Families experiencing a crisis with their loved ones often reach out for help from other families that have been through a similar experience. Guiding a family with a loved one with serious mental illness with active psychosis is scary, especially if the psychotic break is sudden. At the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill (ACMI), we feel compelled to inform families that they may be in danger. While most people with mental illness are victims of crime, untreated or undertreated, they can also pose a danger to themselves and others. Stories like that of Senator Creigh Deeds, who was attacked by his son after a short stay in an emergency room because there were no psychiatric facilities that could admit him at the time are not infrequent. The facility released him to Sen Deeds’ care, and the next morning his son attacked him before killing himself. There have been many similar stories across the United States. When reading stories as described below, it prompts one to think about how we got to this point. Below is an account of what Joseph Bowers was experiencing during his psychotic period; fortunately, his grandmother was not harmed. When will our behavioral health system realize that the lack of psychiatric beds and inadequate short term inpatient treatment does not help but contributes to this issue? We must advocate for appropriate treatment and prevent needless tragedies.
There was no one in this world I loved more than grandma when in my right mind so why did I try to kill her? By the time I turned 17 in 1964, I had become totally absorbed by psychotic delusional fantasies. I was living with my grandmother and she and my grandfather, who had died about ten months earlier, had raised me from the age of two. Also living with us was my Uncle Fred who was not home much.
One evening shortly after my birthday, my brain became convinced that the devil had replaced my grandmother’s soul from her body with his own. He was doing this waiting for an opportunity to kill me. I don’t remember exactly who I believed I was: God or Jesus, a critical figure for good in the ongoing battle of good versus evil in any case.
Alarmed as I was, my brain saw this as a great opportunity. I could kill my grandmother’s body whereupon the devil’s soul would be forced to vacate. At that point, my spirit friends would capture him and imprison him eternally. Without his leadership, the forces of evil would crumble and the battle of good versus evil would be over once and for all with good triumphant. I probably had a plan for restoring my grandmother’s body and reuniting body and soul. We would all live in peace happily ever after.
Just after grandma went upstairs to bed that night, I took a single shot 16-gauge shotgun out of a closet, loaded it and started up the stairs toward her bedroom. As I reached the top of the stairs, looking in through her open bedroom door, I saw her kneeling by her bed praying.
Confused, I hurried on down the hallway out of her line of sight. What was the devil doing kneeling in prayer? Surely, he had somehow become aware of what I was up to and was trying to fool me into thinking this was just my dear grandmother after all.
Taking a deep breath. I went back down the hallway and entered her room. As she turned to me, I pressed the barrel of the shotgun against her chest and pulled the hammer back cocking the gun. At this point she reached out to me touching my arm and pleaded, “Joe don’t! You’ve never been mean to me!”
Time seemed to stand still as I wrestled with my dilemma. Do I pull the trigger or not?
I pointed the gun to the floor. With my thumb on the hammer, I pulled the trigger letting the hammer down gently harmlessly. Breaking the breach, I unloaded the gun, and we went downstairs to wait for Uncle Fred to come home.
Nearly sixty years later, I still wonder what saved my grandmother that night. Was It the uncertainty caused by finding her in prayer? Did her reaching out and beseeching me somewhat reestablish our relationship and make it harder to believe her to be the devil? Did I have one of those brief lucid moments that sometimes come in the midst of psychosis? I just don’t know, but I’m thankful whatever it was.
That night they took me to Middletown State Mental Hospital in lower New York State where I would stay for more than two months being treated for what they diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia.
At the hospital I received the best science-based treatment available in 1964. My family never got a bill. The state of New York paid for it. I was able to leave the hospital after about two and a half months reasonably stable. As a teenage boy from rural upstate New York and a family of limited financial resources, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to get this kind of treatment.
There would be more than twenty years of struggling with recuring psychotic episodes. There would be more hospitalizations and a couple arrests.
In time I was put on a medication that proved very effective without serious side effects, I’ve developed a solid support system of professionals, family and friends and I have learned effective coping skills. Working with a professional, my wife and I learned signs of impending illness which would alert us to take preventative action. I haven’t had a serious episode in more than thirty years now and have overall lived a reasonably normal and successful life.
Never on any sort of disability insurance, I have held down many jobs. For two years I fought forest fires on a hotshot crew for the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, worked as a roughneck on oil rigs and retired from twenty-nine years helping produce low-cost electricity at a large power plant. I’ve earned a B.S. degree from a major university and had a successful marriage. My wife and I have three grown children all healthy, doing well and contributing to society.
