Sunday, May 5, 2013
In mythology, during the Trojan war, ancient Rome was celebrating the retreat of the Greek army. In their haste to withdraw, they had left statues bearing the likeness of Trojan horses, which the Romans accepted as gifts. Believing in the spoils of war, they were now rightfully theirs, and they moved them inside the walls of the city and began to celebrate their apparent success. Unbeknownst to them, inside the statues were members of the Greek army who then attacked and destroyed the Roman army. That is a lesson that is played over and over again throughout history. "Beware Greeks bearing gifts"
With that as a backdrop, it is becoming increasingly likely that a similar situation occurred in Columbus during this current budgetary debate. Sadly, if it turns out to be true, it will end up hurting societies must vulnerable and defenseless citizens.
Not long ago, Governor John Kasich was lauded with his ambitious plan to expand Medicaid by 500 million dollars in this upcoming budget. Many people that I know in the mental health sector were ecstatic with the news that scarce dollars available for treatment were finally going to be increased, and perhaps, the downward spiral of the entire system would be reversed. It was a proposal that would have restored dignity to groups of people who have been sick and down and out for many years, and at the same time, save lives. I personally knew families who were literally brought to tears of joy over this and all expressed enormous gratitude for this change. Well, almost everybody, as I thought of the old saying, beware of Greeks bearing gifts!
Immediately, I became skeptical of the true intentions of this proposal, but hoped that I was wrong. However, based on the historical ignorance of the leaders of the Ohio Statehouse, I knew that another old saying could be valid. "If it seems too good to be true, it most likely is!" It did not last long for my skepticism to become a crystal clear prophecy.
First off, lurking in Columbus like hungry piranha's, is Speaker of the House Bill Batchelder, State Senate Leader Keith Faber and their personal cast of degenerates. These are groups of people who will rail against what they consider wasteful programs that help people, and at the same time, provide tax breaks for those that are wealthy, or in specific fraternal organizations. All seem to possess a hidden agenda to harm those who are not part of their hedonistic social network.
Predictably, as the budget moves out of the House into the Senate, Batchelder pulled out his scalpel and took out that expansion, and then indulged himself with self praise. In a recent article, he proclaimed, "Budget passed by (the) house is a step in the right direction." He is actually proud that along with proteges like State Representative Nan Baker of Westlake, they have metaphorically slit the throats of many people in desperate need of help. Even more disconcerting is that they seemed to find joy and satisfaction in this accomplishment. In reality, their past actions have damaged the lives of people being punished for just getting sick.
I attempted to get a response from Speaker Batchelders office about his budget, and all I received was the usual, "we will get back to you", which has become his trademark response when the public demands clarity. It is becoming widespread agreement that transparency and integrity are not two of his strong talking points. He mentioned in that same story that they are dealing with the results of poor budgetary decisions in the past. Revisionism aside, he neglects to mention that many of those decisions were made by him!
I contacted Nan Baker's office with a question; why she was more than willing to cut off funding to those most in need while allowing tax cuts that will enrich her family business? Like Batchelder, she hides behind a wall of secrecy and personal hatred of those deemed unworthy of her attention. However, I am convinced that the local Chamber of Commerce will award her another plaque of honor for her work providing its members with additional corporate welfare. With the next teenage suicide, she and Batchelder can also add another notch on their gun barrels.
Which now brings us the Ohio Senate and awaiting the likes of State Senator Keith Faber. In a recent conversation, his staff member defended taking that expansion out of the budget. He said mental health funding "should be discussed outside the context of the state budget." He indicated that this discussion will take place at a later date. Hopefully, this will occur prior to the next resurrection, but I am not holding my breath, as these types of discussions rarely, if ever occur.
Again, when the history of Faber is examined, an ominous trend unfolds, so there is not an massive deal of hope for anything positive. This is a person who once proposed placing violent sex offenders in mental hospitals. Somehow, he equates a woman with post-partum depression, with that of a child molester or a serial rapist. He is living proof that a keen intellect is not a requirement to hold public office.
