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Bipolar News

December 22, 2004

Note: One or more of the following articles may require a subscription to view the entire article.  We cannot post articles that require a subscription.  We are sorry for the inconvenience.

Bipolar illness, Parkinson's put strain on married pair
Miami Herald (subscription) - Miami,FL,USA
... Rosalind Epstein, 62, is coping with bipolar disorder, a brain malfunction that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy and ability to function. ...

Official criteria for bipolar disorders
Boston Globe - Boston,MA,USA
Mania includes at least three of the following: inflated self-esteem, grandiose behavior, greater talkativeness, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts ...

Man who killed parents sentenced
Newsday - Long Island,NY,USA
... Although Blake was found to have bipolar disorder, a mental condition that can cause psychosis and delusions, prosecutors claimed Monday Blake knew what he was ...

Schizophrenia, bipolar disorders have common threads
Orlando Sentinel (subscription) - Orlando,FL,USA
For nearly a century, scientists made a clear distinction between schizophrenics, with their delusions, and patients with bipolar disorder, who are tossed ...

Parents' story shows difficulty of saving teens
South Bend Tribune - South Bend,IN,USA
... The Sherbuns think Nicholas might have had bipolar depression, a mood disorder characterized by swings from extreme happiness, or euphoria, to black despair. ...

Mom Sues Wal-Mart Over Daughter's Suicide

AP Online; 12/21/2004; LIZ AUSTIN, Associated Press Writer

Near the end of her short life, Shayla Stewart, a diagnosed manic-depressive and schizophrenic, assaulted police officers and was arrested for attacking a fellow customer at a Denton Wal-Mart where she had a prescription for anti-psychotic medication.

Given all those signs, her parents say, another Wal-Mart just seven miles away should have never sold her the shotgun she used to kill herself at age 24 in 2003.

Her mother, Lavern Bracy, is suing the world's biggest store chain for $25 million, saying clerks should have known about her daughter's illness or done more to find out.

The case, filed earlier this month, has reignited a debate over the confidentiality of mental health records and the effectiveness of background checks on would-be buyers of guns.

"We know that if they had so much as said, `Why do you want this?' we would not be having this conversation because Shayla would have had a meltdown," said her stepfather, Garrett Bracy.

The Bracys said Wal-Mart's gun department could have checked Wal-Mart's own security files or the pharmacy department's prescription records before selling her the weapon.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher declined to comment on the lawsuit.

But pharmacy prescription records are confidential under a 1996 federal law, so stores cannot use them when deciding whether to sell a gun.

Also, Wal-Mart did a background check on Stewart, as required under federal law, but through no fault of its own, her name did not show up in the FBI database. The reason: The database contains no mental health records from Texas and 37 other states.

Texas does not submit mental health records because state law deems them confidential, said Paul Mascot, an attorney with the Texas Department of State Health Services. Other states have not computerized their record-keeping systems or do not store them in a central location for use by the FBI.

Federal law prohibits stores from selling guns to people who, like Stewart, have a history of serious mental illness.

Would-be buyers must fill out a form that asks about mental health. Stewart, who had been involuntarily committed to an institution and declared dangerously mentally ill by a judge, lied on that form, according to her mother's attorney's office. Wal-Mart ran a background check anyway, as required by federal law.

Michael Faenza, president and chief executive of the National Mental Health Association, applauds Texas' refusal to share information with the FBI database. He said it would not be fair to violate patients' privacy when there is no data to support claims that mentally ill people are more violent than others.

"The tragedies that families face when people are killed is terrible. And frankly I wish handguns were not so available in this country," he said. "But it's not right, in our minds, to make social policy based on just a few cases."

Garrett Bracy couldn't disagree more.

He and his wife watched his stepdaughter's six-year decline from straight-A high school student to violent and unpredictable stranger. She was hospitalized five times, twice under court orders. Her longest hospitalization, lasting a month, came in 2002 after she refused to leave her room or take her medication.

The suggestion that Wal-Mart should have checked prescription records infuriates Erich Pratt, a spokesman for the Virginia-based group Gun Owners of America.

