As an 18 year old young man in the US Navy in 1965, I was very lucky! Click here… Thanks to the excellent care by US Navy mental health professionals, I am here today at age 73, I struggle with lifelong symptoms of agitated depression, but with loving support from family, friends and effective clinical therapy, I feel a peace of mind that everything is going to be okay. I know now from receiving my medical records from that time that traumatic experiences from childhood years and as a young adult took its toll. Even though my memory is lost from that time, my medical records show that W. F. Miner, LCDR. MC USN in May of 1965 was paying attention. I am very thankful for Dr. Miner’s thorough evaluation and treatment to help me through a most critical and risky period in my life.
I found a couple of references to W. F. Miner USN. His service to America and contributions as a mental health professional appear to be substantial. He along with D. S. Burgoyne CDR MC USN, Psychiatrist, were both instrumental in my treatment and recovery. I have a much better appreciation and gratitude for the US Navy mental health community after reviewing my medical records from long ago. We hear mostly of the statistics presented in the above chart, but not always about the lives saved every day by caring mental health professionals everywhere. I only wish I could find these two heroes from my US Navy experience and thank them personally for saving my life…
Moving Forward and Stepping Up – By Bill Hall, Curtis Landers and Steve Sparks
(9.15.17 – Lincoln County, OR)
The three of us teamed up a year ago to launch an effort that’s beginning to transform Lincoln County in profound ways. Stepping Up is a national effort to transform the way we deal with people with mental illness and addiction issues in the justice system, but its’ impacts are even more far-reaching.
In early 2015, the American Psychiatric Association, Council of State Governments and National Association of Counties came together to launch Stepping Up. Jails and prisons have become the default holding facilities in our country for people with mental illness and addictions issues. It’s estimated that nationally, more than two million people are behind bars primarily because of behavioral health challenges.
Why is this a problem? Just a few of the reasons:
These institutions aren’t equipped to deal with this population. They don’t get better behind bars; their condition deteriorates.
This group tends to get stuck in the system, with longer stays often for relatively minor offenses, making it more difficult to keep people in custody who truly need to be there.
It drains public resources, in both the correctional and health care systems, as these people cycle through the system again and again.
Is this a problem in Lincoln County? Yes. Our jail holds 161 people. At any given time, about 30 percent of these folks have a diagnosed mental illness, and about a third of this group are severely and persistently mentally ill. This 30% does not include those with addictions issues.
Their numbers are growing, yet our total number of jail beds are finite, which makes it harder to avoid releasing people before their sentences are completed. Our goal is not to increase the number of jail beds, but to reduce the need for the jail beds we have.
Our county has recognized this issue for a long time. We’ve had a mental health subcommittee under our Local Public Safety Coordinating Council for more than a decade. We have a Mental Health Court, a jail counselor (something many counties larger than us don’t have), and have received a grant to establish mobile mental health crisis services. All of these are positive steps, but we need a lot more.
In October of 2016, the Lincoln County Commissioners adopted the Stepping Up resolution, which formally made us part of this national effort. As of this writing, 389 counties have adopted the resolution nationally, which represents more than a third of the total population in the United States. Sixteen of Oregon’s 36 counties are on board.
Giving people in the justice system better tools to deal with mental illness is one of our priorities. All members of the Sheriff’s Office and Community Corrections have completed Mental Health First Aid training, a one-day course designed to give everyone tools to recognize and assist in a mental health crisis. The Sheriff’s Office is also accelerating Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for patrol and corrections deputies. CIT is a week-long course designed to give officers tools to de-escalate a crisis.
At the end of August, more than three dozen people involved in criminal justice and public safety, along with a number of community partners in treatment, social services, the faith community and peers, came together for a day and a half-long Sequential Intercept Mapping Exercise (SIM). Lincoln County was among 54 counties that applied to receive this workshop at no charge this year: this is a testament to our level of community commitment and readiness.
At the SIM workshop, participants assessed our current system at six key points where people with behavioral health issues can encounter the justice system, identified our most critical gaps, and developed action plans to address the first four issues on that list.
The four priorities that emerged: establishing stronger pre-arrest diversions; setting up pre-trial services to provide support to people released pending trial and to hold them accountable; a more formalized re-entry system; and the integration of peer services at every stage of the process.
We’ve made amazing progress in just a year’s time, yet our work has just begun. We are, however, quite confident of achieving our goals. Why? The tremendous level of buy-in among partners and stakeholders is encourages us greatly. And, it’s been amazing, and sad, to hear from people who are aware of this work and tell us how much it is needed.
We have heard too many stories of families, careers and lives shattered by mental illness and addiction. Sometimes it’s a co-worker, sometimes it’s a neighbor, sometimes it’s a family member. Families and communities everywhere have suffered far too long. It’s up to us as citizens to step up and finally end the cycle of damage and begin to heal.