Now comes the difficult part, and that is, did Governor Kasich propose this plan, giving people hope, gaining an significant wealth of publicity, knowing that it stood little chance of getting past the hatchet wielded by Speaker Batchelder? To paraphrase a famous question, "What did the Governor know, and when did he know it?"
The evidence, though little empirical, does cast doubt on Kasich's intentions. He has been close to Representative Batchelder for many years and knows his true motives. In fact, it was Mr. Batchelder who, many years ago, introduced me to John Kasich. With that in mind, and Nan Bakers hatred, whom Governor Kasich supported, it points to this bill being proposed strictly for positive press, rather than for anything worthwhile and genuine. Once again, I do want to be proven wrong, but that does not appear to be a likely outcome.
After several attempts, I did finally reach a subordinate of Governor Kasich. He defended the Governor wholeheartedly and said repeatedly that no one had worked harder and more openly on this issue than Mr. Kasich. He did not respond when I challenged him on their unequivocal support of Baker and Batchelder, who have become roadblocks to any significant positive expansion in the mental health field. Another old saying, "Show me whom you are with, and I will tell you who you are!"
With this budget now in the Senate, it is still possible for that growth to be reinstated, but, after my conversation with Senator Faber's office, the chances of that are severely diminished. However, with an army of advocates still pushing forward, a possibility for some compromise is still on the table.
It is essential to add that State Senator Shirley Smith, a Democrat out of Cleveland, has made a proposal to restore those cuts. I hope she succeeds, but in a Republican controlled house and Senate, she will be seriously outgunned. Also to her credit, she has done marvelous work with mental health issues in the past so I would not write her efforts off just yet.
As far as Governor Kasich is concerned, let us now witness how many resources he puts forward to convince the people he helped put in office that this program is needed. Let us see if he tells the likes of Nan Baker's that he will support her opposition if she continues to harm the ones that are in dire need of help. However, that is about as likely as a return call from Speaker Batchelders office.
To formulate a possible epitaph on this proposal, I need to point out that one of the dynamics of those afflicted with mental illness is that it affects everyone connected with that person. It tears loved ones to shreds as they conduct a seemingly helpless campaign for treatment. So often, the resources needed have never been provided, and the families suffer an subsequent tragedy. One of the few things that sustains people dealing with a mentally ill loved one is hope. Many times that are all they have to bolsters their lives, and in time that can be dashed. If this proposal of Governor Kasich turns out to be nothing more than false hope, that is an unforgivable sin. However, with all the people mentioned in this article sleeping well at night knowing the damage they have done to people's lives, I am not sure any of them will sincerely care.
Once again, I do hope Governor Kasich proves me wrong!
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
On April 17th, the National Alliance on Mental illness held their annual awards breakfast in downtown Cleveland. It was a day to honor individuals who have dedicated vital parts of their lives and careers to promote awareness to these misunderstood, but common disorders. As a past award recipient, I both respect and admire the work these generous individuals have done.
When the guests arrive they are greeted with a poster that described the "Multi-Cultural Outreach" that is advocated by this organization. Like the disorders themselves, the people in attendance were a cross-section of America. This advocacy unites people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and social economic status. All have a common goal to bring awareness to the commonality and dangers of mental illness, and advocate behalf of those afflicted and their loved ones. With that in mind, it is sad to see virtually no media attention was given to honor not only the award winners and speakers; but everyone who tireless efforts contributed to improve the lives of the victims of these invisible disorders.
What is clear to many is that people who suffer from a mental illness face the daunting task of not only the condition, but the added burden of a disease that is associated with such a dehumanizing stigma. Additionally, the ones plagued tend to experience an immense deal of ignorance from seemingly intelligent individuals. Two good examples of this came from members of the Ohio Statehouse. A former Representative was candid when he told me that, for social service resources, the mentally ill are forced to the back of the bus for the increasingly scarce dollars. Another Former State Senator, was hypocritically blunt when he informed me "there are more important issues than bigotry!" It must be added, he could not think of one at that time.
