In the mental health community, we often find ourselves wringing our hands when our loved ones fall victim to a flawed system. Too often, I hear of stories from family members who do everything right and have everything turn out all wrong.
They take their loved one to the emergency room in a psychiatric crisis, and three hours later, the patient calms down and is released with no follow-up care in place. They contact their Community Mental Health Center only to be told that they need to contact an attorney, instead. They call around to psychiatric facilities and find out that no beds are available.
They call 911, and the police show up, arrest their loved one and file criminal charges.
We just started a NAMI support group in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Since the town is small (population about 15,000), we decided to start with a combination group, consisting of both consumers (people who have a diagnosis) and family members. We hope eventually to get enough people involved to split into two groups — one exclusively for consumers and the other for family members and friends.
Having both perspectives in a single group has its advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I feel that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
Last Thursday, my wife and I attended a viewing of Dr. Delaney Ruston’s documentary film Unlisted followed by a panel discussion. The film and panel discussion focused primarily on schizophrenia, but individuals with bipolar disorder and their families face similar struggles.
I was very impressed by the keynote speaker, Dr. Alan Breier, MD, who passionately and compassionately described the struggles of people living with schizophrenia. He called schizophrenia the “quintessential human experience,” because it affects the two qualities most responsible for making a person feel human:
- The ability to work
- The ability to love
Check out this interesting interview with Richard Dreyfuss about living with bipolar disorder. Dreyfuss also talks about self-medicating.
Today’s headlines are packed with reports of a Jet Blue pilot who “flipped out” and went “berserk.” If he had had a heart attack during the flight, I’m sure he would have gotten some sympathy. Instead, reporters are talking about charges that may be filed against the pilot.
Date: 2nd Thursday of every month starting May 10, 2012
Time: 6:30 – 8:00 pm
Place: Crawfordsville First United Methodist Church, 212 East Wabash Avenue, Crawfordsville, Indiana
Group type: For people with serious mental illness and family members and friends who have loved ones with serious mental illness
More info: Visit the Crawfordsville NAMI website for additional information.
(I posted the following when we were training to become NAMI support group facilitators and added the information above as we geared up to actually start our support group.)
My wife and I and one of our neighbor friends spent part of our weekend in Lafayette, Indiana training to become NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group facilitators. We’re planning to start a support group in our town, Crawfordsville, Indiana later this spring and offer a Family-to-Family course in the fall.
I’ve been to several NAMI support group meetings in Lafayette (and Indianapolis when we lived there), and I’ve found them to be very helpful. Even when everything is going well in my family and I don’t really need the support, spending time with others who’ve struggled with mental illness in their families and having an opportunity to help someone by sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years feels great.
The meetings always start and end on time, and the facilitators have been very good about giving everyone a chance to speak and not allowing any attendee to monopolize the meeting.
If a loved one with mental illness or suspected mental illness is arrested, the goal is to transition the person as quickly as possible from the legal system to the healthcare system. The Los Angeles NAMI Criminal Justice Committee has posted a very thorough seven-step guide to help families navigate the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County when a family member who suffers from a brain disorder (mental illness) is arrested. It’s called “Mental Illness Arrest: What do I do?”
This post changes the process a bit, removes details related to the Los Angeles jail, includes some additional notes and tips, and presents everything in more of a checklist format.
Mental illness carries a stigma, no doubt about it. Recently, however, I began to wonder just how deep this stigma really is and how much of it is self-imposed. In other words, do we feel stigmatized mostly because people stigmatize us or because we fear that they would if they knew we were living with mental illness? (And when I say “we” I mean members of the bipolar community, including people who have loved ones with mental illness.)
Two events triggered my thoughts on this.
I just read an article on the FOX News website entitled, “Judge Rules Prison Doctors Can Forcibly Medicate Loughner.” The article says that the key question is whether prison officials or a judge should decide whether Loughner should be forcibly medicated.
Loughner’s attorneys also are fighting the forced medication at the 9th Circuit. The key question is whether prison officials or a judge should decide whether a mentally ill person who poses a danger in prison should be forcibly medicated. Prosecutors say the decision is for prison officials to make, while Loughner’s lawyers say it’s up to a judge.
My immediate thought was “Shouldn’t the doctors be deciding that?” and “Why would Loughner’s attorneys be fighting against the forced medication?”
We distinguish between mental and physical illness. Why? Many illnesses we consider physical have a mental component, including ulcers, asthma, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, urticaria (hives), and sexual dysfunction. And the illnesses we consider mental all have a physical aspect to them, namely the brain. Yes, the brain is physical. It’s not just some nebulous collection of emotions, thoughts, and brain waves concentrated in a person’s head. In addition, some so-called mental illnesses – anorexia, for instance – have readily observable physical symptoms.
Whenever we use the phrase “mental illness,” regardless of whether we intend to do so, we reinforce the false dichotomy of mental vs. physical, mind vs. body. This leads many people to question whether brain dysfunctions such as depression and bipolar disorder are truly illnesses, even when they have no trouble recognizing that that certain so-called mental illnesses, such as autism, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s are physical.