Sunday, February 28, 2010
Dr. W stares at me and tells me to up my meds or hospital. I look at him, he is no longer laughing at me manic, I am back down to earth, past earth to Hades and back to suicidal despair. Indeed all I can think about is death. I tell him I don't feel safe. I clutch a small striped tabby stuffed plush my friend M and K bought for me when J left - a momma and baby cat . I put the baby in my purse ,and stroke it, trying to not be in the moment, but be four years old again.
I want someone to hold me like I was four. I have a friend on Facebook who's avatar is holding his small daughter, and I long to be held like that, comforted. I lie to the doctor, but I really don't want to be alone, I don't feel safe. I want someone to hold me at night, to grab my hand when I try to pick up a knife or a bottle of cleaning solution. But I don't have anyone. Just my cat, who stares at me with those green eyes and says "meow" and I realize that even though I am not safe, I cannot go- yet, no one will take care of her. But I wish, wish wish apon a star, i had someone who could do a one on one with me here in my apartment until this feeling passes, because it's really bad this time.
The other night was my sister's birthday and the whole family went out. I surprised everyone by grabbing a glass of pink champagne and ordering veal parm. I have not eaten veal since I was in 7th grade and learned about veal calves. Dr. W. said I'm so depressed nothing means anything to me anymore. It's common with depression. I don't know. Dr. W is good man. He was the doc who suggested the ECT back then, and apologized, said of all the people he had seen it happen I am one of probably 5 failurers. I am tired of people telling me I am a psychiatric statistical abnormality. First with the ECT, then with the Haldol= I want to scream I am tired of being maimed and hurt by you Viennese Head Thumpers! But I don't. Instead, my mother orders me some chicken parm, and a Diet Coke. The waiter asks if I want anything else. Before I even think , I say "White Russian". My mother says, "She will just have a Diet Coke". That's it. Man, I can taste that Kalhua in my brain. But would I actually drink it? I am afraid to know. Part of me would. Part of me would grab my coin in my purse, my AA coin, and drink the Diet Coke and the water on the table. My sobriety is important. Not eating veal means something to me. But not that night.
I just don't feel like myself anymore. I don't know if it's the med cocktail I am taking reluctantly, or it's from the therapy, my personality seems to me to metamorphosing into a poisonality. No one else sees it. Just me. I really hate myself. I hate therapy...I don't know if it's bring out issues I have hidden away so tight in my memory I don't want them to come up. Tear down the wall.... I don't know if it's the fact everyone I know in real life is telling me to take meds and won't support my wishes to get off all psych meds...I don't know what to think. My walls have kept me alive all these years. If they come down, will I die? I don't know but I have a gut feeling I am going to find out shortly.
I reluctantly tell the doctor I started self injuring again,, something I haven'd done in over twenty years. I am also hypersexual, again something that hasn't happened in twenty years. I just cannot stop thinking about sex. I don't understand. But I want to. I really want to, I'm just scared. I think the only life that is easy is the cereal Mikey likes.
The British may be known for "inventing" the first novel, and like the first novel, this reads smoothly, part epistolary, part fiction. But it's not fiction. This is a true story, which I sorely wish was fiction.
The book I am referring to, is The Evidence Is Clear", written by Bob Fiddaman. Right now it's available as an ebook, for download here, but will be coming out in print later this year. Seroxat, (or Paxil, or Paroxetine) is manufactured worldwide by GlaxoSmithKline and is a SSRI drug used mostly for psychiatric purposes.
It was prescribed to Bob for depression, as he tells his tale of three years on this drug:
I was prescribed Seroxat by my GP due to 'depression' - it was work-related and kind of spiralled when my former employers put me on to a 'Long Term Absence Register' because I had developed an illness, Osteoarthritis of the hips,  that didn't allow me to perform the job I was employed for. The 'Long Term Absence Register' was basically set up to leave employees without pay and without being able to claim for benefits. It had a strain on family life and Seroxat was deemed to 'fix' that problem.