This organization has a mission to confront ignorance, empower individuals to recover, and to recapture the life that everyone is entitled to live. Michael Baskin, the President of NAMI of Greater Cleveland, spoke about this empowerment and specifically, empathy for those in need. When diversity is talked about, he lets his, and NAMI's actions speak for themselves, and one particular speaker proved that.
Reaver Nelson gave an inspirational discussion of how mental health issues affect that LGBT community (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender). It was an eye opening presentation as this group suffers depression, domestic abuse and chemical dependency at a rate significantly higher than the rest of society. She put a human side to these stigmatized members of this community and reminded us of the enormous amount of discrimination they face throughout their lives. As she spoke to the audience of about 230 attendees, there were no judgmental comments, just empathy and understanding. That is true diversity and inclusion, as once again, they are united in a common cause.
The award winners were; Haines Lanctot, Karen Jarr, Craig Fallon, Dr. Nora McNamara, Craig Sams, Dr. George Tesar and Sally Follet. They were all called up to be recognized without the benefit of television cameras, or the famous red carpet. All have done something unique that everyone should be proud of, and that is saving lives! Their generous contributions have helped restore dignity to people who have been punished for just getting sick. They were some of the many who stood up and said no, we will not tolerate people to die needlessly and without hope.
NAMI itself is rarely in the spotlight for the work that they accomplish. What the public does not realize is that this organization is run on a shoe string budget. The Greater Cleveland chapter which offers 32 support groups throughout Northeastern Ohio, accomplishes this with a budget of less than a half million a year. As anyone can tell, this is significantly less than what an average professional athlete earns in a year.
There are so many superlatives that can be used to describe this organization and all the people who contribute to helping others. Many sufferers of mental illness, me included, are grateful for what they do accomplish. If I had to pick out one achievement, it would be from personal experience, and that is simply be," they help make people feel human again!" The main reason they do accomplish this is that NAMI is a group of people that truly care and understand the roadblocks the unfortunate victims face.
Many of us discover this organization when we are at the bottom of the barrel of life. Like others, I was alone, my life in ruins when I first met this group of people just over ten years ago. Today, I have a job that I have received a promotion, plus a business, I am a writer, and have given over 500 speeches on this very subject. A major part of my and others success is finding groups of people like the ones honored who cared enough to reach out a helping hand. I can also feel free to express that many of us pay that help forward to assist others.
Sadly, there is some irony here. A few blocks from the Hilton Garden Center where the awards ceremony took place, serves as a reminder that many do not understand true greatness. It was there that a banner stood to honor a basketball player with the words, "We are Witness." All that this was showcasing was a rich narcissistic athlete whose only concern is what he can get for himself. At this meeting, we honored true greatness in ordinary people whose greatest reward is saving lives. Their work is a true witness to something special.
To all the award winners, thank you, and God Bless!
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Recently, a fourteen year old student at the Sheffield, Sheffield Lake school system ended his life by suicide, a death that few people understand. It is an ending that leaves many asking what could have been so detrimental to lead to such a tragic outcome; and of course others will scrutinize if it could have been prevented. Right now, everyone's heartfelt prayers should be directed towards his family and loved ones. This tragedy also brought back memories of my many adventures with this community, including suicide attempts, which provides me with insight as to what may have occurred with this young man.
There are a few facts of this case known, and what has been disclosed, point to some disturbing behavior from school officials. It appears that he was a young African American student, who had trouble fitting in. Besides his race, he was large for his age, 6 Ft 3 inches tall and 275 pounds, and had a speech impediment which may have placed him in an unfortunate spotlight. It has been reported that he was bullied and that his family had contacted the school for help, and that assistance may not have been properly provided. If those allegations are true, this lack of intervention is an unpardonable act of the school system! When contacted, Superintendent Will Folger informed me that these allegations are still being investigated.