I am truly one of the lucky ones.
With the changes I’ve seen in mental health care in my lifetime, I can just imagine how things might go in this day and age. A teenage boy from the country and poorer parents developing serious mental illness would face a different scenario than what befell me in 1964.
If he got a hospital bed at all, he would almost certainly be released way too soon and get little of the needed support on the outside. It’s not hard to imagine a life of homelessness on the streets in and out of jails and prisons. This happens all too often.
The big paradox for me is that even as our ability to treat serious mental illness has increased a great deal in my lifetime, the likelihood that people will get the treatment that is available is much less.
Image by Geesling photography -SMI people on the streets of Phoenix
Linda Mimms initially shared this article via social media. This article is a brilliant take by Dr. Rob Laitman on what it costs our society monetarily and, more importantly, our humanity. Failure to appropriately treat people with mental illness disorders is caused by not meeting people’s treatable medical brain disorders, in addition to multiple other factors. We have been violating the CIVIL RIGHTS of this neglected group of sick citizens who have needed treatment for decades with disastrous results. The family and community burden is one of these many disastrous outcomes. These members’ lives with serious mental illnesses are often 25 years shorter than the rest of the population. Jails and prisons are treating (though inadequately) our sickest society’s members using our criminal system as an alternative to a therapeutic environment. They have become a de facto significant psychiatric provider in this punitive setting. We continue to treat the behaviors of mental illness as criminal acts.
Charles Goldstein, MD
“The more I look into the horror of our healthcare system, the more outraged I become. Let me give you some perspective as a nephrologist (kidney specialist). End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) is the only medical diagnosis that automatically qualifies you for Medicare. Currently, there are 468,000 ESRD patients in the USA. The average expenditure per patient per year is $150,000. The total cost is 70 billion dollars. Employment in ESRD patients is 20% employed to age 55 and less than 3 % thereafter. Now let us look at the psychotic spectrum disorders representing 2% of the population (1 % schizophrenia spectrum and 1 % bipolar with psychosis). This percentage represents 6,620,000 individuals. If we were to support their medical needs fairly and comparably, we would be willing to devote 1 trillion dollars just for their care.
So what do we spend? When it comes to direct patient care for schizophrenia, the most recent estimate from a 2016 study was 37.4 billion. If you were to assume that the cost of taking care of someone with bipolar with psychosis was similar (actually, we know it is substantially less), the cost would be about 75 billion. Essentially we are only spending less than 1/10 for our patients with psychosis medical care than we have already decided would be appropriate in the ESRD population.
What is even more outrageous is this lack of support leads to tremendous non-direct healthcare costs, including law enforcement, homeless shelters, and productivity losses of both the patients and the caregivers. Specifically, for schizophrenia, unemployment cost was 59.2 billion, and caregiving was 52.9 billion.
What drives this tremendous disparity in resource allocation starts with the nihilistic belief that psychotic spectrum disorders are not treatable. Why should we devote resources to a hopeless population? Another component is that 50 % of this population has anosognosia, and therefore does not feel that they need treatment. Given the current status of the laws that “protect” patient’s rights, such as HIPAA and the underutilized and underpowered AOT laws, it is impossible to engage the patient even to start an effective treatment. Where we are right now is less than 50% of all patients with psychosis receive any care. The biggest psychiatric providers are the LA jail, Cook County jail, and Rikers Island jail. It is estimated that 20-40% of the prison population has a psychotic illness. The ever-growing homeless population also has been found to have a similar % of serious mental illness. At present, in those receiving treatment, only 14 % are in meaningful recovery.
The question is, what are we doing wrong, or is this just a hopeless population? What does the evidence say? As it turns out, there is increasing evidence that early identification of prodromal high-risk individuals can be identified, and by working on their processing speed (REM) the development of the full-fledged psychotic disorder can be aborted. Even after the development of psychosis, early treatment with the most effective treatment and wrap-around social services can change the trajectory of the illness. This is being demonstrated impressively with the Recovery After Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) study. Remarkably, the VA has shown that if patients are switched to clozapine, there is a savings of over $ 20,000 accrue per patient-year initially, and as monitoring becomes less, that saving grows. Switching to clozapine has also led to the best survival, the lowest hospitalization rate, and the best quality of life. In my hands, I have demonstrated what is possible with optimal clozapine care. 75/103 of my patients treated over six months are in meaningful recovery. I define meaningful recovery as being in school, work, or a PROS program training to work. Hospitalization and, therefore, the cost of care has been minimized. In over 330 patient-years of care, there have been only 1.3 years of hospitalization. This translates out on average 1-2 days/year in the hospital. Medical compliance has been over 90% in those that have been successfully engaged, and overall over 98% of the population considers themselves improved with my care.