I’m asked often why I worry about babies and younger children the most when thinking, talking and writing about post-traumatic stress (PTS) and the toxic circumstances that often go with a family who suffers from PTS. These are typically families with parents who served in hard combat as warriors and come home with the nagging symptoms of anxiety, depression, and anger that affects the entire family, especially kids. I have taken the opportunity in this blog post to help answer this most important question with the goal to educate parents, teachers, mentors, and loved ones to be particularly sensitive to young children age 6 and under. These are the little ones impacted the most. This is the time of a child’s life when parents, teachers and loved ones who care for children can make a big difference in mitigating the potential long term emotional damage caused by PTS.
I started an exercise on a blank piece of paper keeping in mind the question, “why I worry about kids in toxic circumstances.” I took a break after writing down about 35 “trigger” words that came to me from my own life experience. These are words that needed to be transformed from fear to constructive healing over the years…redefining myself in a more positive context. Then, I found the above link connected to trauma affected children age 6 and under. These are the little ones I worry about the most…they are completely at the mercy of the grown ups in a toxic world that is often not even remembered…I have significant memory loss from my childhood, but the feelings of fear of this time remain with me. I do have vague but painful memories of kindergarten and 1st grade. My memory then fades until around age 10. Most all the “trigger” words can be organized and connected to the narrative in this link. The bottom line in my journey of healing that pushes me forward with joy each day is forgiveness of self and others.
I worry the most about the babies, toddlers, preschoolers and K-1 kids who are damaged emotionally and must then face the real world for the first time with limited socialization. They are scared, very scared of themselves, others, and everything else they encounter. Kids like this (me during my early childhood) are on alert for danger and behave defensively. They are isolated, emotional, and often act out. The ability to focus and concentrate is difficult at best. There is little or no trust in adults. While other typical kids are laughing and playing and learning, trauma affected kids shy away and hide, minds wondering without self regulation or a positive structure… These kids most often feel detached and out of place with peers.
The “trigger” words caused me to drift back in time and remember how it felt as a kid…So I now worry about children in this way, especially if it is clear they are troubled little souls. I ask not what is wrong with these children, I ask what happened to them? There is much sadness in my heart when thinking of children who must endure and survive a toxic home culture.
My goal as a trauma survivor who has done significant research and writing on the topic of PTS, is to produce a trauma informed work book to serve as a lay persons reference guide for parents, teachers, and mentors. The process of developing a work book is at the beginning stage. I anticipate a hardcopy publication to be completed by the end of 1st quarter 2016. We adults must become trauma informed to be better equipped to help young children who have suffered from traumatic experiences. Our children represent the best hope for the future. It is during the younger years of a child when we have the best chance to mitigate the longer term emotional damage caused by exposure to traumatic circumstances.
“Advice for Family Members” is my first in-depth and heartfelt radio interview on the topic of children and families in life after trauma… I discuss my own story as a post WWII and Korean War military child growing up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s during a time when there was no awareness of post-traumatic stress and treatment strategies for individuals and families. Your comments and questions would be most appreciated. Thank you!
“I wonder if he really knew what he was doing that day. Did he realize then just how much his death would haunt me? How I’d carry the weight of him with me every day, wondering why he did it, trying to decipher the few tear-stained words in the inadequate note he left, wondering if there’s any reason in the world good enough to leave your two young daughters without a dad? Did he realize I’d spend my life listening to his favorite songs, watching the one existing video of him to remember his voice, crying on Father’s Day or his birthday or any random day, because it suddenly hit me all over again that he was never coming back? Would it stop him?”
From my perspective the single most pressing challenge presented in the Regional Health Assessment is “awareness and understanding.” The good news is we are finally making favorable progress, but we have so much more to do to help create broader and focused awareness. My community has been slow at mental health awareness in the 11 years we have lived in Lincoln County, Oregon. As a mental health advocate, I hear the conversation on public health issues, especially mental health, improve significantly over the past 5 years.
A measure of how far we have to go is that folks, by and large, do not like to admit having mental health challenges in front of others in a conversational setting. With around 30 citizens, health care professionals, civic leaders, and educators attending this important conference, I was the only person in the room who indicated a personal and family history of mental health struggles. Of course, when there is an opening to talk about other physical or medical health issues, most people are very open and conversational in just about any setting. Until mental health is a completely open discussion in any setting, especially in a public heath professional forum, it will take much longer than my limited time on the planet to make optimum progress on the regional goals outlined in the Public Health Assessment. The goals include the following…
Assessment Goals and Objectives for Linn, Benton, and Lincoln County Regional Health Assessment (RHA):
Identifies and gathers health status indicators in order to determine the current health status of the community
Describes areas for potential future health improvement while building upon ongoing community knowledge and efforts
Identifies common strengths and challenges facing the region in regard to health status
Recognizes and highlights the need for more detailed local data
Is a collaborative process that incorporates a broad range of community voices
With reference to the Guardian quote above, the worst case scenario is the life long emotional pain carried by loved ones who suffer as a consequence from secondary mental health challenges. The young lady was 5 years old when her father took his life. Her pain has lived with her for 25 years, and is at times worse with aging. This is not an uncommon result of a severe traumatic life event for a child. So, it is not just the loss of a loved one, it is the exponential emotional damage and mental health risk carried forward by loved ones and family members. If we are not honest and open about the generational implications of trauma in our lives and fail to see the global picture, progress in achieving the goals above will take more time, money and frustration.