One of the most crucial aspects of preventing suicide is being aware of situations that can inspire them. Students like this young man need to feel free to express any and all suicidal thoughts that they were having, and not to feel shame in seeking help. They want the belief that their symptoms and the causes, such as bullying are not dismissed, but taken seriously. Every young student should feel protected in schools and never ostracized in any fashion. With my personal and professional encounters with area leaders and the school system, I doubt seriously this open environment was ever provided, and I wonder just how badly they failed this young man.
Former President Harry Truman once said, "There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know!" With that as a backdrop, a review of the zeitgeist of the community leaders can offer a glimpse into what this young man and his family faced as a roadblock in his short life.
Over the years, I have done hundreds of programs on suicide prevention, and the dangers of depression, including a few in this school system. In fact, I once had a student from "Brookside High School" write me an inspiring note thanking me for speaking to her class. She was one of many who faced this issue with maturity far beyond her age, and the irony of what she said many years ago should ring loud and clear in this community! She wrote " I am proud that you’ve started a sort of crusade, if you will, instructing school administrators how to best deal with suicide. I know firsthand that sometimes a teacher or a guidance counselor may not be best quipped to handle such situations." Now many years later, who could have guessed just how accurate she was in being critical of the school administrators lack of understanding of this silent epidemic.
Along those lines, in dealing with this current death, evidence indicates that this school system did not clearly intervene with this young man's problems. In fact, the Superintendent seemed to indicate conflicting statements about the allegations of bullying. At best, what is being said is highly suspect, but I am confident they will soon hide behind a shield of confidentially, rather than acknowledge any systemic failures. This position of containment could mean that few significant changes will occur as the result of this tragedy.
I find this lack of understanding to be a cultural issue in that area. About five years ago Sheffield Village hired me to do a program to their police officers to help them understand people in crisis and to prevent future tragedies and violent police encounters. Most importantly, I use these talks to create awareness to discriminatory practices against those deemed different. Though my programs center on mental illness, a good example of someone being stigmatized as being different could be young African American guy who was being bullied. In time we will know if that indeed is what happened.
If anyone believes that this type of work was appreciated there, guess again. The thanks I received from both the city and the schools was to be demonized with hateful comments and to have my volunteer work dragged through the mud. Their behavior is not surprising as my short time in the community did make a indelible imprint on my life, and may help explain what contributed to this current tragedy. I have vivid memories of the emotional police brutality from this department, and how it is accepted within this Village. In talks to many police groups, I routinely hold them as an example of a rogue department that is beyond repair.
However, what more can anyone expect from a group whose former Mayor Darlene Ondercin's claim to fame was a YouTube video titled, "Sheffield Village Mayor gone wild in Stretch pants”. Not to be outdone, the current Mayor John Hunter, will continuously cloak himself with religion, and phony claims of transparency all the time using discriminatory practices against those who do not originate from his gene pool of arrogance. He epitomizes the verse from a song, "you can hate your neighbor, but don't forget to say grace!" These two do have one thing in common as neither has the intestinal fortitude to face problems; rather they claim they created a utopian society, and attempt to segregate those who do not fit in their self-created moral universe.
To better illustrate their blatant ignorance, I turn to a suicide that occurred in the Village several years ago. I was investigating possible police misconduct which may have been a contributory factor. Chris Cook, the prosecutor informed me that under no conditions will anyone in the Village discus this death with me. This highly questionable action also points to possible misconduct, but they prefer to hide the information from public knowledge. However, I have discovered that none of the city officials have the emotional maturity or intelligence to even comprehend issues this complex, including Mr. Cook. Most, if not all, were exposed as nothing more than reprobates who stand behind a shield of secrecy and bigotry.
Additionally, Mr. Cook, whom last year lost a bid for a judgeship, has, in the past displayed reckless behavior. Besides his silence on the suicide investigation, he is notorious for allowing a woman with multiple DUI's to have charges dismissed with a commitment to not file a lawsuit against the village for, not surprisingly, a police brutality claim. This stemmed from an officer tasering a handcuffed woman in the back while in police custody. Predictably, no charges were filed against that officer and the woman was once again arrested a short time later for drunk driving.