So we need to let our legislators know that they are not throwing good money after bad money. We need to have the resources to change the barriers to care. Specifically, we need a national uniform rational AOT program that gives the provider the ability to treat the patient where the need is demonstrated. Serious mental illness is a team sport, and communication has to be seamless, so we need to reform HIPAA to assure that caregivers are involved in every step of the way. We need to invest in improving access. Taking care of these patients takes a lot of work, and the reimbursement is dismal for the provider. So I return to the ESRD program. For every dialysis patient, the provider is paid a fixed amount for dialysis management. Clozapine is a lot of work and is superior to all other antipsychotics in every setting, and yet only 2% of the population is so treated. We need to invest in these patients and provide a treatment stipend for management. A reasonable fee schedule would be initially $1000/mo for the first six months, $750/mo for the next six months, and then $500/mo after one year. If the patient is hospitalized, the amount should be reduced proportionally to the time spent in the hospital. This is how the ESRD program works, and this carrot has led to superior clinical care. In our population, this small carrot could be a game-changer not only in the quality of care but the end of being a tremendous cost saver. With the cost-saving, we would then be able to devote more resources to all of the appropriate supports.
In summary, we need to convince the powers that be to devote appropriate resources. We need bravery to insist on rational laws that help engage our patients and families in therapeutic relationships. Our medical professionals need to be re-educated in what is possible and learn the correct approach to treatment. We need to pay adequately for this arduous but rewarding work. If we do this, we will be able to provide an optimal clozapine based regimen with full wrap-around psycho-social services. With this, we will not only end suffering, but we will see a majority of this population lead lives of purpose and meaning.” Robert S. Laitman, MD
The Association of the Chronically Mentally Ill is focused on the sickest group within the SMI population. This group is non-compliant with treatment and often afflicted with anosognosia or the lack of ability to perceive the realities of one’s own condition. There are a number of systemic issues within our public systems that impact this target group. One such issue is the 55 bed limit at the Arizona State Hospital, which was created to incentivize the state to create community-based programs. Long past the usefulness of that policy, Josh Mozell’s November 30th, 2020 article in the Capitol Times help to explain some of the fallout of this policy, and the reasons the 55-bed limit should be eliminated.
Solving the problems of our broken mental health system often seems so overwhelming that work does not begin. However, there are narrow solutions with broad implications that can be implemented. One such solution is ending Arizona’s long-standing bed limitation placed upon our state hospital.
It may surprise many to learn that Arizona still has an operational mental asylum. Opened in 1887, it is now known as the Arizona State Hospital. The purpose of the State Hospital is and has always been to provide care for the most mentally ill in our community. For many in that group, months, if not years, of long-term programming is necessary for real recovery. That being the case, the State Hospital becomes the only place in Arizona where they have a chance for meaningful improvement.
However, the hospital is nearly inaccessible for Maricopa County’s residents due to an arbitrary 55-bed limitation. To provide perspective, health policy experts estimate that a community needs between 40 and 60 beds per 100,000 to meet the demand for state hospital beds. In Maricopa County, however, for those who are civilly committed, we have one bed per 100,000.
Why? In 1981, a path-breaking class-action lawsuit, Arnold v Sarn, was filed on behalf of Maricopa County’s mentally ill. The litigation lasted over 30 years, finally settling in 2014. During that time, the case revolutionized Arizona’s mental health system. But in 1995, the parties entered into a plan to resolve the litigation. In that stipulation, the parties agreed there would be a cap of 55-beds at the Arizona State Hospital for civilly committed patients from Maricopa County. Due to this limitation, the only pathway to gaining admission is to fail repeatedly, in spectacular fashion, and do it for years.
The failure looks like this: Because this group of chronically mentally ill does not receive the long-term treatment needed, they transition from one crisis to the next, experiencing more serious decompensation. This results in a constant recycling through the various public systems at an enormous cost to the taxpayers. Year by year the person is increasingly overcome by the disease. There are persistent police and fire interactions, multiple visits to emergency rooms, long medical hospital stays, arrests for petty crimes, and, unfortunately too often for serious crimes. Then there is the involvement of the judicial system, homeless shelters, and the penal system. Rinse and repeat – the cycle continues for years. For this group of people, the system is not just broken, but inhumane.
