Tag Archives: mental health and community


COME AND CELEBRATE! I am thrilled to be one of the speakers at this event, but the real stars are the young adults touched by mental illness, and their art and writings. After that, I will meet and speak with member of Families Anonymous in Connecticut. Sharing is healing.


The National Alliance on Mental Illnesses of Connecticut (NAMI-CT) and Young Audiences of Connecticut/An Affiliate of VSA join hands to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with childhood onset mental illness through the art exhibit, Voices: The Art of Children, Adolescents and Young Adults Touched by Mental Illness. The exhibit features the work of more than 30 artists between the ages of 8-21, all of whom are either living with or are a family member of a young person living with a mental illness. The Voices exhibit will provide these courageous individuals a venue in which to express their feelings and a window into which others can gain access to their personal lived experience. Several of the youth will be present beside their artwork to share their story of how the illness has been a challenge, as well as an opportunity for personal growth and increased self-understanding.

The exhibit will take place from April 2-13th at the Legislative Office Building, 300 Capital Avenue in Hartford between the hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

The Artist Reception will be held on Tuesday evening, April 3rd from 5-7 p.m. and will feature several speakers including Randye Kaye– actress and author of the book, Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope and Deborah Mendoza and Jana Pietrzyk– two Voices artists and inspiring advocates.

For additional information on either the Voices exhibit or reception, please contact Ann Nelson, NAMI-CT, at either 203-927-1541 or familyresearch@namict.org.

PBS AZ Opening Question: “Who is Ben?”

The interview for PBS in Phoenix, AZ last Thursday began with this wide-open question:
Who is Ben?

How to answer? Well –

Downtown Phoenix Palms
different trees, same mental health issues

He’s my son.

He is a sweet, loving, bright, caring, 29-year-old.

And – he has paranoid schizophrenia.

Very importantly, he is being treated for schizophrenia.



Here’s how I answered this question, and the thought-provoking ones that followed, in this PBS interview on Arizona Horizon with Ted Simons.

In the same state where Jared Lee Loughner just lost his third appeal over forced medications, this is a very important distinction. My son, Ben, is in treatment.  Loughner, who killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others in nearby Tucson just over a year ago, did so as a person whose schizophrenia had gone untreated for too long – and with disastrous results.

Here, in the state of Arizona where many still seem in a state of emotional disbelief over what happened in Tucson, the consequences of inadequate care and services for those suffering with mental illness seems even more obvious – and undeniably important.

In three days, I have made the rounds, courtesy of the Arizona Foundation for Behavioral Health (AFBH) and ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, speaking in a community lecture, two media interviews, and meetings with NAMI as well as university students and educators in the field.

It has been a whirlwind – and I have met so many wonderful people who care about the issues that can make a difference for all of us affected by mental illness: people who have been diagnosed, those who love them, and the community they live in.

I have but one story to tell with full accuracy – our own – but I have heard many more in these few days. I hold tight to the belief that, one story at a time, shared without shame and empowered by education and courage, we can all make a difference in the way services for those with mental illness are funded, and to the laws that need to be passed to increase research, provide resources, and restore dignity and health to those who have been let down by the system that used to help them live a useful, dignified life.

Open Hearts and Mental Illness: View from both sides

There is so much potential, creativity, intelligence, and a wealth of new perspectives to be gained by being open to those affected by mental illness. One wonderful example is the aptly named Open Hearts Gallery in South Carolina.

Their mission?

One Open Hearts Work


Check it out. You can also order prints by going to their “contact” page.


Can we open our hearts to those with mental illness? Of course, as the mother of a wonderful young man who also has schizophrenia, I am going to say yes – still, as you know if you have read Ben Behind His Voices, there were times when I felt I had to harden that heart in order to survive emotionally. The journey to return to an open heart toward Ben was not without challenges; my book pays homage to the obstacles as well as to the results of the lessons of love, respect, and possibility that we eventually learned.

But, still – there is always another view. I recently has a conversation with someone whose heart was shaped by her own experience as parenting Ben has shaped mine. In his case, he had been stalked by someone whose mental illness was allowed to go untreated. Untreated! That can be the difference between love and fear, between open hearts and a mind forever closed. And I can’t say I “blame” him. How could I?  (for more information about “Eliminating Barriers to the Treatment of Mental Illness”, see the excellent website Treatment Advocacy Center.)

So, while most react to my story with gratitude, this person was cold to the idea of someone with schizophrenia being vulnerable, lovable, capable, and worthy of respect. I hope, perhaps, that hearing our story might loosen his heart just a bit. Stories, and art, can help do that.

Crisis Intervention Team Training Makes a Huge Difference

Officer Newkirchen, Deputy Chief Lyddy, Captain Smith

Early this month I attended the annual speaker meeting of NAMI Fairfield, a very strong affiliate in Connecticut.  Our guests? Members of the local police force, one of its eight officers trained so far (as of the end of this month) for the CIT (Crisis Intervention Team).