Seroxat took away the pain of not being able to provide for my family, in fact I didn't really care much about anything. I became devoid of any human emotion other than sadness. It was an unexplainable sadness though, you know, bouts of crying when I really didn't know what I was crying about. (p.10)
Bob's life spirals out of control when he starts missing a dose on holiday, and then describes side effects he encountered from taking the drug, unable to tolerate loud noises, night thrashes/terrors, night sweats, blurred vision, apathy and confusion. Then a suicide attempt. His marriage crumbles, and he has "brain zaps". After 18 months of tapering, he goes "cold turkey" off the drug and it takes about three months before he feels "normal" again after a period of hell withdrawing.
What then starts is a labyrinthian journey, as Bob goes through the bureaucracy of red tape and politics that exist in the UK, as he writes to doctors, politicians, the BBC, and employees of GSK trying to learn more about Seroxat and it's purpose. Again, it almost seems like fiction, but it's true. During this process, Bob launched his website. "Seroxat Sufferers, Stand Up And Be Counted"and has developed a loyal readership of people who have been hurt and maimed on Seroxat, as well as other psychiatric drugs.
What makes this book believable is even though someone like me who had no problems on Paxil on it, or off it, I still could relate to because of the problems I had with Cymbalta for example, or Haldol. The symptoms he went through were so similar to what I experienced on Cymbalta and Haldol and the dead ends I encountered trying to learn more about these drugs. But unlike me, Fiddy kept on truckin, as they use to say- not afraid of the red tape he was encountering and fearlessly became an advocate by default as he puts up piece after piece on his website.
150 years ago Charles Dickens told the world about workhouses and poverty in London and laws were enacted to changed it. 110 years ago Jack London was sickened by the poverty he saw first hand in London's Whitechapel district. 100 years ago Upton Sinclair wrote "The Jungle' to describe the horrors going on in the US meat packing industry, and 80 years later, this movement went into the fast food restaurants exposing them. Now in this new century, maybe it's time to take the lid of Big Pharma, to tell them, while they do do good manufacturing drugs like penicillin, and other drugs to bring down fever and colds, we really, really have to look how psychiatric drugs are made and marketed, and if they really do any good, compared to, say a placebo.
Bob's book is a tough read on a serious subject. But rewarding. Its only drawback is it's an ebook, you cannot hold it, or download it to a Kindle. But like any book worth reading, it makes you think. It makes you mad as hell, too. And it makes you want to go out and do something, even if it's writing a letter to your local Congressman, on MP. And for that, it really does belong on the bookshelf, once the paperback comes out. But, if you were like me and cannot wait, get the ebook in the meantime.
Here is a video Bob did to preview the book.
Friday, February 26, 2010
I love these words that were just invented in 2010, "Snowmageddon", "Stormageddon" and now "Snurricane", which is what happens when it snows with a hurricane, as it did yesterday. Today it's just more of this white stuff, lots and lots coming down hard on the sleet an rain, so it's going to be a mess when Mr. Plow finally arrives to clean this mess up. If Mr. Plow should come. NJ is saying they are broke and have no money for the plows, and are begging FEMA to help. And we all know what a mess FEMA made with those poor people from Hurricane Katrina, right?
So this week, if that wasn't enough, the cat's been sick. She eats but won't drink, she poops but won't urinate, sleeps for a day and a half, then when I call the vet, she plays, eats, drinks.... all is well. Then when we cannot get to the vet, she cries a howl from hell when she tries to urinate, won't eat, won't play and sleeps under the dripping water faucet. Ignores me. Then decides to stay in bed all day with me watching the snow, as I read, and write. ....will eat some tuna or other fish, but still seems off. Uses the litter box reluctantly. How I wish I was Dr. Doolittle and could talk to the animals.
On another hand, one of my best friends in the world is severely depressed as indicated in his latest blog entry. I hate depression, it can really destroy us, as seen by the recent death of Andrew Koening.
