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October 4, 2005
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Awareness Day Thursday
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Clinic's closing jars mentally ill Advocates fear setbacks from changes
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution; 10/1/2005; CRAIG SCHNEIDER
The 17-year-old schizophrenic girl didn't take the news well.
Her mental health clinic in east DeKalb County was stopping
outpatient services, so she would have to go elsewhere.
Worse, her therapist, who she had been with for two years, was being laid off, another victim of the spending cuts by the DeKalb Community Service Board. And it was happening in two days.
"That's a trauma to a child," McNeill said. She said the girl became quiet and a little sorry for herself. "I hope it's not a setback."
Some 600 outpatients, adults and children, were displaced when their program in the East DeKalb Health Center closed Sept. 15.
The abrupt closing has upset patients and advocates for the mentally ill, who worry that the sudden change will send an already vulnerable population spiraling into depression, bad decisions or worse.
Despite assurances that services for the patients will continue elsewhere, some advocates fear the patients --- many of whom are low- income --- will not have access to transportation to the other sites.
The outpatient program, located in Lithonia, was closed by the DeKalb Community Service Board, a quasi-governmental body empowered by the state to provide the county with public services for mental health, developmental disabilities and addictions.
Board spokeswoman Jana Scoville said the program was discontinued because the board faces financial hard times. Since 2002, its state funding has been cut by 33 percent and state Medicaid reimbursements have been cut by 10 percent, she said.
Consequently, funding cuts are occurring that, along with the closing of the outpatient clinic, include laying off 71 workers and closing smaller programs, such as one that helps about 15 patients a day with both addictions and mental health issues. That program closed Friday.
Scoville said the board will continue to provide these services, and that staff are working hard to shift patients into programs at other facilities in the county.
One site is about 10 miles from the former clinic. McNeill said she drove 45 minutes to get to a new site near Decatur.
All but about 150 of the people in the outpatient program have been reassigned to other places, Scoville said.
"We are bending over backwards, working nights and weekends to get them placed," Scoville said.
The community service board tried to give patients two weeks notice before the changes, but some patients say they received hardly any notice.
The board realized it had problems in March, Scoville said, but a recent review showed greater problems that required immediate action.
"We avoided a financial crisis by doing this," she said.
Some outpatient clients are struggling with the changes, said Sharon Jenkins Tucker, executive director of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network.
"People are coming into [support] groups and saying, 'My center is closing. What am I going to do?' " she said. "People are feeling like they are left in a lurch."
Ronald Berlin, a retired DeKalb psychologist who advocates for people with disabilities, said some of these mental health patients have spent years building relationships with their therapists.
They have been jarred by the change. He worries they will miss therapy sessions and stop taking their medications.
"You are talking about people, many of whom are schizophrenic and bipolar, walking around with hallucinations, delusions, irritability," he said. "That could require more services from police and hospitals."
(Copyright, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution - 2005)
COLUMN: The stigma of mental illness
University Wire; 9/30/2005; Craig Colbrook
(Daily Illini) (U-WIRE) CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- If you've met Jim Monti, you were probably struck by his devotion to the White Sox, his "Family Guy" quotations, and his near-perfect imitation of the Temptations. However, it is unlikely that you would have guessed that, as of last November, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Type II Disorder, a mental illness that includes intense depression and hypomanic, meaning intensely confident, creative, irritable or anxious, episodes.
Next week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and it is important to remember that this is a good time to think about the prevalence of mental illness in America. I mention Jim because, as I said, you would have never guessed that he has been diagnosed with a mental illness. I certainly didn't, and I've been friends with him since my freshman year and until November, he was just another student on campus. Frankly, the insulting part is that due to the stigmas attached to mental illnesses, I feel the need to emphasize how "normal" he is, when it is obvious to anyone who meets him. Despite the stereotypes, he's not a victim, and neither is anyone else with a mental illness.
Even so, in modern-day America and particularly on college campuses, you can't mention mental illness without people jumping to the worst conclusions. You say those two little words, and people start to picture everything from Hannibal Lector, the man-eating intellectual, to Mork from "Mork and Mindy." What they don't realize is that many people with a mental illness still live normally.
Especially as Mental Illness Awareness Week approaches, we need to realize that people with mental illnesses, or disorders, are not locked in a room somewhere. Instead, they're our friends and neighbors; you may even have a mental illness but not know it. They're not raving lunatics, and even those of us who pride ourselves on being tolerant and accepting, need to be reminded of that because, if we forget it, we can end up causing more damage to people who suffer from mental illness.
"The biggest problem on this campus is that there's a stigma about mental illness," Monti said. This stigma may even be preventing the treatment of many mental illnesses. Monti continues, "The stigma causes embarrassment or fear of mental illness, and the result is students not wanting to get help for fear of being labeled, being 'weak', being embarrassed, etc. It's right around our age when the symptoms start occurring, but they don't want to get treatment because they're scared or embarrassed. And it is a scary thing, but they still need help."
In response, Monti started a National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter on this campus. The organization was formed in November 2004 to give the mentally ill a voice on campus. This summer, because of the success of the program here at the University, Monti was able to intern at the national headquarters for the alliance of mental illness in Washington D.C.
"Out in D.C. I learned just how much mental illness is all around us," he said. "I mean, you talk to someone and pretty much everyone has a connection with someone who has a mental illness -- them, their family, a friend. It really is everywhere and it's everyone's issue."
During next week, everyone has the opportunity to learn something new about mental illnesses. The best thing to do is to be better informed: "The big thing that people can do next week is to educate themselves on the topic," said Monti. "We want to raise awareness. If they want to get more involved, they can contact me or volunteer at the mental health clinics on campus."
I like what Monti has done. I like that it is a direct action to confront a serious problem. We hack columnists, rather than just talking and complaining all the time, could learn something from this. In other words, I know what I'll be reading up on next week, and I hope you guys do the same.
(C) 2005 Daily Illini via U-WIRE
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