Mental Illness

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Privacy Law Frustrates Parents with Mentally Ill Adult Children

Mark, a minister who lives in the Bay Area, has not been able to communicate with doctors about his son, Scott, since Scott became an adult (Jenny Gold/ KHN).

Mark, a minister who lives in the Bay Area, has not been able to communicate with doctors about his son, Scott, since Scott became an adult (Jenny Gold/ KHN).

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

The horrifying mass shooting in Isla Vista nearly two weeks ago brought up many questions: What — if anything — could parents have done to prevent the tragedy? And what did they actually know about their son’s mental illness?

‘We were shut out of the conversation.’    

A privacy law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was created in part to protect patients’ information. But the law, called HIPAA for short, also presents a dilemma for families of people with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. HIPAA restricts what family members can find out directly, leaving them to wonder how they can help a loved one who won’t share treatment details.

Mark, an ordained minister in Moraga, about 20 miles east of San Francisco, struggles with the problem almost every day. His son Scott, 24, has schizoaffective disorder and has been hospitalized a dozen times for the hallucinations, mania and depression that it brings. (Kaiser Health News and KQED aren’t publishing the family’s last name to protect Scott’s identity.) Continue reading

Faces of Mental Illness: A Compelling Photo Project, Nearly Stopped Before It Started

Lauren M. Whaley, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

A Stanislaus County woman who volunteered to be photographed in a series "Faces of Mental Illness." (Lauren M. Whaley/CHCF Center for Health Reporting)

A Stanislaus County woman who volunteered to be photographed in a series "Faces of Mental Illness." (Lauren M. Whaley/CHCF Center for Health Reporting)

I assembled my makeshift photo studio in a windowless office just big enough for a desk and two chairs. Wax paper covered the Home Depot work lights. Electrical tape held up the white sheet I had borrowed from my Modesto hotel room.

My subjects walked in one at a time and sat in the chair in front of the sheet, facing my camera and tripod.

Name. Age. Residence. Mental illness diagnosis. They rattled off their stats.

They sat for photographs and told me their stories. One lost a father when she was seven-years-old to a bullet from a bouncer at a bar. Another served five years in prison. Another met his girlfriend through his treatment and therapy.

Each had been diagnosed with a mental illness, ranging from mild depression to schizophrenia. And they each found community and help within the walls of the Stanislaus chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

But before the shoot, a county nurse saw my makeshift studio setup and got suspicious.

The 12 black and white portraits ended up being one of the most popular galleries ever on the Modesto Bee website. The pictures in the print edition spanned two pages.

And they almost didn’t happen. Continue reading

Perhaps the Most Vulnerable … Budget Cuts Hit Mentally Ill Especially Hard

(Lauren Whaley: CHCF Center for Health Reporting)

(Lauren Whaley: CHCF Center for Health Reporting)

In a series they’re calling “Mental Breakdown” the Modesto Bee collaborated with the Center for Health Reporting in a sobering look at how state and county cuts are devastating county mental health departments — by focusing close to home in the Central Valley’s Stanislaus County. Modesto is the county seat of Stanislaus.

Reporters describe people with mental illness who should be in state mental hospitals instead spend weeks in local jails, waiting for beds. Hospital emergency rooms have seen a dramatic increase in mentally ill patients. In all likelihood, counties across California are feeling the same impact.

But the series also speaks of hope. With the right treatment, even people with the most serious mental illnesses can do well — as this short video between father and daughter attests:

You can read more about Matt Freitas and the work he does in his clinic here.