The bed limitation also has many downstream effects. For instance, those who need access to Arizona State Hospital do not disappear simply because there is not an available bed. Instead, they consume scarce mental health resources, which otherwise could be provided to others in need. The most serious manifestation is in our civil commitment system. To be hospitalized through civil commitment, a patient receives a bed at Valleywise Health, the one hospital system licensed to carry out the process in Maricopa County. The average length of stay during the process is 22 days, and, during those 22 days, the patient receives very good psychiatric care. But, we have just 343 beds in Maricopa County, which is far less than what is needed to serve the population. Due to that bed shortage, our system is already limited in its ability to treat those who need help.
The Arizona State Hospital 55-bed limit pours gasoline on a fire. To keep the patient and the public safe, Valleywise is often forced to keep the patient for months until the patient stabilizes, without the infrastructure for true long-term treatment. Therefore, despite maximizing the stabilization possible at a short-term hospital, it is not enough. The patient is often back at Valleywise within weeks after release. This routine can continue for years until the patient finally fails enough for State Hospital consideration.
Commonly, the amount of failing will total 1,000 days or more at Valleywise – in addition to visits to the ER, jail, crisis centers, etc. Therefore, on just one patient who would be most appropriately treated at Arizona State Hospital, 45 patients could receive a 22-day hospital stay at Valleywise. Consequently, the bed shortage is made worse, individuals do not receive care, and scarce state resources are exhausted. This extends the system to the point of breaking, which cannot be sustained.
Our system is broken in many ways. But again, there are many narrow fixes with broad positive implications which start the process of improvement. This is one of those narrow fixes. The 55-bed cap is a monumental failure – it should be eliminated.
Josh Mozell is a lawyer with Frazer, Ryan, Goldberg & Arnold, L.L.P.
I was pleasantly surprised to read this article stating the FDA approval for a new drug trial for schizophrenia. Research into the treatment of schizophrenia is long overdue, as it can be a devastating disease process.
Schizophrenia is a complicated chronic disease affecting approximately 3.5 million people in the United States, and its annual healthcare costs exceed $155 billion. People living with schizophrenia often experience a reduced quality of life (QOL) and are more likely to be homeless, unemployed, or living in poverty than the general population. Life expectancy for patients with schizophrenia is 15 to 20 years below the average. It is complicated by numerous comorbidities, such as weight gain, increased cardiovascular risk, and mood and cognition changes. Treatment nonadherence can increase the risk of relapse, rehospitalization, and self-harm, leading to a reduced QOL and increased economic burden.
Schizophrenia is a complex chronic illness with multiple comorbidities and high mortality rates. The development of Long-Acting Injectables and generic medication options has significantly improved patient adherence and reduced care costs in patients with schizophrenia. Despite these advances, schizophrenia has a high economic burden for patients and society. Providers caring for patients with schizophrenia are charged with a complicated task of ensuring individualized care while managing numerous adverse effects that may occur with recommended therapy (Wander, 2020).
The schizophrenia drug currently has a PDUFA date set for November 15.
A US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advisory committee has given a recommendation for the ultimate approval of a combination of olanzapine and samidorphan (ALKS 3831) in schizophrenia patients.
During the joint meeting of the Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee, the group voted 16-1 to approve the treatment, developed by Alkermes.
ALKS 3831 is an investigational, novel atypical antipsychotic earmarked for once-daily oral application for the 2 psychiatric disorders composed of samidorphan, a novel, new molecular entity, co-formulated with olanzapine, an established antipsychotic agent in a single bilayer tablet.
Recently, researchers presented data from the ENLIGHTEN-2 trial, a six-month study evaluating the weight gain profile of ALKS 3831 compared to olanzapine in 561 patients with stable schizophrenia.
“The favorable outcome of today’s joint advisory committee meeting represents an important milestone for the patients, clinicians and families who may benefit from new medicines for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar I disorder,” Craig Hopkinson, MD, chief medical officer and executive vice president of R&D at Alkermes, said in a statement. The personal testimonies shared during today’s open public hearing reinforced the need for treatment approaches that consider patients’ overall mental and physical health. The ALKS 3831 development program is part of our ongoing commitment to develop new therapeutic options for adults living with serious mental illness.”
