How to Help Save the Mentally Ill From Themselves

This article is from the NY Times and gives us a glimpse of the impotence we feel when we have to try to save the mentally ill person from themselves.  This is a sad story but one that recurs quite often.  A mentally ill person dies from poor judgement or unsafe practices.  It is not against the law to be mentally ill and those who are mentally ill have the same rights and responsibilities as each of us do.  That being said, it is clear that our legal system is struggling with this problem more so than our mental health system seems to be.

This author sustains a devastating loss of his son and feels despondent that he was unable to help him.  How many other family members feel the same way?  What can we, as a nation, be doing to prevent unnecessary loss of life for the mentally ill?  How can we, as a society, stand to lose some of the most creative people among us?

The author talks about this new bill being placed before Congress that may help us to deal with just this issue.  It is not the total solution, but it is a temporary step in the right direction.  Unfortunately, most bills that reach the Congress are subject to politics and argument–with a lot of compromise worked into it.  This bill may never pass.  This bill may pass but not be the bill it was when it was presented.  We have a problem and I hope someone, somewhere is listening.

Please read the entire article and see what you think about this issue.


How to Help Save the Mentally Ill From Themselves

Credit Lilli CarréPhoto by: Lilli Carré

MY older son, Matthew Ornstein, died at age 34 on Jan. 3 from carbon monoxide poisoning. It was accidental — he fell asleep in a tent with a propane lantern — but his death was shaped by a lack of judgment driven by a 10-year struggle with mental illness.

Matthew was a brilliant, warm, funny, compassionate and empathetic person. He was a national champion high school debater and celebrated standup comic who excelled in his studies at Princeton, then moved to Hollywood, where he and his debate partners created a sharp and witty show called “Master Debaters.”

At age 24, Matthew had a sudden psychotic break, and that began a difficult decade-long journey for him and for his family and friends. Whatever his illness — his condition was never formally diagnosed, but he probably suffered from bipolar disorder — Matthew was particularly afflicted by one component of his illness: anosognosia, the inability of a person to recognize that he or she is ill. Since Matthew was over 18, neither family members nor professionals had any legal authority to get him treatment for the symptoms that kept him from living a stable life.

Matthew was not violent at all, and largely kept to himself. His appearance could be off-putting — he kept a long beard, did not cut his hair and smoked heavily. We constantly feared that a police officer might misunderstand his condition and that he could end up injured or killed; we also at times prayed that he would get arrested and could have the happy ending that Pete Earley describes in his powerful book “Crazy,” when a compassionate judge offered assisted outpatient treatment for his delusional son.

We tried everything to help Matthew, from acceptance and enabling to tough love, but the trajectory was not a good one and its ending has scarred and devastated our lives forever. I cannot say with certainty that if we had been able to force treatment on Matthew, including anti-psychotic medications, that he would have survived. In addition to suffering from anosognosia, Matthew became very religious after his break, embracing his Judaism, keeping kosher, and he was convinced that taking medication was dishonorable and would offend God.

But I do know that for many, treatment saves lives. The true insanity is that our laws leave those who suffer to fend for themselves. But Congress is now ready to grapple with the issue in a bipartisan bill introduced by Tim Murphy, a Republican from Pennsylvania and the only clinical psychologist in the House, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas who is a psychiatric nurse….(read the rest of the article here)

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