"Does that mean mental illness prevents everyone on Prozac from owning a gun? Or women with PMS?" he said.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., who ran for Congress after her husband was killed and son wounded in 1993 by a gunman on a Long Island Rail Road train, wants to strengthen the federal background check system by encouraging states to share mental health records. She has introduced legislation that would give states grants to automate and turn over the information.

She drafted the bill after a priest and a parishioner were shot to death by a schizophrenic man in a New York church in 2002. He, too, should not have been allowed to buy a gun.

"When you see these deaths that could have been prevented it's a shame," McCarthy said.

As the Bracys prepare for another Christmas without their daughter, they are urging lawmakers to support McCarthy's bill and dealers to conduct their own background checks.

"Lavern went to the store the other day to buy over-the-counter headache sinus medication and they limited the amount of sinus medication she could buy at one time," her husband said, his voice trembling with emotion. "But Shayla can walk into a store and buy a gun and they could care less. That's got to change."

Copyright 2004, AP News All Rights Reserved


GARDEN GROVE – A wall of brilliant red poinsettias framed the unsmiling face of the Rev. Robert A. Schuller on Sunday morning. Silently, the son of the church's founder surveyed the sea of faces before him. Silently, the Crystal Cathedral's congregation waited.

"I'm supposed to say, 'Merry Christmas,' " Schuller finally said. "But it doesn't feel right to say 'Merry Christmas' this morning."

Schuller struggled to reconcile the joy of Christmas with his deep grief over the suicide of orchestra director Johnnie Carl, who took his life early Friday at the end of a standoff in the church basement.

Carl suffered from bipolar disorder - a condition that alternately set him soaring to an ecstatic frenzy of creative activity, then plunged him into deep, inconsolable despair. He stopped taking a stabilizing drug three months ago for fear it might affect his kidneys, his wife, Linda, has said. Carl shot himself in the head Friday.

"This week has been very painful," Schuller said. "It has been a period of grief and sorrow, a very sad time for us. It's very challenging for us to stand up today and present to you this message of hope. And yet, we realize that this is atime of hope. We know that Christ is victorious. We know his light shines."

The coroner allowed Schuller's father, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, to enter the room where Carl's body lay early Friday morning. The elder Schuller remained with his friend of nearly 30 years for a long, long time, praying and saying goodbye, his wife, Arvella Schuller, told the congregation.

The elder Schuller fought back tears remembering Carl at Sunday's service.

"Christmas is a time for joy, a time to put our petty grievances behind us and sing 'Joy to the World,' " he said. "But many people find this very difficult. The line that comes to me is this: Christmas is a time to cry, too," he said, his voice cracking.

Carl didn't commit suicide, the elder Schuller said; he was killed by the "cancer" of bipolar disorder, which he fought for a long time.

In addition to arranging and conducting music for the Crystal Cathedral's many endeavors, Carl had a broad and accomplished career. He was commissioned three times to provide music for visits by the pope to the United States; handled the Easter sunrise services at the Hollywood Bowl; earned a gold record for his work as an arranger/orchestrator on John Tesh's "Worship at Red Rocks"; and had a four-times platinum record with Celine Dion's holiday songs collection, "These are Special Times."

Carl and his wife met at a Crystal Cathedral Singles hayride. Carl and his date were already sitting in the wagon when Linda and her date arrived late. In her rush to jump aboard the wagon, Linda stepped on Carl's hand, according to the Crystal Cathedral Web site - and a great love was born. They were married for 28 years and had three children: Brandon, 23, Evan, 20, and Allison, 15.

"I have worked with Johnnie from the beginning of his employ here. He was a gift from God," Arvella Schuller said. "He had a special connection with God that none of us could understand or see. ... In his last hours, when hewas isolated, I believe that God was there with him, saying 'Johnnie, come home.' "

Carl's family came to the cathedral Saturday to see his office, where he spent his last hours. There, they found Christmas presents he had bought for them and hidden. They will be opening those gifts Christmas morning, and the gift of Carl's music will live on forever, Arvella Schuller said.

A memorial service for Carl will be held at the Crystal Cathedral on Jan. 16, a day after his birthday. A time has yet to be determined. For more information, see www.crystalcathedral.org.

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