Tag Archives: mental illness in the media

Thank You, John Oliver. And I apologize.

Wow. John Oliver just summed up the problems with our mental health system in 11 minutes and 54 seconds – with plenty of room for punchlines as well. I know – seems like something that isn’t humorous. But this segment provides more respect for mental health issues than so many others I’ve seen. Well-placed humor can do that.

Watch it here:

His opening statement, like all the facts in this comedy-in-truth piece, is correct:

“It seems there is nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health.”

Guilty as charged. My last post was, yes, sparked by yet another act of violence that I suspected would eventually point back to an unaddressed mental health problem in the shooter (and lack of support for his family). After receiving 2 comments which were too extreme to approve, I almost deleted the post today. It seems to have sparked stigma and judgment instead of the empathy and constructive outrage I had hoped to inspire.  But I will let it remain in this thread, because while I myself may have jumped the gun on “judging” this shooter with expectations that attention should have been paid to his mental health way before a crisis, I also know that such judgment harms people like my son, who lives in fear that people will find out he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. (for the record, his name and identifiable facts have been changed in the book and in my posts, with his permission to tell the story that way) Continue reading Thank You, John Oliver. And I apologize.

The Stupidity of Medicare: Saving Pennies, Risking Lives in Mental Health Care

It took ten years for us to find a medication regime that not only works to help manage the symptoms of my son Ben’s schizophrenia, but that he is willing to take consistently. Ten years.  Three of those have taken place after where our book, Ben Behind His Voices, leaves off – in what one reader calls “open-ended hope.”  At that time, Spring of 2011, Ben was in a group home, stable for long enough to begin to piece his life back together, but still finding any possible opportunity to “cheek” his meds. He hated taking them, didn’t think he needed them, was discouraged by the side effects.

Rebuilding Your Life with Mental Illness: Delicate
Rebuilding Your Life with Mental Illness: Delicate

Finally, though, a few months after the book was published, Ben had a relapse (see Revolving Door post) and it took a lot of teamwork to get him back on the meds that work – teamwork that included Ben himself, and that’s why it was effective.

What helped Ben to agree? There is a different form of one of his meds that was much easier for Ben to swallow, literally, and that he swears has no side effects. This is a liquid suspension that has to be created by the pharmacist. Does it have fewer side effects? Who knows? But Ben believes that it does, and that’s what matters. He felt like – and was/is – a part of the decision that affects his life every day. The empowerment is definitely a contributing factor in Ben’s adherence to his medication regime.

And now, the main medication that Ben takes is no longer covered by Medicare. At least not in the formulation that Ben is willing to take, in the formulation that he can tolerate. In order to save money, they will not cover the extra ingredients needed to create the liquid version. Pills do not work. He cannot take them, physically or emotionally. Without this specific form of his meds, Ben could lose every single thing he has fought for so long to achieve. His job. His social life. His car. Continue reading The Stupidity of Medicare: Saving Pennies, Risking Lives in Mental Health Care

NAMI in the Community: Lifeline for So Many

This video, created by Barmont Productions for NAMI in Connecticut, shows in seven short minutes a smattering of some of the ways NAMI has made a difference in the lives of people living with mental illness, and their families and friends. In it, you will hear a small taste of why Ben Behind His Voices is dedicated in part to NAMI’s wonderful work: education, advocacy, empathy and more.

As the host of this piece, I got to interview so many amazing people, and can only wish that the hours of footage we got might someday get re-edited into a documentary of 30 or 60 minutes, to pay homage to the many stories courage and love that I heard that day. Meanwhile – watch and enjoy!

Schizophrenia, James Holmes, and Hindsight

I think the psychiatry career of  Dr. Lynne Fenton may be over.

Worse than that, she must be questioning whether she could have done anything to prevent the “Batman shootings” in Aurora that killed 12, and wounded many others.

James Holmes: Schizophrenia?