But all is not lost...I have been reading a great book, and hope to get a review up in the next day or two. Bob Fiddaman has written a real gem of a book "The Evidence is Clear- The Seroxat Scandal" - available for download here- which I am having a hard time putting down. It's currently an e-book and I spent 5 quid on it, still trying to figure out what that is in dollars these days, but it's really good. Still, it's an e-book and I cannot wait for the printed copy, to hold in my hands and read properly. Seroxat/Paxil isn't a drug that didn't do anything for me, I have my own drug nemesis, but I know several people who were really maimed by this drug. So if anyone else out there is snowbound, and wants something good to read, this is one I do recommend. Preferably with a cup of hot chocolate.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
"I have scars on my hands from touching certain people. Certain people, certain events have all left scars on my hands. " - JD Salinger
As I look back at my life, I feel a kinship to Salinger’s Seymour Glass. A grown up who would have been Holden Caulfield, had Holden not been suspended in time as a teenager. And one day when the pain of being with people, the agony of being different and feeling things stronger than others got to Seymour, he took a gun and went gently into that good night.
I hope when I do break I am stronger. I guess I am lucky, when the time came to break, I bent like a flower that bends with the rainfall.
I’ve been thinking a lot about people lately. About the good ones I ‘ve met and the bad ones. The evil ones. Yes, I have met pure evil, those that wished to hurt me by raping me, or beating me to an inch of my life. And all have left scars on my soul, like Seymour’s scars.
I was in the hospital during December 2002 , and in December 2007. I’m in an IOP program after both stays and now, 2010. I’m supposed to be getting better, getting stronger. It’s hard. Last weekend I just wanted to destroy, to curl up in the bathroom and die. A few weekends ago I went to the train station and looked at the trains. But I didn’t jump. Or feel like jumping. It was if the act of train-spotting was enough. Indeed my carapace seemed to get stronger with each passing train. I finally left several hours later, went home, and slept soundly. I hadn’t been able to sleep, so the P-doc gives me Seroquel. That was the first night since then I slept without anything stronger than a glass of warm milk.
I went into the hospital on December 4 back in 2002. I didn’t want to go, I was given an ultimatum from work. It was like they put a gun to my head. "Hello Susan, well, you can either go to the hospital or you can get the sack. Which would you prefer?"
Let me backtrack. The human relations department gave me the ultimatum because it got so bad one night. I couldn’t jump in front of the train. I couldn’t be Anna Karenina. I didn’t have access to a gun -I had tried to purchase one to no avail. That left one method I never tried, namely because it frightened me. But the more I thought about it, the more it didn’t seem so bad. So one night in early December, when the pain was so horrible I couldn’t take it anymore, I took the belt from my green chenille bathrobe and an old kitchen chair and I went outside to find a nice sturdy tree in which I could hang myself. I found one, tied the belt like a noose around my neck and the tree branch, hiked it up, stood on the chair, and said a small prayer, looked at the moon and kicked the chair away.
I remember looking at the moon and how pretty it was, and how this didn’t hurt like I thought it was, it was very peaceful, like going to sleep. And I fell asleep ... And woke up with the branch on the grass, myself on the grass. I had failed and even worse, I had wet my pants. Talk about ignominy. I was totally abashed, ashamed, and I felt like a three-year-old who didn’t want their mommy to discover what they did.
So I went into the hospital. First I went to the local hospital’s emergency room. I was greeted by a nice older woman in her sixties who offered me a peppermint Life Saver as she typed my vital information into the hospital’s computer. Name, age, sex, social security, etc. She asked me how I felt right then, I said I really wanted to hurt myself. She asked me how I would do it in her office, I came up with several different ways. She looked at me. "You’re a pretty girl," she said. "Why are you in so much pain"?
Then two security guards came and got me and put me in a little independent room in the emergency room. Gave me one of those gowns that doesn’t cover your backside. I was given a chair to sit down, a blanket, and one of the guards stayed by my door for seven hours while the emergency room on call doc looked at me, a couple of nurses looked at me, and finally the doctor from the mental hospital came. During the time, I was treated to a turkey sandwich, which was delicious, and a carton of skim milk.
