SAD JANUARY: Death of Teen Triggers Advocacy Effort

  ” . . .  The bottom line is that all lives are precious, and it is society’s responsibility to protect all citizens—even if they have a disability or a troubled mental status.   We must ensure that all people are safe, regrettably even from officers who are supposed to protect our safety.  Be assured that while there may be just a few officers who would make the tragic judgment and kill an innocent person, people who become law enforcers are different in makeup and in training from those who are prepared to help people in emotional or mental distress.  . . .”

Read here for proposed solutions to this ongoing problem.



JANUARY SADNESS: Killing of a Young Man in Eastern NC is Last Straw!


By now, many of you have probably seen CNN clips or read about the needless and shameful killing of a young high school senior in Brunswick County whose family called police for help to get him into a service setting.   The details of this event are disturbing, and we do not like to share things in a voyeuristic manner.  But at close range, with two officers holding the young man down, young Keith Vidal was shot in the chest in the hallway of his house with family all around.  A link to a press conference held with the family in the Brunswick County court house just after the event is at the bottom of this letter.  The mother is particularly compelling in her statements.

It is time that advocates publicly question the premises behind how communities respond to citizens who happen to have symptoms of mental illness, who may be intoxicated, or who may have developmental differences that make them behave differently.  Their conditions are not of themselves criminal activities.  By default, we rely on the police, yet there are other more practical, more reasonable, and far more dignified ways to respond to persons and their families when they need a specialized response.  Yet we continue to discriminate against some citizens when we treat them so differently because they have a mental illness.  If an officer shot any other person in the chest as happened here, he would be charged and tried for the unwarranted killing of a citizen.

Rarely do people in a mental health crisis have a weapon in hand.  The fact is that far more individuals who have mental illness are killed by gunfire each year in our country—often by well-intended but ill-prepared police officers—than actually do any killing.  We don’t discount the terror and anguish of the events where there have been the multiple deaths of adults or children—yet we never hear a community outcry when individuals are wrongfully killed because they were having symptoms of mental illness.

While we regard them as officers of public safety, it remains that there is too often the obvious potential of the abuse of power.   And such abuse clearly does happen.  Besides all the sad stories we’ve read of through the years in our papers, this writer has experienced having her own son—then a scrawny eighteen year old—beaten by six police officers in a parking lot outside of a zoo because he was psychotic.  His arm was broken in two places, he was shot with a tazer twice, and kicked enough that he bled from his kidney and went into shock.  He was hospitalized for two weeks The terrifying event had a tremendous and traumatic impact on his short life (he took his life later).

There are other alternatives, such as mobile crisis teams, trained crisis engagement specialists, and even the use of crisis responders using ambulance—something some other states do.  If citizens call the police about a mental health crisis, the police would call the responders to be the direct interveners.  There are ways that police can serve—but as secondary assistance in the case that a person is actually wielding a dangerous weapon or only as needed after a crisis engagement specialist has evaluated the situation or if someone has weapon in hand, threatening to take life.

The bottom line is that all lives are precious, and it is society’s responsibility to protect all citizens—even if they have a disability or a troubled mental status.   We must ensure that all people are safe, regrettably even from officers who are supposed to protect our safety.  Be assured that while there may be just a few officers who would make the tragic judgment and kill an innocent person, people who become law enforcers are different in makeup and in training from those who are prepared to help people in emotional or mental distress.

NC CANSO has begun communications with legislators and with the Crisis Solutions Coalition recommending policy changes that ensure that trained crisis engagement specialists and appropriately prepared mobile crisis teams are the first interveners in crisis cases, and not police officers.  We are suggesting that police departments should contact the mobile crisis team or the specialist on call and meet the specialist at the site of the disturbance—while serving only as back-up.

We hope you will advocate with us regarding this issues.  We will soon share an update with some recommendations re: whom to address your advocacy to.

Thank you so much for taking time on this issue.

” This is a Place Where We Re-humanize Ourselves”

Benjamin Fyten contributes this article.  He has been a founding participant at our peer center in Winston-Salem, which began in early July, almost 18 months ago.  To learn more about the t GreenTree Peer Center or contact NC CANSO.  
We began as a handful of acquaintances, all of us consumers of mental health care.  By now, we are a pool of individuals empowering each other in friendship.  As one of us summed it up: “This is a place where we re-humanize ourselves.”

