Mental Health


Living — Successfully — with Mental Illness

Esme Wang, an award-winning writer, lives with bipolar disorder. (Nora Elmeligy/KQED)

Esme Wang, an award-winning writer, lives with bipolar disorder. (Nora Elmeligy/KQED)

By Nora Elmeligy

It’s been a week since the deadly shooting rampage near Santa Barbara. Much attention has been paid to the apparent perpetrator’s mental health status.

“It is still possible to live a really exciting, thriving, magnificent life, even with those limitations.”
Horrific events — and the intense media attention paid to them — feed a false perception that people with mental illness are violent. They are not. They may be more likely to be victims of violence than to cause it.

For people who live with mental illness, the timeliness of the Isla Vista rampage is especially wrenching — May is Mental Health Month, a time when community groups are trying to stress the importance of protecting and promoting mental health.

The Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF) works together with its umbrella organization Mental Health America in working to change attitudes towards mental health and mental health care. They group says believing people who are mentally ill are likely to be violent is just one of three major stigmas they encounter. The others are the perception that people with mental illness are childlike or incompetent.

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Lawmakers Push for More Mental Health Spending



California lawmakers announced a series of budget proposals Wednesday calling for more training of law enforcement officers on how to handle people with mental illness. While lawmakers have been working on the proposals for weeks, there is renewed emphasis on them in the aftermath of a gun rampage that left seven people dead near UC Santa Barbara last weekend.

“How do we stop this before it happens?” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

Jackson said police officers who visited the shooter before the violence erupted failed to investigate him thoroughly and failed to recognize warning signs of mental health problems. “This is a young man whose mental illness was right out there on YouTube, right out there on Facebook, and in screeds that he posted on blogs,” Jackson said. “And yet no one did or was able to recognize the potential for violence that resulted in this mass set of murders.”

Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) says the problem continues inside the state’s jails and prisons, where nearly half the inmates suffer from mental illness. She cited incidents where mentally ill inmates were improperly pepper sprayed. Continue reading

Hoarding Can Start Early, But Harder to Spot Signs in Teens

Teens may not have had enough time to accumulate a lot of stuff, but they may still  have symptoms. (Tara R./Flickr)

Teens may not have had enough time to accumulate a lot of stuff, but they may still have symptoms. (Tara R./Flickr)

By Maanvi Singh, NPR

Hoarding disorder is generally diagnosed in older adults, after their inability to discard things and their anxiety over possessions leave them unable to function. But it may take root much earlier in life, though psychiatrists say they’re just starting to figure that out.

Study shows 2 percent of teens may have the disorder.

Hoarding symptoms may look different in teenagers than they do in adults, researchers reported at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting this week in New York.

A seriously cluttered living space is one of the main signs of hoarding disorder in adults. But teens who show some of the symptoms of hoarding usually haven’t collected nearly as many things as adults, says Volen Ivanov, a psychologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. Continue reading

Prisons Are Main Source of California’s Psychiatric Housing

(Photo/Gregory D. Cook)

(Photo/Gregory D. Cook)

By Hannah Guzik, HealthyCal

California’s jails and prisons hold far more people with severe psychiatric illnesses than state hospitals, according to a recent report from the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

“For a state with 38 million people — 1 in every 8 Americans lives in California — there are almost no public psychiatric beds available for individuals with serious mental illness,” the report says.

Four state hospitals — Metropolitan, Patton, Napa, and Atascadero — have just over 4,500 beds, but 88 percent of them are reserved for mentally ill individuals who have been charged with crimes, according to the report. Another state hospital at Coalinga is used almost exclusively for sexually violent predators. Continue reading

Why is Fort Hood Shooter’s ‘Mental Health’ Constantly Reported?

Television news live trucks at the front gate of Fort Hood, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Television news live trucks at the front gate of Fort Hood, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

To state the obvious, the shooting at Fort Hood is a tragedy. But in press reports the alleged shooter, Ivan Lopez, cannot be mentioned without reference to his recent evaluation and treatment for mental health issues.

As NPR correctly points out, the fact of the shooter’s treatment could not have predicted that the violent event would have occurred. Worse, the press reports wrongly scare people into thinking that mental illness is easily linked to violent behavior.

It’s not. From NPR:

One national survey in 2006 found that most Americans — 60 percent — believed people with schizophrenia were likely to be violent. But the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders are not violent. In fact, another study found they are far more likely to be the victims of violence, and that 1 in 4 experience violence every year. Continue reading

After Years of Budget Cuts, More Psychiatric Resources Coming

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Elaine Korry

Don Fox prepared for his late-night rounds. He collected a few warm blankets and protein bars, then hit the streets, seeking out people in crisis who needed food and warmth. “Our principle is, we hang out where people are,” said Fox. “We walk the streets in those areas, make eye contact, and ask if they need help.”

Fox is an Episcopal priest with San Francisco Night Ministry, a program founded by volunteer clergy in 1964 to serve a then-emerging population of mentally ill homeless people. A half-century later, the problem hasn’t gone away.

On a recent night Fox walked San Francisco’s Civic Center, where he met a 53-year-old Navy veteran slumped on the sidewalk. The man, a slight figure in a torn sweatshirt and Oakland A’s cap, said he had been homeless and in and out of jail for about six years.