When the hospital doctor came, he asked me a few questions and then told me I better get dressed, I was going to be admitted to the other wing of the hospital. Two orderlies then came and got me once I was dressed and transported me to the mental care unit which is about three miles away, in the country.
About the hospital stay, what can you say, other than as hospitals go, this was a nicer one. My last hospitalization I had no insurance, so it was in the State psychiatric facility. This was more of a country club in comparison. The doctors were nice and I was medicated on different meds. But I was still suicidal. All I thought about when I wasn’t sleeping was how much I wanted to die. This perplexed the doctors. Surely the lithium, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and all the other meds should be kicking in. I got worse. I started to see things that weren’t there. No worries, add a bit of Geodon to the mix, and Seroquel to calm the OCD that was developing. Everything will be OK soon. Trust the doctors.
But I was still suicidal. The nurses were watching me, on a one on one suicide watch, a record they said for the hospital. Fifteen days into the hospitalization with nothing getting better, I had been seen by a panoply of doctors and they sat down with my parents and decided that perhaps ECT might get rid of the depression.
Forms were signed, and a week before Christmas I got my first electroshock treatment. I had a total of six altogether. I had problems with my veins and had to get a PIC line put in to help make the treatments easier. The treatments left me feeling woozy, when they were done, it was difficult to get dressed again and try to remain "normal". I would try to eat my breakfast, but I just wanted to sleep. The first treatment left me in agony, I could count every one of my muscles. I remember in tenth grade biology class that a human has over 600 muscles. I felt every one of them that day. I couldn’t move. It was agony.
Only one other person close to my age was getting the treatment. We would hold hands as we waited on our gurneys as we heard the others getting shocked and waited our turn. The others were senior citizens. They looked at the young man Charles and I with understanding and pity. We were so young. Several told me their stories - they were depressed because their spouse of 50 some years died, or a child died, or a grandchild had been murdered. One lady had a husband at home who had Alzheimer’s and she was depressed over his care.
I just knew I would lie down, electrodes placed to various parts of my body and when it was over I could have a glass of cranberry juice. The cotton mouth I would experience was not akin to the type of cotton mouth you get when you drink.
My last treatment was the day after Boxing Day, December 27. I personally stopped the treatment against the doctors wishes, I felt my brain was being destroyed. I went home on December 28. On December 30, my beloved cat Cleopatra died. She was 16. I had her for 15 ½ years. About my despair on losing her I still cannot bring myself to write. I miss her, I think I will always miss my gray darling. She was my best friend. It hurt me that I was so fragile from just getting out of the hospital - and now this.
I started an outpatient program at the hospital right after New Years. Nine thirty till two thirty. Some of it was good, but a lot of it I found to be not helpful. I was still weak from the ECT, I had problems recalling simple things. I did not know it at the time, but I had damage from the treatment, I lost a lot of both long term and short term memory and at least 20 IQ points, which still, til this day has not returned. Ask me who the president was, I knew it was President Bush, but I thought it was the father, not the son. I thought it was a decade or so earlier than what it was. There were gaps in my thinking, I knew something horrible had happened on September 11, but I couldn’t recall what it was, despite the fact I knew people who died on that day. I would sit in group therapy, something which even when I am well, I have to admit I am not a fan of. I don’t have the personality type to be an effective patient for a group setting. I am too much the introvert. And that part of my personality was coming through loud and clear. I was not participating, or commenting to the other people. I couldn’t eat during meal times. I cried a lot. I asked to go for one on one counseling and was told the insurance company wanted me in this type of atmosphere.
Finally after six weeks I was discharged. I had made no progress, and the worst thing was I could not write. I realized I had to take the bull by the horns, and could not stay passive in my recovery. I had to be active.
