Volume XI, Issue 10 ~ March 13-19, 2003

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Mental Illness Has Terrible Stories to Tell
Legislation Now in the House Can Help Write Happier Endings
by Janet Jump

Just as last year Russell Crowe carried us into the mind of a paranoid schizophrenia with his portrayal of Nobel Prize-winning scientist John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, this year Ralph Fiennes takes us on a similar trip into the mental illness of Dennis Cleg in the about-to-be released movie Spider.

The movies give us safe windows into mental illness, but in raw truth it’s all around us. Mental illness is an equal-opportunity illness that strikes mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors, co-workers — anybody, anywhere.

The Maryland General Assembly is now considering bills — SB 273 and HB 668 — to improve access to psychiatric treatment for persons with mental illnesses. At hearings last month, senators and delegates saw and listened to fellow Marylanders giving their first-person testimonies of their experiences with mental illness.

Karen Mann of Owings Mills described an interlude when she thought a movie was being made of her life. “I left my job … wandered to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. I hooked up with a stranger. We walked around the city. I tossed my necklace into the harbor, left clothing and jewelry all over the shops and bathrooms around the harbor. Eventually we took a cab to Glen Burnie … After sleeping in a hotel, I awoke and, leaving the stranger, I wandered around a local neighborhood alone,” she told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, giving the pain of mental health a human face and story.

After breaking into a home and destroying property, Mann was arrested and spent a week in solitary confinement.

Supporters of the bill argue that this bill will benefit persons with psychiatric illnesses by allowing earlier intervention and treatment. The bill is backed up by research demonstrating that lack of treatment results in tragic consequences, while timely treatment is associated with better long-term recovery.

The bills will help save lives and protect persons, the ill, their families and others from unnecessary trauma. Some expected outcomes of the bill include reduction in violence, suicides, homelessness and incarceration. Cost savings are also anticipated from reduced use of emergency and police services, hospitals, courts and correction facilities.

At the hearings, former state trooper Ed Buell of Westminster testified that, “People are still people, with or without mental illness. [This bill] can do no more than enhance the service we strive to provide the citizens of this state. All of them.”

The House Health and Government Operations Committee also heard Karen Logan of Hyattsville describe her son’s deterioration during the time she was seeking treatment for him. Because of the current law, she was originally denied a petition to get her son involuntarily admitted to the hospital for treatment. When she was finally granted a petition and the deputy sheriffs arrived at the home to serve it, the son shot and killed the deputies.

The message of the testimony — like the messages of the movies Spider and A Beautiful Mind — is that the tragedies of mental illness can often be averted.

SB273 has been passed by the full Senate and HB668 has been approved by the House Health and Government Operations Committee. We need the Maryland House of Delegates to pass House Bill 668.

Lifetime Bay Weekly subscriber Janet Jump is mental illness advocate from Carroll County.


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Last updated March 13, 2003 @ 1:57am