Rob Schulman - Mental health care that works
On the national scene, we hear about repeated tragedies involving no treatment, inadequate treatment or impossible-to-access mental health treatment.
Last month, a “60 Minutes” story on CBS reported the mental health care failure and suicide of Gus Deeds, son of Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds. This loving father was told in the midst of his son’s emergency hospitalization there was “no psychiatric bed available” to treat his son, even though doctors were aware of Gus’s serious mental illness. He was discharged. The next day, in a psychosis-induced rage, Gus nearly killed his father and then killed himself. Sen. Deeds’ call for help went unanswered.
The diagnosis and treatment of serious mental illness is a major challenge all over this country. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is dedicated to improving the lives of persons affected by serious mental health conditions.
NAMI Yamhill County, one of 1,100 national affiliates, is here to advocate, educate and support individuals, families and friends of those living with a serious mental illness. Frequently, people call me for information and assistance.
How are we doing in Yamhill County? Are we answering the call? Well, the news is mixed.
Recently, a distraught family member called about a young adult with schizophrenia who could no longer find treatment. This meant no access to a medication that was working, and the real possibility of a relapse with serious symptoms. In this case, the individual was covered by insurance (as was Gus Deeds) but faced a classic Catch-22 of a different kind. It seems there were no local psychiatrists on the insurance plan, and the few out-of-town doctors on the plan were not accepting new patients.
Was this family out of luck? Fortunately, this story has a better ending than the Deeds’. NAMI Yamhill County acted as advocate, and Yamhill County Behavioral Health worked with the insurer, obtaining their agreement to cover treatment provided by the county. This call for help was answered — and a tragic ending may have been averted.
NAMI National was founded in 1982 and has become the largest advocacy organization of its kind in the United States. Affiliates serve in each of the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
NAMI wants everyone to know these facts about mental illness:
- Mental illnesses are biologically-based brain disorders.
- One in five families is affected by severe mental illness in a lifetime, yet only 20 percent of those affected receive treatment.
- The most severe and persistent mental illnesses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (also called manic-depression), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Symptoms can be reduced and the quality of life improved for the vast majority — 70 to 90 percent — of individuals with severe mental illness if they receive the treatment they need and deserve.
Bottom line: Recovery is possible. Here are examples of what NAMI can do locally.
Education. Presentations to local organizations and businesses include compelling personal stories from individuals living with a serious mental illness, called “In Our Own Voice,” as well as talks by NAMI board members.
Our Family-to-Family course offers the most powerful and effective educational program for families and friends of a person living with a mental illness. It is fantastic, and it is free. This comprehensive, 12-week class is taught by former Family-to-Family students who also have a loved one living with a serious mental illness.
These classes make understanding and treating the illness more manageable and more hopeful. A common remark by people taking the course is, “I learned more in 12 weeks than I learned over the past 20 years.” Nationally, more than 200,000 people have benefitted from this life-changing course. The class, available now in Yamhill County, will be repeated.
Support. We offer support locally in our monthly general meetings, family-support groups in McMinnville and Newberg, and a number of other support groups and programs assisting people with their recovery. Guest speakers cover every aspect of mental health, such as navigating the county mental health system, handling loved ones who are irrational or confrontational, and delving into the latest research on brain science and effective treatments.
In addition, trained peers lead NAMI Connection support groups offering a casual, relaxed approach to sharing the challenges and successes of living with mental illness. They also may serve to connect participants with other resources, such as employment assistance and housing.
Advocate. In addition to answering an ongoing stream of calls and e-mails, we attend Mental Health Court. We advocate for individuals working their way through the criminal justice system, and we work with local and regional mental health care professionals, agencies and organizations.
For example, working with the county sheriff and county jail, we find ways to move people with severe mental illness out of jail and into treatment, with the assistance of county mental health professionals. We also enlist the help of Yamhill County Housing Authority to find safe and suitable housing when necessary.
Let’s do everything we can to make mental health care in Yamhill County a model that works for everyone. To accomplish that, we should understand and remember the following basic but important concepts:
- Early identification and treatment are critically important for recovery.
- As a caring and compassionate society, we need to talk openly about mental illness — and finally stamp out the scourge of stigma.
- With proper and timely treatment, recovery and a full life are not only possible but overwhelmingly likely.
To the hundreds of families suffering in silence in Yamhill County, NAMI is here for you. Your heartache and confusion are understood. Your hopes for a better future are possible. You are not alone.
Help is available
What: NAMI Yamhill County.
Where: Abacus House, 625 N.E. Galloway, McMinnville.
Family Support Group meetings: 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. the first and third Thursdays of every month in McMinnville; and 10 to 11:30 a.m. the first Saturday of the month in Newberg at First Federal, 121 N. Edwards St.
General meetings: 7 to 8:30 p.m. first Thursday of the month.
NAMI Connection meetings: Peer-led groups 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. the first and third Thursday of each month in McMinn-ville.
Contact: Rob Schulman, 503-434-6350.
Guest writer Rob Schulman is serving as president of NAMI Yamhill County. Since his retirement as an independent consultant in 2008, Rob enjoys playing golf, composing music and singing, and devoting countless hours to the development of a unified field theory in physics. Rob and his wife, Pat Crissey, live in McMinnville and have three adult children and four grandchildren.