I found a support group via the NAMI website that is about 10 miles away. It meets every Friday night. I would like to say I go every Friday but I am not that diligent. I go every other week. I went back to work. This was the hardest thing for me. My brain is barely functioning, and I am still suicidal. Some nights I still go to the train station, and look at the trains, thinking about jumping. But I don’t. I’m in recovery. Sometimes I think of OD’ing on my meds, but I don’t. I’m in recovery. The feeling is strong. I try to stay afloat. It’s two steps forward sometimes, three steps back. I’ve developed bulimia again, something that I haven’t had since I was a teenager. I have OCD now, in little snatches, and at work a mild case of paranoia. The Kinks sang "Paranoia, will destroya", and I just have to keep saying to myself, it’s all in my head. The suicidal thoughts will go away. It’s all in my head. The thoughts about wanting to hurt myself, all go away, I am in recovery.
Right now I have to go to work and make sure I stay afloat. I am in recovery.
I learned I have some real good friends who stood by me when I needed them. I had other friends who I lost because it was too much for them to deal with. I miss them terribly and blame myself, even though I know no one is to blame. I guess when the chips fall you learn who really do care about you. And for them, I have to get strong again.
I adopted a new cat, Holly, in February. I couldn’t take living by myself without something in the apartment. She’s a young cat and we are becoming fast friends. I still miss Cleo. But there is room in my heart for two cats.
I slept like a child. I dreamt that night, of the flying dream I haven’t dreamt since childhood. I must be getting stronger. I soared to the heavens, that must mean something.
Heavens. And Hells. The inner turmoil that comes with being up and down. A few years ago a friend, told me I wouldn’t get better unless I accepted that I have bipolar. At the time I didn’t want to accept it, I loved the highs and the lows gave me creativity. The problem was the lows were getting lower and lower and I was starting to embrace suicide. My attempts were becoming more lethal. But I didn’t want to be compliant. I didn’t want to take my meds, they were taking away the highs. I didn’t realize they were also giving me the crashing lows. The side effects were making me miserable. I was playing with fire and getting burnt. My life was hanging on by a thread. I can see that now. I didn’t need meds or alcohol to help me deal with my moods, I was getting high off of being high and low. The highs made me feel like God. The lows made me feel like a tortured poet.
I realize now my Muse is killing me. His sweet siren song was destroying me as surely as Odysseus had to chain himself to the mast to hear the sweet mermaids sing. The mermaids were singing to me, their songs weren’t waking me up as I drowned in the madness of my mind. Instead, they were causing me to drown in my own made lake, the route I was going was taking me more and more into the inner workings of my mind. The dragons I was fighting, self pity, self despair, fear and loathing, were winning. I was on a one way course to Hell, literally and figuratively.
Friday, February 19, 2010
According to Friday February 19, 2010 Trentonian,
The teen accused of murdering his 69-year-old roommate had sex with the old man first and killed him in a fit of guilt after reading the Bible, according to prosecutors.
Bail was maintained at $500,000 yesterday and a psychiatric evaluation was ordered in Mercer Court for Michael Leal, 18, charged with beating and pen-stabbing his Princeton House bunkmate James Dunlavy on Feb. 11.
Assistant Prosecutor Brian McCauley told Judge Pedro Jiminez at the bail hearing that after the two roommates in the involuntary psychiatric commitment unit had consensual sex, the elderly man fell asleep and Leal started reading the Bible.
"Then he had second thoughts and felt guilty about what had happened,” said Casey DeBlasio, spokesperson for the Mercer County prosecutor’s office.
Leal then allegedly stabbed the victim with a pen several times and beat him in the head with his fists, knees and feet.
Staff at Princeton House saw Leal walking around with bloody clothes, followed him back to his room and discovered the victim on the floor of the room unresponsive, DeBlasio said.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Emily Dickenson wrote “I write for myself and others”. I’ve always written for myself first, never been conscious of my audience. If I am happy with what I write that is paramount. If I touch someone else, that’s gravy. Gravy.
It hasn’t always been easy. I cannot spell for beans, so when I used an old typewriter, I had to write and re write. But something so romantic about hitting the little round buttons and putting a sheet of virginal white paper in between the roller, and then taking it out covered in type. Now I use a Macintosh, it’s the closest thing to the feel of an old typewriter. And I have use spell check, which is one of the greatest inventions to a writer since the fountain pen replaced a quill.