It is essential that I mention that I have met several outstanding teachers from this system, and one particularly stood out as exemplary. They are not the ones whose actions are in doubt, and I am confident they would have taken steps to help prevent this tragedy.
The same can be said about a former police officer from the Village, Mark Palmer. I found him to be an excellent example of a law enforcment officer, who spent time as a school resource officer. Instead of the city and Mayor Hunter ingratiating themselves to his work, the Mayor spent considerable effort attempting to lay him off and blame budget cuts. Sadly, Mr. Palmer left and is now a member an outstanding police department in Bay Village.
Many of these before mentioned individuals will not address this article on its substance, but will begin personal attacks directed at me. My goals have always been the same. Bring awareness to mental illness, suicide and do what can be done to prevent them. I do not have all the answers, and it is accepted that no one does. The offers for help and education have always been only a phone call away, but leaders of this group must first put their prejudices down and embrace the term accountability, not containment! Additionally, it is said that it takes a village to raise a family, but it also takes village idiots to destroy them!
There will be allegations that this article is rough and unfair to the community and school leaders. I will answer that by saying, my grandfather was an old Russian immigrant who worked the coal mines around Madera, Pa while he and my grandmother raised 11 children. This was long before modern technology. When I was a child, he once told me that when the jackass they would use to haul coal would refuse to move, no one would whisper sweet nothings in its ear. What would happen is that they would beat the animal across the head with a 2x4. I am using a metaphorical chunk of wood, but the intended targets, city and school officials are similar to the animals my grandfather described! In simple terms, heed the words of the late actor John Wayne; "Life is hard, and it's even harder when you are stupid!"
I have faced a vast amount of bias in that community strictly because I was deemed unworthy because of a mental illness. As of now, I have no evidence to suggest that racism fueled this tragic outcome. However, I have discovered in my 10 plus years of advocacy, that if someone is prejudice against someone for one reason, it is an easy deduction to believe that it is in their resolve to exclude people for being different in any number of ways, race and disease included!
In closing, I ask everyone to add an extra prayer to the family of this young man. Use him as a goal to become aware of the motivating factors that can affect the lives of anyone's children, as suicide is the third leading cause of death in their age brackets. Demand that schools and city leaders take preventative measures to protect the students that we entrust to them. Never settle for anything less, or history will continue to repeat itself.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Before I get into the crux of my column, there are some issues that must first be explored. I must point out that former Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords, should be praised for the courage she and her husband have shown for her miraculous recovery from the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona in January of 2011. She is an inspiration to anyone who suffers any life changing event, and I hope and pray that she continues to reclaim her life.
With that being said, she and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, have put themselves in the spotlight on one side of an issue that both invites and even demands scrutiny. Especially when the primary cause of many tragedies is being routinely corrupted and ignored, resulting in many innocent people stigmatized as the scape-goats.
On a near daily basis, this couple has spoken up and called for tougher gun laws, including the banning of certain semi-automatic weapons. Along with President Obama, they indicate that it is essential that the mentally ill be prevented from owning guns as a way to protect Americans. Even more disturbing, they continue to classify individuals suffering from mental illness with those of violent felons. As an example, in a recent speech in Tucson, Arizona, he said, "The least we can do is a very commonsense thing to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to have access to firearms."
For many years, countless advocates and consumers have worked hard to create awareness that people with mental illness can function properly in society. However, it is the ignorance that Mr. Kelly is displaying here that condemns people with one of these conditions into a lifetime of living in a self-imposed underground. What he fails to realize is the sheer nature of mental illness. It is not a condition that is easy to diagnoses nor is it one that has clear boundaries. However, those diagnosed conduct a daily struggle for wellness, understanding and against the very discrimination that Mr. Kelly is advocating. For some emotional reasons, he is under the archaic assumption that mental illness is a crime unto itself. These comments are extremely harmful and will limit the lives of innocent people.