A person unfamiliar with the challenges that most consumers face may wonder what it means to re-humanize.  For the consumer, the best definition of the word is: the initiation or restoration of the authority to make personal choices in all departments of life.

 We are not different from the general public in this sense.  Liberty carries responsibility, and to the degree that a person willingly undertakes the task of being a good neighbor and citizen to his fellows is the degree to which societal satisfactions will be theirs for the asking.  What we are rapidly discovering as a group, however, is that, for the consumer, the means of constructing a purposeful life have been blocked and limited at virtually every level, and by a variety of infrastructures.

 For example, when a consumer seeks employment, it rarely matters how thoroughly they qualify for the position.  Instead, they encounter the employer’s assumption that they will not be able to hold the job.  Faced with this brick wall, many consumers allow themselves to surrender to a false sense of resignation.  Many consumers even come to share the working world’s opinion of them, and to stop acquiring skills through education, volunteer work, and the like.

It doesn’t stop there.  Consumers may become their own worst enemy.  Blending difficult family dynamics (often consumers hold a scapegoat role), the many defeats brought about by excessive medicine and unnecessary confinement, skepticism from the general public and the police which regulate it, and many other such harrowing elements of a daily existence, consumers frequently forecast generalized failure for themselves.

Green Tree Peers offers an alternative—a true and viable alternative!—to those of us who are willing to take the first few steps toward recovery.  Honesty in self-disclosure within a community, a community that can relate to the problems of an individual without pronouncing judgments upon them, is very important as a foundation of recovery.  One of us estimates that he has seen over a half dozen fundamental changes of attitude in participants—and countless incidents of a one-time guest turning toward hope.

 As we aim more accurately toward the creation of skills and employability, what remains most important is the healing bond of loving friendship—and we invite any consumer to experience for themselves the tremendous power of trust in fellowship.  Whether you stop in occasionally, or make a commitment to complete seminars designed effectively to expand horizons in life across the board, you will benefit from the process involved.

 Friendships empower friends.  As it is truly said: “Love never fails.”




NC’s Problems and Potential Solutions Re: High Emergency Department Use at the Center of Many Discussions

Please note the article from the New York Times published this past week.  We thank Susan Rogers from the National Mental Health Consumers Self-Help Clearinghouse for sharing this link with us, below. It’s a well written article about the needs in our state and at least one very timely innovation currently working in the Wake County area.  See the link, below. Great data in the article.
What the article didn’t catch was that on December 16 and 17 the North Carolina Hospital Association presented a two day forum on mental health care and ways to better respond so that people might have a reduction in crises needing inpatient care and that might help them toward recovery.   Planned by NCHA’s Erica Nelson, it was much more recovery-oriented than some of us might have expected.   In fact, Cherene Caraco spoke of of functional reality of recovery and how peers working in inpatient settings can help to support improved outcomes from hospitalization. Laurie Coker addressed the role of peer specialists from practices across the country (including peers respite centers and warm lines, peer counselors in emergency departments, and peer bridgers)in preventing unnecessary hospitalization and in reducing re-hospitalization.  A workgroup was then facilitated by Victor Armstrong for several lead hospital staff from across the state who want to target innovations using peer specialists.  
I believe this is the first time that North Carolina Hospital Association has asked peers to share their knowledge as potential solutions.  I was very encouraged, in fact, it was exciting to hear how many people talked about recovery as a reality that could be expected!   Times, they are a-changing, perhaps?  We have to have change, because unnecessary hospitalization or ED waits can be very traumatic to some individuals.  They make recovery more difficult–one more thing (often depersonalizing and making one feel so vulnerable with no control over what is going to happen) to heal from.
When people do truly need hospitalization, this is a different matter.  There should be that option for those who want or need it because symptoms are so severe.  So alternatives that reduce the large flux of people in emergency departments, such as peer operated respite centers and other crisis settings, should help those who truly need a bed to have one.