Mental Health

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Fresno Community Garden is Sanctuary for Hmong Refugee

smile in crops

Cha Deng Vang, 68, tends to the community garden at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries. Working in the garden helps Vang, a refugee from Laos, relieve anxiety and get exercise. (Annabelle Beecher/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Refugees face unique challenges building lives in the United States. Cha Deng Vang fled Laos in 1987 after fighting as soldier in the US-backed forces. As part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we hear from 68-year-old Vang who has found that a community garden for Hmong refugees at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries has helped him build community and relieve stress. Chong Vang and Sam Chang helped to translate his story.

By Cha Deng Vang

On this side we are growing Hmong pumpkin. They’re very round and very big compared to the American version.

Growing up my parents taught me how to garden and farm. As soon as I turned 18, I became a soldier, and that was basically my entire life.

When I first came to America, I had no education. I couldn’t find a job which equals no money to help my family. So with no financial support, it was a lot of stress on the entire family. And on top of that we also had a lot of illness in the family, which also caused a lot of stress on me as well. Continue reading

Sonoma Co. Supervisor Takes Issue with Kaiser over Mental Health Services

(Ted Eytan/Flickr)

(Ted Eytan/Flickr)

This is Part 1 of a series on issues surrounding Kaiser Permanente’s mental health services.

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane is frustrated with Kaiser Permanente.

“Kaiser better change the way they do business when it comes to mental health services.” — Shirlee Zane, Sonoma Co. Supervisor

“I can tell you I have heard a lot of stories within the last few days about these types of incidents over and over again,” she says, “of people who were so wronged by their treatment, by either being referred out of the system or by saying, ‘We don’t have the appointments.’”

She’s referring to allegations of long delays for mental health services at Kaiser Permanente, accusations the health plan has been dealing with for several years. Now, Zane is trying to leverage a very personal tragedy — the suicide of her husband — into pressing Kaiser on reforming its mental health practices. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Lawmakers Push for More Mental Health Spending

(seliaymiwell/flickr)

(seliaymiwell/flickr)

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