To clarify, it is now understood that people who suffer the indignities of one of these afflictions are no more violent than the rest of society. In fact, they are more likely to become victims of crime, at a higher rate than people deemed "normal". Additionally, many other studies have shown these conditions to be the number one direct cause of disability in the workplace. Many of these poor souls are trying desperately to find the proper treatment and recover, only to find little social acceptance, which is a massive roadblock. Even more dangerous is to be categorized with violent felons like Mr. Kelly and President Obama seem to find no guilt in doing.
What is routinely misunderstood is exactly who suffers from these disorders. Many are surprised to discover that it affects rich, poor, famous, not so famous, military personnel, politicians, sports heroes, first responders and the list goes on and on. These people wage a struggle for understanding and search for appropriate treatment. Mr. Kelly has inadvertently demonized an unlimited group of people who have done nothing more than get sick.
A more pointed example would be; he is telling police officers who develop mental health issues from vicarious trauma, that they are no longer fit to perform the work in their field, and that is completely wrong. With treatment, they should be permitted to resume their careers, and many have gone on to continue to be excellent law enforcement officers. I know that because I have met many of those who did just that!
Mr. Kelly was also quoted in that speech as saying, "if the background checks they're calling for had been in place, the man who opened fire at the store (where Congresswomen Giffords was shot) never would have been able to buy a gun." That makes a vast deal of assumptions, which fail to stand up to scrutiny. Chicago, Illinois, which boasts a powerful gun control law, witnessed 532 murders in 2012, 435 by guns. I venture to guess, precious few of those weapons were procured by lawful means. I have doubts whether the gang leaders and drug dealers who perpetrated most of those homicides would have passed the background check as proposed.
Let us now examine the perpetrator of the shooting in Tucson, Jared Loughner, and the true failures that led to this tragedy. Now serving a life sentence, he was a man who suffers from schizophrenia, and was clearly psychotic when he committed these atrocities. Mr. Kelly is correct that this could have been prevented, but not the way he believes. I agree this man should not have been in possession of a gun; however, he could have certainly acquired one by the same means that the murderers in Chicago have.
The true path that could have prevented this shooting was a modernized mental health system. One with proper funding, readily available treatment, and most importantly, civil commitment laws that do NOT allow individuals to walk around in a delusional state, like Mr. Loughner was doing.
It was not widely reported, but Loughners parents had attempted, on more than one occasion, to have their son forcibly brought in for needed treatment. However, until he became a direct threat to himself or others, the current law does not allow for forced civil commitment. Had his parents had this resource of modern commitment laws at their disposal, their son may have been in a hospital instead of at that campaign rally. What is even more bedeviling is that those laws have been virtually unchanged since that fateful day in January of 2011, even though similar tragedies have occurred in Aurora, Colorado and Newton, Connecticut.
Though this is an emotional issue, Mrs. Giffords who served three terms in the U.S. Congress, did not make mental health care reform an enormous priority. Though not alone in that inaction, the programs did and will continue to suffer a diminishing standard of care in spite of an ever increasing demand for services. This is not to say she is to blame for the systems undoing, but it is clear she did little to prevent the continued destruction. Once again, remarkably few changes have been proposed that will reverse this downward spiral.
I do believe that Mr. Kelly and Mrs. Giffords are remarkable individuals, and I applaud their desire to work for change. However, because of the loud voices on both sides of the gun control issue, it has totally drowned out the potential for true change within the mental health framework. We will continue to see suicide rates increase, families torn apart, promising careers derailed and more detrimental outcomes, with few calls for restructure.
One final point must be made in that this is not about ideology, or is it about partisan politics. Neither party has a copyright of responsibility for the systemic failure when it comes to treating the mentally ill. It must be remembered, after the tragedy involving Congresswoman Giffords, there were strong calls for a dialogue on mental illness. She and her husband were both in a position to influence that dialogue. Instead, they have challenged the instrument of the perpetrator, not the disease that was the true culprit. That in itself is an added tragedy.