There is currently a Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) target action date of Nov. 15.
James Lee Carr, Photo courtesy of Maricopa County Sherriff’s office
Last Tuesday my husband called as I dropped our son off at his group home after spending the morning shopping and enjoying coffee together. He wanted to know where we were, and I could hear the unease in his voice. An officer had just been shot outside of a Federal court building in downtown Phoenix and given the recent escalation in violence, I could understand his concern.
We now know that this incident had nothing to do with our current political climate, but it had everything to do with another person with under-treated mental illness that resulted in a violent outcome and a ruined life. James Carr will likely be forgotten and spend the rest of his life in prison. A Federal court officer’s life has been significantly altered.
What can be done to decrease the number of heartbreaking tragedies? We need a laser-like focus on policy and resource efforts toward the gaps in care for those with more chronic forms of mental illness and who are most at risk. This is why ACMI is committed to the following solutions:
a person-centered culture (instead of a program-centered),
financial & other incentives, based on performance & outcomes, for providers to better serve this population;
more Lighthouse- like homes, i.e. community living properties with 24-hours per day and 7-days per week supportive staff inside these properties,
humane, well-regulated facilities for a secure residential treatment, involuntary as medically appropriate, for those who need more intensive care for a longer period of time to gain insight and continue their recovery in a less restrictive setting; and,
other possible solutions that include increasing capacity and oversight at the Arizona State Hospital.
I will continue to spend every Tuesday with my son who has a chronic mental illness because he is one of the fortunate few whose family has been able to obtain these appropriate and humane levels of treatment and support. Sadly, James Carr’s family will only be able to visit him in prison along with so many other people in this same situation. We must do better in order to prevent these needless tragedies and keep the general public safe.
Hello all, on Friday, September 18th, 2020 I watched a presentation by Healing Minds NOLA on the IMD exclusion with Tim Murphy and Teresa Pasquini, moderated by Janey Hays and Eric Smith. This segment focused on the IMD exclusion; a part of the original 1965 Medicaid law. I encourage each of you to watch this presentation.
The Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion is an outdated, discriminatory federal rule that creates significant barriers to treatment for adults with severe mental illness. Under this rule, Medicaid restricts payments to states for non-geriatric adults (the exclusion applies to individuals aged 21 through 64) from receiving psychiatric care in a treatment facility with more than 16 beds. This limits the ability of states to provide an adequate number of treatment beds for psychiatric illnesses, especially those individuals with severe mental illness.
Tim Murphy, Ph.D. a psychologist, and former Pennsylvania State Senator and U. S. Congressman, was the primary author of “HELPING FAMILIES IN MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS ACT 2015 HR 2646” (“HFMHCA”). The HFMHCA requires the Assistant Secretary of Mental Health to focus on improving the most important metrics associated with mental illness and particularly severe mental illness, including rates of suicide and attempts, emergency psychiatric hospitalizations, emergency room boarding, arrests, incarcerations, victimization, and homelessness. The bill dramatically adjusts the threshold to be used in determining the efficacy of programs. It establishes a coordinating committee to advise the Secretary that includes significant representation from criminal justice, a needed addition of an important stakeholder to the national conversation.
Read more at: https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/federalmentalillnesslegislation/hr2646/hr2646narrative.html
Representative Tim Murphy worked with many families on the HFMHCA legislation. Unfortunately, the final version of the legislation HFMHCA included measures to repeal the IMD exclusion, but these provisions never made it into the final law. Also left on the cutting room floor was a more precise and transparent definition of “grave disability”. These are important items for consideration going forward.
This webinar is about the IMD exclusion, but it goes much further explaining the history of mental illness, severe mental illness, and many of our behavioral health system’s shortcomings. This video is a straightforward exposition of how our behavioral health system fails people with serious mental illness. I urge everybody to watch it. In addition, Representative Tim Murphy makes a very impassioned plea for advocacy.
Learn about the IMD exclusion; which is Medicaid Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion is an outdated, discriminatory federal rule that creates significant barriers to treatment for adults with severe mental illness. Under this rule, Medicaid payments to states are prohibited for non-geriatric adults receiving psychiatric care in a treatment facility with more than 16 beds.
By Dr. Charles Goldstein
What Is the IMD Exclusion?
