attend. The NCSBS is now accepting abstracts for 15-minute to one-hour presentations and poster presentations. The scientific program committee will make final selections for all presentations. In compliance of Continuing Medical Education, we ask that no commercial interest organizations/presenters submit. Abstracts for presentations can be submitted by going to Abstract Submission and following the detailed instructions and guidelines provided on the website. The deadline for abstracts is November 4, 2011. If you have questions regarding the conference, please contact Danielle Vazquez, Conference Coordinator, at 801-447-9360 ext. 111 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Brain Injury Association of Nebraska is soliciting proposals from
the professional community for presentations at its annual conference.
The conference will be held, March 29-30, 2012, in Kearney
and is attended by over 260 attendees comprised of occupational
therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, social workers,
nurses, physicians, psychologists, case managers, as well as survivors
and family members.
Length of Presentations is 50 minutes, followed by 10 minutes for questions. We request professional presentations and not product or program endorsement and marketing presentations. If your proposal is accepted by the committee, you will be contacted by October 1, 2011. Submissions are due by August 31, 2011. Contact The Brain Injury Association of Nebraska at http://www.biane.org/index.php for more information and to learn how to submit your proposal.
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