So it leaks out that shooter James Holmes has been in “treatment” for schizophrenia. Big Duh. It was only a matter of time before that was revealed, sadly.

The question, though, is this: what kind of “treatment” was he getting?

According to this PBS Report, and interview withCAROL LEONNIG,  of The Washington Post

Holmes in court

“(New information) shows that James Holmes, the lead and only suspect in this shooting rampage in Aurora, Colo., was seeing a psychotherapist or psychiatrist in his university where he was a graduate student. She was a very senior psychotherapy director, basically the medical director for the outpatient clinic for mental health treatment for students.

And she was seeing him for some time before this tragic event…Lynne Fenton is the doctor in the case. Her specialty and what she has been mostly researching is schizophrenia.”

What has yet to be revealed is whether or not Holmes was taking medication for his schizophrenia, and whether he should have been committed to a hospital stay – whether he “wanted to” or not – if there were any signs of this possibility of violence.

Could Treatment Have Prevented the Tragedy?

This leads us to the issue of “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” well-covered by the Treatment Advocacy Center – so I will say no more about that in this post.

But there is also the issue of James Holmes’ family life. Continue reading Schizophrenia, James Holmes, and Hindsight

Depression out of the Closet: The Boss too

springsteenAdd Bruce Springsteen to the list of celebrities willing to talk about their mental issues.

Springsteen talks about his lifelong battles with depression in a 16,000-word New Yorker profile hitting the stands this week.

Every time someone in the public eye is willing to talk about mental illness, the door opens to acceptance just a bit more, and stigma is dealt a blow.

Ben and I are trying to do the same thing with our  book. This week I was thrilled to present “Listen Up! Hearing the Family’s Perspective on Illness ” as Interdisciplinary Grand Rounds at Bridgeport Hospital, and honored to receive this feedback:

“I truly appreciated your candor, your humor, and your heart in speaking on this topic. I’d like to think I pride myself on empathy and compassion with all my patients, but I know after hearing you speak, I will double my efforts, all around, no matter the condition.  Thanks again for a really worth while and inspiring talk.”

To touch another person like that – well, that’s the reason I wrote the book and speak out. Thank you.

Yes, right now it is mostly my crusade as Ben’s Mom – but someday I hope that Ben will speak out too. I see signs of acceptance in him, but I know he is not ready to say, in public, that he has schizophrenia. That’s okay. I will take what we’ve got, and I know what it takes. Patience. Understanding. Love. And some luck too.

Meanwhile – Thanks, Boss, for your courage and honesty.  You’ve kicked the door open another inch.

Richard Dreyfuss on Living with Mental Illness

Bravo, Richard Dreyfuss. Not only one of the best actors of our time, but he is speaking openly about his experience with bipolar. As reported last week in the Herald Tribune in this article by Barbara Peters Smith, Richard recently appeared in Sarasota, FL  to speak on “Living With Mental Illness” for the Mental Health Community Centers. The event was sponsored by the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation.


In the accompanying interview, Richard says,

Dreyfuss:On an airplane the Delta magazine had an article about corporate executive depression. It said, “If you have any four of the next 14 …” and I had all 14.I got off the plane and called my psychiatrist and said, “we have to kick this into high gear. We have to start and get a solution. If we don’t, there really is no reason for me to go on.”

Herald-Tribune: About what time was this?

Dreyfuss: This was in the middle ‘90s. He said the wisest thing I’d ever heard. He said, “Richard, somewhere in your head is a faucet that is dripping either too quickly or too slowly, and we can help you.”  I can’t tell you the relief that lifted off my shoulders at that moment.

He goes on to share a lot of his experience, and his feelings about how the disorder has affected his life – from birth. Richard has joined the ranks of those of us – people affected by mental illness as well as those who love them – who refuse to feel shame or blame because of a physical illness of the brain. Someday, mental illness will receive the same respect (especially in research and availability of treatment and services) as other disorders. Each story, we hope, bring us closer to replacing stigma with understanding and a vow to improve the way things are.

Here is the comment I left on the site:

Thank you Richard, for sharing so honestly and openly. The fact that the medication that helped you the most was discontinued due to “lack of profit” is appalling. As the mother of a son who has schizophrenia (and I am so very proud of both my children, too!) I can tell you that while his medications are far from perfect, it is that  certain combination that has enabled him to stabilize enough to become an A college student and a valued part-time worker. As for our love? He always had that – but it is easier when psychosis is kept at bay.  The right medication can begin the process. Add love, support, purpose, community and understanding instead of stigma, and we’ve got a chance at realizing potential. I love your work – always have. And now I can appreciate what you may be going through as a person. Thanks for telling.
best, Randye Kaye
author of “Ben Behind His Voices:One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope”

Satellite Media Tour: Tales from the Virtual Road

Wow. Last Tuesday, all from the comfort of the Murray Hill Studios in NYC, I had the privilege of appearing all over the country thanks to the magic of Satellite – and a fabulous make-up artist didn’t hurt, either.  Here’s one interview that aired on Fox News (.com).

Since Peggy Ann couldn’t see me at first, she thought I was a “he” at first – a problem my mother tried to solve by spelling my first name with that “e” at the end, ages ago…) – but then, of course, I countered with my own slip-up, calling her Betty Ann. Not on purpose, I swear. After several interviews in a row, the brain tends to freeze a bit like an overworked computer.

This was a fair and neutral interview, although that word “unfortunately” did creep into her medication question. I think I handled it fairly, though. What do you think?

BBHV’s Readers react, review, and share

Psychology section, B&N

If getting a memoir from  inside your head to the shelves of Barnes and Noble and the Amazon inventory is like pregnancy, labor, and giving birth, then the process from that point is like raising a child: constant work, many possibilities and rewards, letting go of your baby and letting it find its way in the world.


Every so often, though, I hear from a reader – someone I have never met face-to-face but who now knows my story in a surprisingly intimate way – and the journey my “baby” is on becomes real to me. These comments from former strangers, now readers, have touched me in so many ways, and have already made all the hard work more than worth it. Thank you for taking the time to write!

from a psychiatrist in Michigan:

I received your book at a recent conference.  I just finished reading it:  it was amazing – I couldn’t put it down! Thank you for the courage to tell your and your son’s story – I am sorry you went through all you did until the correct diagnosis was made and Ben rec’d the help he desperately needed.  Your openness and honesty has reminded me again of the frailty of life, but also the hope that there is help.  I have referred many families to NAMI and your book and your commitment to this fine organization has confirmed my trust in their work.”

from a mental healthcare provider in Connecticut:

“I just finished your book, and I want to thank you for this beautifully written text.  The love for your son comes through the pages so strongly.  There is not one ounce of blame towards the providers, who often feel helpless as well, yet also want the best for those individuals- and their families- who are facing the challenge of a mental illness.”

Jennifer, a student, writes:

“I just finished reading your book.Your last chapter moved me to tears. I’m currently doing an internship at an acute care mental hospital and your book helps me to be optimistic and relate to each patient as a human being. I appreciate the honesty and hope you express in your book which I feel speaks to the struggles that all parents to different extents experience. “

Another Mom shares:

“I read your book this summer on my Kindle, and it really had a powerful impact on me. Your writing was so genuine and heartfelt, and I  have much admiration and respect for you. I appreciate how far you have gone to openly share your story, to take the stigma away from mental illness, to inform families of the resources available, to share the ups and downs of your family’s struggle in such an warm, honest manner, and to commit yourself to helping others who are facing similar struggles. You are a truly amazing Mom and your story hit home in a gripping way, giving me much strength.”

Keep writing, please – I love to hear from you!

Mental Health Awareness: Don’t Let it Stop

mental health awareness NAMIAs “Mental Health/Mental Illness Awareness Week” draws to a close, I open with the hope that awareness will continue. It must. We have come so far, but there is a long way to go.

