Tag Archives: Treatment Advocacy Center

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.

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Chris Harper Mercer: A Preventable Tragedy?

Another merciless, senseless shooting, this time in Oregon. Another troubled shooter with three names. As details of the life of Chris Harper Mercer emerge on news outlets, I expect, sooner or later, to find out what often is uncovered: undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness symptoms. Duh. And a family left trying to “handle it” alone. Duh, again. Been there – am there. Except we got some education and support so we could try to help our son. We are among the very lucky families. At the moment. Continue reading Chris Harper Mercer: A Preventable Tragedy?

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Mental Illness Treatment Laws: Does Connecticut Lag Behind?

Sandy Hook
The nation weeps

Weeks after the tragedy in Newtown, though facts are still to be confirmed about Adam Lanza’s history, we struggle to understand how it might have been prevented – or, at least, how to help prevent it from happening again.


First, some facts: Court-ordered hospitalization for mental illness is authorized in every state, but each state’s criteria for involuntary treatment is different. Connecticut’s report card? Not so great.

“Connecticut’s civil commitment laws are among the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to getting help for a loved one in psychiatric crisis,” said Kristina Ragosta, senior legislative and policy counsel for the Treatment Advocacy Center, who serves as the organization’s expert on Connecticut. Ragosta said the law is restrictive in three ways that differentiate it from states with stronger laws.

1. An individual needs to be dangerous before intervention is possible. The standard requires that the individual be a danger to self or others or a danger due to grave disability before commitment is possible.

2. The law provides no option for qualifying individuals to receive court-ordered treatment in the community. This makes Connecticut one of only six states that does not provide the option of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) as a condition of living in the community.

3. The state’s standard does not take into consideration an individual’s past psychiatric history, such as repeated hospitalizations, and/or symptoms of psychiatric deterioration that could culminate in violence or other consequences of non-treatment.”

Here is my letter to the state’s bipartisan task force

Dear Committee:

I am the mother of a beautiful son who suffers from schizophrenia. “Ben” is now 30 years old, and with treatment is both a student (Dean’s List) and taxpayer (employed in season at a Connecticut tourist attraction, where he interacts beautifully and appropriately with the public).

Without treatment, or when services are cut, he is a patient instead- wandering aimlessly through the halls of a psychiatric hospital until he agrees to go back on his meds. This has happened three times since Ben began his recovery phase – and each time we face the fact that he may never return to us, as there is no mandated treatment, no assisted outpatient treatment, and we his family are left holding the bag and guessing how to help him. Continue reading Mental Illness Treatment Laws: Does Connecticut Lag Behind?

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Beyond Hope, to Promise: Treatment Works

For the first time in years, Ben has spoken to me about goals – and he actually has some, that he is willing to share with me.

When you have a goal, it can be risky to say it out loud. What if you fail? What if your dreams don’t come true?

Treatment, the Foundation for Progress

For so long, Ben has been busy getting his life back to where it might have been had his progress not been interrupted by psychosis, hospitalizations, and regrouping. Step by small step, he has returned to college part-time, and recently celebrated a full year of part-time employment. But we have not dared ask, “where will this all lead?” or “What are your plans when you get your degree?”. We didn’t dare. It has been enough, the reality of these first steps. We tend to stay focused on today.

But Ben must be gaining confidence, as he now talks about wanting to “give back to the world” – as a teacher, perhaps, or an author. Will he get there? He just might. But, not all overwhelming goals, I am encouraging him to take one step toward each one and re-assess as the view gets closer.

But none of this would be possible without the treatment he is receiving for his schizophrenia. None of it. Without treatment, he would most likely be homeless, in jail, in a nursing home, or – let’s just say it – no longer alive. Now, with treatment (medical, and also emotional and structural),  we have hope, and have taken one more small step:  his life also has promise.

Treatment is too often denied, not funded, not mandated – and that is a shame. Watch this video from the Treatment Advocacy Center about how Treatment Makes a Difference. Because it does. And we must keep fighting for it.

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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.

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Practical Advice: Treatment Advocacy Center

This post is for you if you need some clear, practical advice on how to be prepared for a mental illness emergency. The possibility always lurks in the corner, while we try to keep on eye on gratitude for the good days.  The Treatment Advocacy Center has an excellent page on this topic, with step-by-step instructions for keeping the monsters at bay by knowing we are ready for them.

I will send you there through this blog post by their Communications Director, Doris Fuller, who says:

We who love someone with a severe mental illness probably all have our own personal coping mechanisms for getting through the worry and fear and frustration of living with the impact of treatable but chronic brain disease. The demons retreat, but they never retire. For me, being ready for them is the first defense.

I suggest you read her short, poignant-yet-realistic post first, but if you’re impatient here’s the link to the Be Prepared for an Emergency page.

Like all preparation, this takes time – but will save you a lot more in the future. Trust me.

Thanks, by the way, to all of you who wrote to express concern about Ben and his “adventure” in a questionable neighborhood. Like Doris in the above blog post, I had my eye out for a stress-triggered return of symptoms, but luckily his reactions to the stress all seem quite conventional. The only “demons” were the ones I could see as well: fear of returning to that neighborhood, reminding us to set our home alarm and change the locks, some reluctance to be alone. I would feel the same way.

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