The IMD exclusion is a long-standing policy under Medicaid that prohibits the federal government from providing federal Medicaid funds to states for services rendered to certain Medicaid-eligible individuals who are patients in IMDs (§1905(a)(30)(B) of the Social Security Act [SSA]). When a Medicaid-eligible individual is a patient in an IMD, he or she cannot receive Medicaid coverage for services provided inside or outside the IMD. Due to the exceptions explained in the “Legislative History” section, the IMD exclusion applies to individuals aged 21 through 64. Determination of whether a facility is an IMD depends on whether its overall character is that of a facility established and maintained primarily to care for and treat individuals with mental diseases. Examples include a facility that is licensed or accredited as a psychiatric facility or one in which mental disease is the current reason for institutionalization for more than 50% of the patients. For the definition of IMDs, the term mental disease includes diseases listed as mental disorders in the International Classification of Diseases, with a few exceptions (e.g., mental retardation). (See Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [CMS], State Medicaid Manual, Part 4, §4390.) Under this definition, substance use disorders (SUDs) are included as mental diseases. If the substance abuse treatment follows a psychiatric model and is performed by medical personnel, it is considered the medical treatment of mental disease.
However, even with the IMD exclusion, states can receive federal Medicaid funding for inpatient mental health services for individuals aged 21 through 64 outside of an IMD. States can provide Medicaid coverage for services rendered in facilities that do not meet the definition of an IMD, such as facilities with 16 or fewer beds and facilities that are not primarily engaged in providing care to individuals with mental diseases. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/IF10222.pdf
Photograph by Laurie Goldstein on streets of San Diego August 23rd, 2020
It seems to be tragic that individuals suffering from the symptoms of serious mental illness must try and fail oral medication therapies before qualifying for long-acting injectables. Besides being much more effective and efficient in medicine delivery, adherence increases significantly. Physicians are well aware that people do not take medications as directed. Lack of compliance in taking medicines as prescribed holds for physical health and mental health treatments. A person suffering from bronchitis may stop taking their antibiotics after five days of a 10-day course once they are feeling better. So, it is not surprising that many people struggle with adherence to daily or twice daily oral medications.
The issue of non-adherence has dire consequences if the condition involves the brain and psychosis. Repeated psychotic events can result in a change in the baseline. According to McKnight (2017) “Researchers now stage schizophrenia. Just like cancer, the more advanced the stage, the worse the outcome,”said Dr. Nasrallah, the Sydney W. Souers Endowed Chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at Saint Louis University, told his audience. “The additional damaging effects of the second episode is what leads to clinical deterioration and can start the process of treatment resistance. But if no psychotic episodes are allowed to recur after the first episode, many patients can return to their baseline functioning, such as school or work.”
As data mount confirming the neurodegenerative effects of psychotic episodes in schizophrenia, one expert urges psychiatrists to think of psychosis as a “brain attack” which, like heart attacks, must be prevented from recurring. McKnight (2017)
According to McKnight (2017) “Schizophrenia doesn’t have to be progressive neurodegenerative unless patients relapse again and again, but that happens all the time because we give our patients pills they don’t take as prescribed. There are many reasons for poor adherence,”Henry A. Nasrallah, MD, said at the meeting held by Global Academy for Medical Education.
By Laurie Goldstein
See more surprising schizophrenia statistics, including:
Recently, when we were still permitted to congregate socially, I was at a Friday night service in my synagogue when a young woman in the back row emitted a frightening scream, fell, and began convulsing. During her seizure, she hurt herself by falling and hitting her head (danger to self) and broke a chair nearby when she fell on it (property damage). Of course, paramedics were called who attended to her and eventually transported her to a hospital, whereupon I lost contact with this particular young woman and her continued treatment. At no point were the police involved with this manifestation of symptoms of an otherwise presumably well-controlled person with epilepsy. Being an emergency physician myself, I can only tell you that my experience with people with seizure disorders being brought to the emergency room is that they are never subsequently taken to jail. The options are either hospitalization or, more frequently, discharged home on appropriate medications with appropriate follow up.
In another hypothetical scenario, a “brittle diabetic,” usually well-controlled on his insulin, passes out while driving and knocks over a Postal box when he runs into it with his car (a federal crime!). Police and paramedics show up; the patient is taken to an emergency room where it is ascertained that he indeed has diabetes and had become hypoglycemic. The patient is either admitted to the hospital or sent home on appropriate medications with appropriate follow-up.
In neither of these cases detailed above, were the patients assumed to be criminals. People exhibiting symptoms from a chronic disease are treated appropriately for their symptoms. Their underlying illness and hospitalization, if needed, are not a problem; there are plenty of inpatient beds for them.