With luck, Ben Behind His Voices will do its part to help spread that awareness. Last week I did a “radio interview blitz” – 20 interviews in a row! – and a frequent question was about why I wrote the book.

I’m going to let Amy Barry, award-winning columnist for “Parent’s Eye View” in Connecticut, answer that question in this excerpt from her recent article, Book Dispels Myths of Mental Illness (click on the title to read full article). Thanks to Amy for asking the right questions, and framing them so beautifully with her own words.

More than a decade ago Congress declared the first week of October Mental Awareness Week to draw attention to the efforts of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an education and advocacy group that aims to “change hearts, minds, and attitudes” about mental illness on a grassroots, community level.
Sadly, we still have a long way to go in accurately diagnosing, treating, creating empathy for, and reducing fear of those who suffer with mental illnesses, despite the fact that illnesses such as schizophrenia are estimated to strike one in 100 people worldwide.
The recently published “Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey From the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope” by Randye Kaye is an intimate, honest, heart-wrenching story of a mother and the son she adores slipping away into the throes of mental illness. (The name Ben is fictitious to protect her son’s privacy).

She says her background as an actress and performer makes her a storyteller and helped her write this book.

“It gave me the capacity to step outside the story and tell it,” she says. “I think we learn best through stories. You can make the point and teach the facts, but if you don’t illustrate it with stories from your life and experience, people can’t connect to it.”
Kaye’s hope is for the story to be gripping and for people to care about “the characters” and also get helpful factual information, which is included as chapter guideposts.
She says she didn’t write the book for herself – she had already spent a lot of time processing the grief of having a child with a mental illness.

“The fantasy that nothing can happen to your kid gets shattered – and it’s a really tough piece of glass to shatter,” she says. “I wrote the book for parents so they wouldn’t feel alone, and I wrote it for providers (therapists, school psychiatrists, social workers), so when they meet them – which is usually at the end of their rope – not to judge them, and to allow the families as much as possible to be part of the recovery. I also wrote it for my son – to increase understanding and reduce stigma for those with mental illness. Until we understand it, we have no idea how much courage it takes (someone like Ben) to get up and have a day.”

Mental Health Issues: Lessons from the Talk Show Circuit

audiobook in CD format

In six days, Ben Behind His Voices will be officially released (audiobook version, too – preview it here!), although according to Amazon stats there have been healthy advance sales of the hardcover and kindle versions. So it’s out there! But, to spread the word, getting the media interested and involved is a huge help – and it’s definitely a live-it-learn-it series of experiences for this author.

So far, as far as print, radio and TV go:

a handful of BlogTalkRadio interviews – great hosts, interesting conversations, not sure who listens but I hope there’s a reach.  Archives exist.

The Positive Mind on WBAI inNYC with Armand DiMele. Hour-long, insightful interview with genuine back-and-forth conversation. You can hear it on the “Press” page on this site or on Armand’s website.

Interview segments on other radio shows such as Kathryn Raaker’s Let’s Just Talk, airing on several stations. July 9th segment 1, if you’re checking the archives. Kathryn was genuinely interested, as she could personally relate from her own family experience. Great prep, great passion for sharing the message.

Boston Globe interview appeared in print last week – done over the phone, all I had to do was talk. Bloggers have also “interviewed” me by asking questions in writing, to which I responded also in writing- essentially writing my own article, I guess, though interesting  answers can only come out of good questions, yes? (links are on Press page too)

This week I drove to Washington DC to appear on “Let’s Talk Live“, a local ABC-affiliate daytime talk show.  If you check the archives/blog of that show (9/7/11) you’ll see our segment did not make that cut. What did? Plastic surgery and the “Blondes vs. Brunettes” female football game (For a good cause, so not frivolous. But still). Hmmm. Continue reading Mental Health Issues: Lessons from the Talk Show Circuit