Here a few things I learned:


  1. All Police Academy graduates have had some training in Crisis Intervention. The CIT-trained officers, however, are have advanced knowledge and skills. Kind of like getting the heart specialist instead of the general practice doctor.
  2. Police Officers really do care, and want to prevent crime rather than have to make arrests after the fact. Continue reading Crisis Intervention Team Training Makes a Huge Difference

The Miracle of Ordinary

“When you’ve lost wshuthe miracle of ordinary, and you get it back, you never forget to be grateful…to say, This is a really good day.”

Those are the last thoughts expressed in my recent interview with Mark Herz on WSHU, a Connecticut affiliate of NPR. Listen to the WSHU/NPR interview here ( 4 minutes)

Yes, ordinary can be miraculous. Cooking a dinner together. Driving your child to work. Nagging you son to finish his Shakespeare essay, when only three months ago he was wandering the floor of a psychiatric unit, unable to focus on conversation for more than a moment.

Ben Behind His Voices
BBHV sighting: Barnes & Noble, Norwalk CT, Psychology face-out next to Jung!

Our tendency as adaptable beings is to adjust to new situations so quickly that we may forget to notice the joys.  Like that first night when you can actually breathe through your nose again after a cold…or the moment the fridge hummed back to life after the power blackout. The first time you see your memoir displayed at the bookstore. Pure joy! But days or hours later we shift our gaze to the next hurdles and may forget to be happy. It only takes a moment to step back and reignite appreciation. I want to remember to do that more often.

Awareness.  And especially this week, which is designated as “Mental Illness Awareness Week.” Not just mental illness, but mental health. As I look back on the book launch party on Sept. 20th, the miracle of Ben’s attendance at the event, and the support he chose to show, is indeed miraculous to me.  As the next events unfold (more interviews, upcoming appearances – see the news/events page) I hope that while Ben Behind His Voices does spread awareness about mental illness, it will also spread the messages of understanding, respect, hope, and the value of a therapeutic alliance between families, patients and healthcare providers.

And I hope I never forget to value the precious good days that are beautifully ordinary – and that the book helps reignite that spark in its readers.

A Good Day: Ben Comes Back

Ben is on the phone in the other room right now, talking to his friends and explaining that he hasn’t been able to call because  “I didn’t take my meds and so I was in the hospital for six weeks.” Hey! That’s way more open than he was with the psychiatrist this afternoon. Very interesting. But – he sounds alive. Happy. And I can breathe once again, while my to-do list grows with ideas to try and prevent this last relapse from happening again.

But today – we celebrate. Sure, “what-ifs” can always crowd out the joy, but short of the actions we can take today, and plan for later, there is nothing left but the choice to be grateful. That’s where we are right now, and boy does it feel good. I have never regretted letting happiness win, not once. Whatever else happens – or could happen – we are, and will be, able to handle it somehow. (That’s one of my favorite “momentary mantras”…I have seven of them that will form the heart of my next book, Happier Made Simple) Continue reading A Good Day: Ben Comes Back

Focus on Hope: Can We Stop the Revolving Door?

Baby Croc Toy
My Talisman for the Past 5 Weeks

Tomorrow we finally have the discharge meeting. Ben is, at last, responding to his meds and is well enough to have completely clobbered me and my husband Geoff in a game of 500 Rummy last night.  Time to think about next steps.

It has now been 5 weeks since his relapse. I have no idea what will happen in tomorrow’s meeting, but I know this: Ben, of course, wants to return to his independent apartment,  scene of the aforementioned relapse.  There are pitifully few other options right now. If this is currently the only choice, I will not leave that meeting until some clear plans have been set in place to safeguard Ben’s recovery. Will keep you posted.

Last night I visited Ben with an orthopedic boot on my ankle. Cat bite. Long ridiculous story. I will recover, but right now can barely walk. I limp so slowly that I couldn’t use the hospital’s automatic revolving door (too fast).  Let’s hope Ben never uses it again either.  That’s what we are working towards.  How to combine greatly reduced outpatient support with the goal to stay on meds, in a program, and  out of the hospital?

That said, I now want to bestow an award: Employer of the year goes to Ben’s employer. The support they have given us during this difficult time has been exemplary. They have signed and sent a “get well” card to Ben.  They sent him gifts: a company T-shirt, the little toy in the pic above.  I keep the toy in my office for now (things can disappear in the hospital), and will give it to Ben upon his release.  This stuffed crocodile has reminded me that I’m not the only one pulling for Ben’s recovery, not the only one who cares.  So I added the post-it-note you see in the picture: “Recovery is Always Possible.” It has cheered and encouraged me over the past few weeks, and reminded me that Ben is – and always will be – in there behind the voices waiting to come back to us.

I’m so grateful that, once again, he has. And now we see what tomorrow’s meeting brings. I may bring the crocodile with me for moral support.

NAMI National Convention:Where We Need to Be

Chicago. Ben is still in the hospital back in Connecticut, and I am here – at the NAMI National Convention.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had to make this decision. Six years ago, in 2005, I left Ben to go to St. Louis for another NAMI function, so I could become a state trainer for the Family-to-Family program. Then, as now, I don’t regret my decision. Ben is in good hands (City Hospital staff is wonderful, and Ben is responding – knock wood – to his meds at last) and his sister and brother-in-law are nearby to visit and, well, just to be there.