Let’s contrast this with what might have happened if this was a person with serious mental illness attending the same Sabbath service and became symptomatic, started flailing around, and did some property damage as this woman did. Police and/or paramedics would have been called. The patient may or may not have been taken to an emergency room and may or may not have gone to jail because society draws a fine line (not so fine) between apparent “medical” conditions and “psychiatric” conditions. Unfortunately, in a behavioral health crisis, when people become symptomatic because of their underlying disease, the behaviors related to their disease can suddenly be considered a crime. Also, if it was adjudged that this patient needed further treatment on an inpatient basis, they would have found this to be nearly impossible as there is an extremely limited number of inpatient psychiatric beds in the state of Arizona.
Currently, experts recommend approximately one psychiatric inpatient bed for every 250,000 people. In Maricopa County alone, there are about 4 1/2 million people; this equates to an inpatient psychiatric capacity that should exist of around 1,800 inpatient beds. At present, in Maricopa County, there are just 55 beds available in the public system for long-term psychiatric treatment. The inadequate number of limited long-term inpatient psychiatric beds is a figure so egregiously deficient that the reader might well be shocked that this is the truth; shamefully, it is.
We need to correct this appalling lack of inpatient psychiatric therapy currently available for the Seriously Mentally Ill.
With DJ Jaffe’s passing on August 23, 2020, individuals living with serious mental illness (and their loved ones) lost a highly effective advocate. Some of us at ACMI, notably Deborah Geesling, lost a friend as well. So, what do we do next? How do we build on DJ’s work?
DJ knew first-hand what life is like for those living with serious mental illness and their families. He took up advocacy to make those lives easier, safer, better. And his work instructed and inspired a generation of mental health advocates. DJ’s messages — always delivered in clear, simple English — are notable for the absence of policy lingo and the gloss of politically correct phrases. He spoke authentically, unassumingly, and he spoke truth. With unparalleled, laser-like precision, DJ exposed shortcomings, and failures within the current “behavioral health” industry, a trendy nomenclature that DJ would remind us is a misnomer for what the seriously mentally ill need. DJ was clever, quiet, studious, relentless. And, of course, pony-tailed! He never shied away from a powerful adversary. No Goliath was too big for DJ. And so, he left big footprints for those of us engaged in advocacy for the seriously mentally ill. Perhaps DJ’s greatest attribute was his unparalleled ability to identify and “call out” practical policy failures that created and sustain our behemoth public mental health system. And while DJ is now gone, we remain blessed by his writings and speeches — his practical, informed, insightful words of wisdom.
During DJ’s visit to Phoenix a few years back, he spoke at a church in the East Valley and at an ACMI salon. The salon was held on a chilly evening beneath a spectacular Arizona sky. Chuck and Laurie Goldstein’s patio, overlooking the Paradise Valley Desert and facing the spectacular mountains east of the Valley, is both beautiful and inspiring. Add fireplaces, thoughtfully placed heaters, and blankets, and about 50 of us had a perfect setting for conversation and reflection. Before DJ began his remarks, we chatted privately; I thanked him for his work, which was so needed. His typically cogent response: “Well sadly it’s needed, but it really shouldn’t be.” Those words stay with me and remind me of the value of DJ’s concrete focus.
Photo courtesy of Isaac Geesling Photography 2018
Before meeting DJ, I had read the speech that he delivered to the 2012 NAMI New York State convention. I keep it on my computer “desktop”. My favorite part is this:
I am not a mental health advocate.
Like most of you, I am a mental illness advocate. I think we need less mental health spending and more mental illness spending. It is the most seriously ill not the worried-well, who disproportionately become homeless, commit crime, become violent, get arrested incarcerated or hospitalized. 360,000 are behind bars and 200,000 homeless because we are now focused on improving mental health, rather than treating serious mental illness.
NAMI/NYS convention 2012
As a tribute to DJ Jaffe, each week for the next year, ACMI’s website will feature a quote from DJ Jaffe. We are calling this, simply, “52 Weeks of Truth Telling From DJ Jaffe”. By the anniversary of this remarkable’ s man’s passing, we’ll have quite a collection of words to live by .. a path of footprints, so to speak, to guide our advocacy and to honor this wonderful man. RIP, DJ JAFFE.
Holly R. Gieszl, JD
Founding Member, Board of Directors, the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill.