At the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) convention in Denver this month, I met a woman whose son is in his 20's and became psychotic about a year ago. He currently lives in her closet, won't eat or come out, and she describes him as feral. In desperation, she contacted police, who picked him up & took him to the ER. They found a psychiatric bed in a hospital about 2 hours away. He was there 4 days and then discharged, to the streets. Of course, she went and picked him up.
Also at the convention were vendors with lots of terrific programs to help people like this woman's son. A reasonably priced one costs $16,000 a month and was even located in her town. She can't afford that. She and her husband have health insurance that covers their son, but that doesn't translate to meaningful care. He is back in the closet in her house.
My only suggestion was to involve the news media and maybe the human interest angle would provide a fund to pay for his care at one of those private-pay programs. That just doesn't seem right!
There were also terrific presentations on applying RAISE (Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode) research for First Episode clinics and how amazing these new approaches are when treatment starts within the first 74 weeks of psychosis. There is hope through treatment for people like this young man. The trick is getting access to the treatment. NAMI is working hard to get more clinics opened and funding through block grants, but the need is real and very great.
What can you do?
Contrary to popular opinion, and even my own perception, our legislators really do care a lot about what we think. According to a recent webinar, individualized contact from constituents influences our legislators anywhere from 92-94% of the time. Lobbyists on the other hand, have an 83% level of influence.
Things are ripe for change and you can feel it. On July 6th, H.R. 2646 - Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act - passed in the House with a vote of 422-2 in part due to a large number of constituent voices raised on Twitter (see #HR2646). Senate democrats did a sit-in at the end of June to raise voices on gun control which also had a huge amount of social media support (see #NoBillNoBreak).
There are more ways than ever to have your voice be heard - phone, email, letter, Twitter (use trending #'s and the legislators @name), Facebook (follow your legislator, post to their page), and of course, your vote in November.
In spite of the resounding victory for mental health in July, there's a lot to be done. The Senate vote was planned for September, but now at least one senator is attaching gun related language to derail it. And, as we all know, there is no bill without both sides of Congress.
So raise up your voice and contact your Senator. Tell them you care about comprehensive mental healthcare. The people like this young man deserve the care they need. Find your Senator's office information here.