My life hasn’t been easy. Maybe eons ago my soul was asked for another round at life, to learn more lessons. This time it’s been hard, I have experienced the good and the bad. I’ve lived through things that would bring an ordinary person to their knees, but I am not ordinary. I’ve been blessed with an artist’s temperment and an unusual way to see the world, but I’ve also been cursed with Bipolar and all that implies. My relationships with people suffered, as I would rather be alone with my words and my books. Maybe that is why so many writers are drawn to felines. I am like a feline, independent, aloof, and a lover of all fine things and fish and foul. I can spend hours watching people go by me on the street, just as my cat can spend hours from her perch watching birds and squirrels go by.
In summary I would like to close with a poem by the late Raymond Carver. He was the subject of an aborted Masters Thesis, but this poem has stuck with me since I first read it, like a tattoo on my heart.
No other word will do. For that's what it was.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. "Don't weep for me,"
he said to his friends. "I'm a lucky man.
I've had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don't forget it.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
One of the sad things about being single is there is no one to give a Valentine to. So I would like to give this Valentine, on behalf of Holly my cat, and I, to all my friends and wonderful readers, with love. Happy Valentine's Day.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Monday, February 8, 2010
Granted there is still a learning curve for the next few days, but if you are on Twitter, join me in my quest to master the Tweets!
And as always, I am on Facebook too.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
In the IOP program which I am currently attending, one of the things that makes the women laugh, are references to the old Richard Dreyfuss, Bill Murray movie "What About Bob?", and the references to "baby steps".
Baby steps have been my life the last week or so. I wrote about a week or so about needing help with my life, and I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love I got. But in the end, I realized I had to "shit or get off the pot". Or as they say in "AA", "Get off the cross, someone else needs the wood".
So it was baby steps for me. One day I dusted the night-table by the bed, and put the books away that were on it. One day I dusted the TV, and the stand it lies on. One day, the floor. One day, swept the kitchen floor, and the cat litter. One day vaccumed the carpets. Baby steps. I am still....still crying, still going to the IOP and barely functioning, but if I do one little thing each day- one small thing to clean, one small thing to get at the grocery store, a couple TV dinners, a small lettuce for a few salads, it's all good. Not what I was when I was high functioning, but baby steps. It's difficult. It's very difficult. But I don't have a choice. I have to get proverbial pot now. I have to get off that cross too.
All that's missing is Gil, the fish. I hope my cat didn't eat him.
Friday, February 5, 2010
I haven't seen you in 15 years, but I hope someday we still can see eachother. Happy birthday dearest friend.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The agency has not approved the marketing of olanzapine — sold under the commercial name Zyprexa by the drug maker Eli Lilly — for use in children under 13 who are diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But the medication, one of a class of psychiatric medications called the “atypical antipsychotics,” is widely prescribed for young patients, despite growing evidence that call its safety profile into question for this population.
The warning comes in the wake of the October publication in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., in which a study showed that children and adolescents taking their first-ever course of Zyprexa gained, on average, more than 17 pounds over a 12-week period, as well as dramatic increases in triglycerides and cholesterol levels — all factors that put them at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. While two other antipsychotic drugs — Seroquel and Risperdal — were implicated in significant weight gain and metabolic changes, Zyprexa was found to carry the highest risks of all three.
SSRIs are being prescribed not only for those who are suffering Major Depression but also for people who are in distress because of life problems.
These antidepressants such as Prozac, Effexor, Paxil/Seroxat, Zoloft, Cymbalta and many others promote serious side effects, are very hard to withdraw and many people have already reported the hell they have to go through while tapering them.
One of the most terrible side effects, also a withdrawal symptom, is suicidal ideation that is not triggered by the disease that has led physicians to prescribe them but it's drug-induced.
Traci Johnson, a 19 years-old healthy volunteer hanged herself during Cymbalta clinical trials and was found dead in 7th February 2004
That is why this, February, 7, is the date for the International Day in Memory of SSRI Fatalities.
