How one person I know & her group, have helped others & have helped come up with proposed legislative changes in Pennsylvania…
Why not do the same where you live and contact your own legislators?
As have many of you, I have been deeply affected by the tragedy in Newtown, CT, a community where I know many people. I know that there are some proposals in CT now for further tightening of gun laws. There are also communities around the country that are reviewing their own gun control laws, as well as hopefully taking a look at improving availability of mental health screenings and treatment procedures for those who already have diagnoses. I am praying that changes for the better in these areas will occur and that we can feel that some good has resulted from the senseless taking of so many innocent lives here in CT.
While the shooter in the Newtown tragedy did not have what is considered a known mental illness diagnosis, it is still very important for a multitude of reasons, for us to address the weaknesses and gaps in services available around the United States for those suffering from mental illnesses.
My old friend, Ruth Deming, MGPGP, is the Director and Founder of New Directions Support Group in Abington, PA. Her wonderful group serves Montgomery County, Bucks County and Philadelphia, and is for people with depression, bipolar disorder and their loved ones. Ruth and her group offer many different helpful, educational and fun activities and presentations. Social support is an important component of their work. I can’t say enough about what this group offers to its members and to the community.
Ruth is an award-winning mental health advocate and a published writer. She founded the first group of this kind in the Philadelphia area in 1986. She was, herself, diagnosed at age 38 with bipolar disorder, which was terrifying to her and changed her life in ways she would not have been able to envision. As a divorced mother of two young kids, after her hospitalization during a sudden manic-psychotic episode, she realized how much she needed to be around others with the same condition, in order to learn from them and to help each other. She placed an ad in the newspaper and her first group meeting took place soon after, in Hatboro, PA. Always, a creative, unique and motivated person, Ruth returned to productivity and earned a Master’s Degree in Group Process & Group Psychotherapy from Hahnemann University, in 1992. She authored Keys to Recovery to enable her clients to lead “healthy, productive lives with minimal interruption from our illness”.
There are also “job coaches” to help “disabled” individuals until they acclimate to their job.
2- Families and Loved Ones
Two 90-minute classes should be provided for families. Focus on understanding what client is feeling – their fears, altered thoughts, mistrust, paranoia, spending sprees, etc. – and how to be of help to them. Importance of talking tactfully to them. See video at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org where client’s beliefs, even if false, are reinforced by caregiver in order to help the client get appropriate treatment.
NAMI holds classes for families in their 12-week free Family-to-Family classes, funded by individual NAMI chapters. Classes include those in Bucks and MontgomeryCounty.
3 – Hospitalization
Many patients leave a psychiatric hospital without knowing what happened to them. They need a diagnosis by a psychiatrist. Hospitals should explain to patients – and also to family members – about the diagnosis and medications given to treat the condition.
Hospitals are often perceived as boring places and a waste of time. Hospitals should offer meaningful therapy, as well as classes such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, art therapy, horticulture therapy, to make the patient’s stay worthwhile. Hospitals are often seen as inhospitable, unfriendly places that patients avoid at all costs, many times to their great detriment. If the experience is as pleasurable as can be, hospitals will get a deserved good name and patients won’t have to be coerced into checking in.
Crisis Centers – A crisis occurs when someone has suicidal thoughts or is so depressed they are unable to care for themselves.
Crisis centers are located at general hospitals, though not all of them contain one. They are also a part of psychiatric hospitals.
The admission process may take many long hours, while the patient is acutely ill and suffering terribly, many times with thoughts of committing suicide. This should be corrected. Compare this to checking into a regular hospital, such as Abington, if you are having a stroke or heart attack. To delay may be fatal.
Respite Facilities. Strive for small inpatient facilities where client can be removed from daily stresses and catch his or her breath. A doctor would supervise medication while staff takes care of patient and offer relaxing activities such as listed above under hospitals. In the past, one such place was The Ranch House in Norristown, PA, closed due to lack of funding.
Education for police officers is provided by Montgomery County Emergency Service for all Montco police districts. See www.mces.org.
NAMIBucksCounty does police officer training in BucksCounty.
However, since MH clients are often too ill or psychotic – out of reality – to obey simple orders and may even appear violent, officers may get unnecessarily rough. Refresher courses should be offered with the enthusiastic backing of the police chief. This will help the officers do their jobs in the best way possible and they will be grateful.
School personnel such as teachers, counselors, nurses from K-12 often encounter mentally ill children and teens. They should have yearly in-services by “a certified peer specialist,” (this is a person with a mental illness who has been trained to talk about mental illness), knowledgeable mental health clients, or therapists on how mental illness manifests in youngsters and what to do about it, including where to refer them.
One such program already in place in PA is the PA Student Assistance or CSAP which deals with both mental illness and substance abuse. See
Talks to the entire student body from middle school on up to encourage tolerance and support of classmates with MH issues and also of parents who may have mental health issues. Currently, Bucks County NAMI is holding 50-minute “Health Classes” to help students understand their mentally ill peers.
Talks to corporations, businesses, fraternal organizations, churches and synagogues, nursing schools, medical schools, family doctors’ offices to foster understanding and tolerance.
College campuses. A distinguished organization called “Active Minds on Campus” educates students about mental illness at colleges across the country. They offer education and support. See
Public Awareness of Mental Illness and Media Coverage. Publicity about mental illness is critical.
We, in New Directions, have written guest columns and letters to the editor, have appeared on Comcast Newsmakers and public radio,
Every May the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI.org) has an awareness walk in every state of the union. In MontgomeryCounty, the walk is held at MontgomeryCountyCommunity College on a Saturday morning. This year’s date is May 4. Last year, the walk was briefly covered by Action News.
One excellent anti-stigma campaign was developed in Australia and imported to the U.S. “Mental Health First Aid” is being used in many states and we suggest its implementation in PA.
See www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org. This interactive 12-hour course grants a certificate to teach the program in the community.
Charlie Rose on PBS has a wonderful series on the Brain, in which mood disorders and schizophrenia have been thoroughly discussed and real people with the illness have appeared. What an excellent way to educate the public.
More positive TV appearances are suggested.
How about a “ribbon” on the back of a car for “Mental Health Awareness.”
Mental illness needs to be brought out in the open. By hiding it, we perpetuate the prejudice against people with mental illness. The community needs to know that “We have more in common with you than we have differences.”