Mental Health

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Kaiser Therapists, Patients Allege Long Waits for Mental Health Care

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

One month, three months, even five months.

That’s how long some Northern California Kaiser patients wait to see an individual therapist — according to many Kaiser patients and therapists.

KQED’s Jon Brooks has reported extensively on this issue over the last two months. He talked to close to two dozen therapists and patients who said that they were experiencing long wait times. One therapist whose specialty is geriatric care told him that she had written to her superiors saying, “I can’t tell a patient that has six months to live that I’ll see them in five months.” Continue reading

Therapists, Patients Criticize Kaiser Over Long Delays for Therapy

Kaiser Permanente's newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

This is the second of two parts about mental health services at Northern California Kaiser.

In January 2013 a woman named “Nina” had a terrible falling out with her father. Soon after, she found out he had incurable cancer and was going to die. In the ensuing weeks, she tried to patch things up, but with the pressures inherent in the last months of a dying man, was unable to attain any form of closure. Some six months after their fight, he was gone.

“People are suffering, and I fear some of my patients will commit suicide for lack of ongoing treatment.”

“Nina,” who did not want us to use her real name for reasons of privacy, had been prone to depression. Zoloft had helped, but the now irreparable family rift left her severely depressed, with occasional thoughts of suicide. “I was in a state of constant emotional pain and confusion,” she says. “It was affecting all aspects of my life.”

She went for an intake appointment at the psychiatric department at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center, with the expectation she’d be able to see a therapist for individual appointments during this severe emotional crisis. She requested those sessions, but the intake therapist told her Kaiser only offered group therapy.

“I said I’m not comfortable talking about my situation with a bunch of strangers,” Nina says. “She very kindly tried to make me aware of the value of group therapy. But I knew in my heart it wasn’t where I wanted to be.” Continue reading

San Francisco Supes Approve Laura’s Law, Can Compel Mentally Ill Into Treatment

(jivedanson/Flickr)

(jivedanson/Flickr)

Update 10pm by Isabel Angell

San Francisco Supervisors passed a version of Laura’s Law today that compels treatment for certain mental health patients. Supervisor Mark Farrell, who sponsored the legislation, said Laura’s Law will be an “important tool” for the city.

“I do believe we need to do more as a city and we need to do more to help those who are clearly suffering and cannot help themselves. In order to make a difference here at the local level, we have to continue to challenge ourselves and the status quo,” Farrell said before the vote.

A last-minute amendment from Supervisor Jane Kim that added an external evaluation after three years helped the ordinance pass 9-2. Supervisor Eric Mar, who cast one of the “no” votes, called mental health treatment a civil rights issue.

Continue reading

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