Violent behavior also leads people who are taking SSRIs, lost dosages or are withdrawing to harm other people as is demonstrated by reports of people who have killed induced by antidepressants.
Patients are not informed of these problems and many others like the teratogenic effects that has already been reported by some women who took SSRIs while pregnant.
Although there are many testimonies at the Web FDA, physicians and laboratories do not consider them as a source to Post Marketing Surveillance Trial which is the 4th phase of clinical trials.
They just claim that these testimonies are only anecdote evidence and not scientific data.
This are some of the aspects of this serious problem mental healthy and all the population of the world are facing: medicines that can make you kill yourself or others among other side effects.
It has already gone too far. People have the right to be informed about all of these harms and also that the theory that SSRI's antidepressants were done is an hypothesis that is questioned by serious psychiatrists.
I hope we can make people know what kind of problems they are facing when prescribed an SSRI antidepressant.
Thanks to Ana, from Justana, for organizing this event.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Monday, February 1, 2010
Only days after former Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed five bills aimed at improving conditions for New Jersey's mentally ill residents, recommendations by Gov. Chris Christie's Transition Team raised concern about future care for patients under state supervision.
Chief among the team's suggestions was that one of the state's five psychiatric hospitals be shut down. The Transition Team report did not recommend which hospital should be closed.
But the Transition Team report mentions the federal Department of Justice's scathing report on conditions at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Winslow, Camden County, the state's largest and arguably its most troubled facility.
It mentions the state Department of Human Services' commitment to expanding community housing for the mentally ill in the southern New Jersey area with "an eye towards possibly closing the facility in its entirety."
Human Services spokeswoman Ellen Lovejoy referred questions about the report to the governor's office. A spokesman for Christie could not be reached for comment.
Phil Lubitz, director of advocacy programs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Jersey, said closing a psychiatric hospital might not save that much money for the state, because New Jersey receives federal funding to pay for the many indigent psychiatric patients.
Two of the new laws signed by Corzine were at least partially prompted by a series of violent incidents and patient deaths at Ancora. Ancora is the the state's largest hospital for the mentally ill, with about 550 patients.
One new law mandates drug testing for job applicants at state psychiatric hospitals, as well as permitting testing of existing employees who are suspected of substance abuse. A second law requires the Human Services report all deaths and assaults at the five state hospitals.
Three more bills Corzine signed aim at reducing the time mentally ill people must wait for treatment in emergency rooms.
Six patients died at Ancora during a 20-month period in 2007 and 2008, sparking an investigation by the federal Justice Department that resulted in a scathing criticism of the hospital. The Justice Department described Ancora in early 2008 as a dangerous place where patients suffered "serious, frequent and recurrent harm."
The state's Division of Mental Health Services says Ancora is a much different place than it was in January 2008, when the Justice Department's investigators visited the hospital.
Among the improvements state officials have touted are a reduction in the patient population from near 770 to about 550; increased training for staff members; more active treatment for patients and greater interaction with local officials.
But Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, both D-Camden, said the hospital still has a long way to go.
"We haven't received as many complaints, and there are some things that are slightly improved," Lampitt said. "But the physical locality of the building itself does not lend itself to a lot of dynamic changes."
Ancora, advocates claim, is a relic of an earlier approach to mental illness that saw patients removed from society and warehoused for years in large, sterile institutions.
Greenwald said that Human Services has not moved quickly enough to develop the alternatives that would allow patients to move out of Ancora into smaller facilities or group homes where they could receive better treatment.
"My belief is, our push for this type of legislation has changed the direction (at Ancora)," said Greenwald, one of the primary sponsors of the drug testing and assault reporting bills. "Without this type of vigilance, we could easily slip back."
The need for these new laws show that New Jersey's mental health system is in crisis, some advocates say, with a lack of short-term beds for patients, especially children and the elderly. For former patients released from psychiatric facilities, there are not places to live that provide the support services to help them return to productive lives.