My take away from the conference was a feeling of encouragement that we are moving in the right direction. In the list of goals above, it is in the “collaborative process that incorporates a broad range of community voices” that will lead us to success as a community. I believe strong leadership is needed to build new collaborative efforts and partnerships through out Lincoln County Oregon.
“During the month of May, NAMI and participants across the country are bringing awareness to mental health. Each year we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care. Each year, the movement grows stronger.
We believe that these issues are important to address all year round, but highlighting these issues during May provides a time for people to come together and display the passion and strength of those working to improve the lives of all Americans whose lives are affected by mental health conditions.
1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime and every American is affected or impacted through their friends and family and can do something to help others.”
My first shocking experience with mental health stigma as an adult happened shortly after honorably separating from the US Navy in September 1965. It was in that moment that my world as a young adult with a bright future was seriously threatened. Following a very productive and exciting interview process with a Fortune 100 company in Los Angeles, I fully expected an offer for employment as an apprentice teleprinter technician. I felt grateful for the excellent training and experience received in the Navy as a radioman. But all the excitement and hope for a career in telecommunications came to a shocking halt when the HR recruiter told me…”even though my qualifications exceeded minimum requirements I could not be hired.” I thought with complete dispair, “how could this be?” It was at that moment, the HR recruiter revealed to me that my hospitalization for severe depression and anxiety while serving in the US Navy was considered a risk. It was then that I decided to never ever speak of my mental health diagnosis…my secret, forever put away in a box and out of reach. This was stigma then, it is still stigma in the 21st Century. (Note: I was fortunate to receive a job offer from another respectable telecom company and started my career.)
We can all do so much more to stamp out stigma. Please help make a difference by taking quality time to talk openly and honestly with friends and family about mental health. Awareness is the first step in healing invisible wounds.
Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma Part1&2… click book links on the side bar to order Amazon.com
This blog is being presented in three parts. The first will introduce you to Alex who suffers from symptoms of PTSD. The second reviews some of the research into the mechanisms of the brain that result in formation of PTSD and introduces a unique state-of-the-art treatment based on that research. The third part demonstrates how and why this treatment works. Throughout these postings I have highlighted certain words with links to additional information if you want to read more.
Part 1:The Symptoms of PTSD
Alex retired from the Army following two deployments to Iraq. Although he had returned home to a loving wife and two young daughters, Alex is having trouble adjusting to civilian life. He feels guilty that he can’t seem to find a job. There have been too many arguments with his wife about money, and he is increasingly irritable about little things. He has trouble sleeping; sometimes even the thought of going to bed makes him nervous, because of the nightmares that leave him sweaty and shaking. He can’t get the memory of the sight of three of his buddies after their PC hit a land mine out of his head. He feels his life is spinning out of control and wonders if he is going crazy.
Like many other returning veterans, Alex is suffering from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, an individual must have experienced a traumatic event or events that resulted in or threatened death, serious injury or bodily harm, and the person’s response to the event was intense feelings of horror, fear or helplessness. This experience resulted in specific clusters of symptoms that cause significant distress or discomfort and often impact the individual in many areas of life long after the original trauma.
Alex sits in a comfortable chair in the office of a therapist who specializes in PTSD treatment. He is a little nervous, because he knows the therapist uses something called Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). Although what he had read about NLP on Wikipedia has left him skeptical, his wife insists that he try, because their good friend had gone through the process and in just a few sessions had made incredible progress.
The therapist spends a few minutes talking with Alex. Alex finds the guy is OK and decides he will give this a go. The therapist asks him several questions about his symptoms and makes notes in a file. “Yes,” he says, “you meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.” Then he tells Alex that the NLP process involves visualizations and asks Alex to picture a few things in his mind. At one point he tells Alex to imagine himself doing something he enjoys. While he doesn’t know the point of the exercise, he goes along with it just the same and remembers a fun day at the beach with his family when he was a young teen.
Tomorrow’s blog will focus on PTSD brain research and will introduce Alex to a unique and highly effective treatment based on that research.