And, as one speaker reminded us yesterday, Ben has to take care of himself too. I can supply the support, the framework, put the pieces into place – and will continue to do so – but this is Ben’s journey too. And, for now, my best decision is to take care of myself. So, husband Geoff and I hit the road on Wednesday and drove 14 hours to be here.

The right decision. Here, I am surrounded by a couple of thousand of people diagnosed with mental illness (including Jessie Close of BringChange2 Mind),  families of those diagnosed (including newsman Bill Kurtis and journalist Pete Earley, author of Crazy: A Father’s Journey Through America’s Mental Health Madness) and friends both personal and professional. This is where we all need to be right now – talking about everything from proposed budget cuts for Medicaid (talk about crazy!) to the need for Assisted Outpatient Treatment (the lack of it in Connecticut – one of the only six states without it – is the reason Ben has had his relapse).

We all need to be here. We all need to share, advocate, learn – and, yes, laugh. So much has been done, so much needs to be done. I’ll share more when we get home. Right now there’s a workshop on Supported Housing and I’m on my way.

Relapse: The Monster Under the Bed

…and it has come out once again. After six years of progress, Ben is back in the hospital again. Insert four-letter words here.

I knew it.  Involved families always know it.

Wednesday, after a voice-over session- late in the afternoon – I retrieve two messages from Ben’s caseworker. First message: “Ben
forgot to show up for meds this morning. ” (and why did he wait until 4 PM to tell me?) Second message: “I just spoke to Ben. He says he forgot and he will come early for his evening meds.”

Sure he will. I finish my job and drive over to Ben’s neighborhood and the office of his agency. I check all his favorite hangouts – diners, mostly. No sign of Ben.  I drive past his apartment – bathroom light on, no changes an hour later.  I go and wait at the agency. No Ben. I call my husband and we wait together. 11:30 PM. No Ben. I have called his cell phone about 100 times today. Straight to voice mail.

This is not good.

They tell me:  “There’s nothing we can do until tomorrow.”

My husband offers to drive around the streets in case Ben is wandering somewhere. That’s what happened last time he went off his meds, six years ago. Six years since we last went through this, and it suddenly feels like only last week.

“No”,  I tell him. “Let’s go home. There is no point. We need sleep.”

The next morning, I call Ben and he – unbelievably -answers the phone at last.  Says he’s on his way to take his meds and go to work. He sounds OK, for the few moments we speak. Maybe we caught it in time, I think.  I do not hear from his agency so assume Ben did arrive for for meds, did go to work. Continue reading Relapse: The Monster Under the Bed

Schizophrenia and Family: Walking the Tightrope of Recovery

Recovery in mental illness is possible, yes – but is often a tightrope walk for all involved: consumers, family, friends, providers.  To paraphrase Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, “Respect must be paid.”

This is an excerpt from today’s radio interview with Ray Andrewsen of WQUN AM in Hamden, CT, where he asks me about our family experience as schizophrenia developed in my son Ben.

Next Thursday, June 9, I’m honored to be the keynote speaker for Fellowship Place in New Haven, CT, one of many organizations providing much-needed support and community for those with mental illness. .

Eighth Annual Doctor Albert J. Solnit Memorial Lecture

Advance ticket purchase is required. Tickets are $25.00 each. To purchase tickets, please click on the link on the left or call Melissa Holroyd at 203-401-4227 x111. All proceeds to benefit housing and support services to adults who suffer from chronic mental illness.

more info: Hope to see you there if you can make it!

Fellowship Place to host our 8th Annual Dr. Albert J. Solnit Memorial Lecture: a discussion with  Author Randye Kaye, Thursday June 9, 2011 at 7:00pm, at the Whitney Humanities Center Auditorium of Yale University, 53 Wall Street, New Haven.
Join us for a conversation with Randye Kaye, based on her book “Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope”, to be published by Rowman and Littlefield in September 2011.  Kaye will share with the audience her experiences with her son who suffers from schizophrenia, how mental Illness affects the whole family and how they helped guide him on his recovery journey as he went from 7 hospitalizations to now 4 semesters on the Deans List at his school.
Kaye humanizes the experience of schizophrenia by including Ben’s point of view, through his poetry and other writings, and pays tribute to the courage of anyone who suffers with mental illness
Following the Author’s presentation, Fellowship will host a panel discussion with the audience and a coffee reception. The Panel will include:

  • Daniel M. Koenigsberg, MD, Former Chairman, Dept. of Psychiatry, Hospital of St. Raphael, Associate Clinical Professor, Yale Medical School
  • Selby Jacobs MD, MPH, Former Medical Director, CT Mental Health Center, Professor of Psychiatry, Yale Medical School
  • Allan Atherton: Treasurer, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Elm City, Past President NAMI/CT, Co-Coordinator, NAMI CT Sharing Hope Initiative
  • Randye Kaye, Author: ”Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope”, NAMI Family-to-Family educator, Radio broadcaster: NPR.