He said that a few months ago, he had run out of his anti-psychotic medication, Risperdal. Late one night he started to feel suicidal and went to San Francisco General Hospital for help. “I wasn’t well, put it that way,” he told me. He spent the early morning hours in the emergency department, but then said he was told to leave. “I was telling them that I needed to stay a little longer. They wouldn’t let me stay longer, so they made me leave.” Continue reading

How California’s Mentally Ill Children Suffer — Few Hospital Beds Statewide

 (Debora Bogaerts/Flickr)

(Debora Bogaerts/Flickr)

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this story incorrectly identified John Muir Medical Center, Concord as the facility where Maria Ramirez’s granddaughter was taken. We regret that error.  The post has been edited so that it no longer contains the incorrect information.

By Elaine Korry

Maria Ramirez began caring for her granddaughter when the girl was just a toddler. Her granddaughter began hurting herself — cutting her arms and swallowing things — before she was 10. Soon, says Ramirez, she couldn’t let the girl out of her sight. “She was running in front of cars, just really impulsive,” says Ramirez. “It was out of control, and I was really scared.”

Ramirez has a job and health insurance, so she did what any parent or guardian would do: she took her granddaughter to her local hospital for treatment. But instead of finding help, she always got the same reply, “No beds, no beds.”

Ramirez, a Bay Area artist who loves gardening, says she knew early on that her granddaughter was going to need help. “She was a hard child to make smile. She was very serious,” says Ramirez. Continue reading

Sharp Drop in Psychiatric Beds Leaves Severely Mentally Ill With Few Places to Go

Carole Ford (Elaine Korry/KQED)

Carole Ford of Lakeport, seen here in front of the community health center she runs, was often taken to hospitals far from her Lakeport home to treat her mental illness. (Elaine Korry/KQED)

By Elaine Korry

In  the small town of Clearlake, about a hundred miles north of San Francisco, Carole Ford, a great-grandmother with a mane of silver-gray hair, runs a community mental health center called The Bridge. She leads support groups and prepares meals for her mostly homeless clients. It’s hardly glamorous work, but Ford says this is her dream job. “I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be — and doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says.

Employees had to scour the state, looking for a vacant psychiatric bed. “Then it’s another 2 to 3 hour drive.”

But Ford, 71, hasn’t always been so content. She had a traumatic childhood and many bouts of depression. As a younger adult adult she often felt suicidal. She recalls being dragged away to the hospital in Lake County, where she says she felt like she was dumped. There was no psychiatrist or therapist; no peer support or services of any kind. Continue reading

Health Law Nudges Therapists Toward Group Practice

Because mental health is one of the ACA’s required benefits, many therapists are now having to deal with insurance contracts for the first time. (Getty Images)

By Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News

In the corporate world of American health care, with its consolidating hospital chains and doctors’ groups, psychologists and other mental health therapists are still mostly Mom-and-Pop shops; they’ve built solo practices, hanging their own shingles, not unlike Lucy in the Peanuts gang: “Psychiatric Help 5¢, The Doctor Is In.”

But that business model is shifting from solo practices toward large medical groups, say mental health experts. The shift is propelled by the Affordable Care Act, which mandates mental health benefits in insurance coverage, and the 2008 mental health parity law, which requires private and public insurers to cover mental health needs just as they do medical conditions by charging similar co-pays, for example.

“It’s a big change for us. There is a loss of autonomy that a lot of therapists are frightened about.”  

“It’s a big change for us,” said Barbara Griswold, a marriage and family therapist in San Jose. “I spent all of my life setting up this practice where I choose my clients, I choose my hours.”

In just the last few months, Griswold has weighed a new contract with a giant health insurer, warned other therapists to watch what they’re signing in payment negotiations and considered the extinction of her own solo practice. “The idea of me moving into an interdisciplinary practice where somebody else is taking care of my billing, and someone is choosing my clients for me —there is a loss of autonomy that a lot of therapists are frightened about,” Griswold said. Continue reading

Mental Health Funds Well-Spent or Wasted? Prop. 63 Authors Divided

By Elaine Korry, KQED

Young people with mental health needs find help through art therapy at Daniel's Place, a drop-in center in Santa Monica. (Elaine Korry/KQED)

Young people with mental health needs find help through art therapy at Daniel’s Place, a drop-in center in Santa Monica. (Elaine Korry/KQED)

Remember Proposition 63? The voter initiative known as the Mental Health Services Act was approved in 2004. It imposed a 1 percent surtax on income over $1 million to fund services for Californians with a serious mental illness. Now, nine years later, the state auditor is about to release a long-awaited report, detailing how nearly $9 billion in taxpayer money raised by Prop. 63 has been spent. Whether that money has been spent wisely is being hotly debated, and even the bill’s co-authors are divided.

“What did they do with the money? Where has all the money gone? We would like to know,” said Rose King, one of the initiative’s original co-authors. Lawmakers requested the audit after whistle-blowers including King complained that the funds were being misused.

As written, nearly three-quarters of the money raised by Prop 63 was slated to fund services for people already diagnosed with a severe mental illness. Twenty percent was reserved for prevention and early intervention strategies. The remaining funds would go to oversight, administration, and innovations. Continue reading