In last Sunday’s Conversation Dan Morain revisited 28-year-old Matthew Herrera, who has been in and out of psych wards, jails, state prison and state hospitals. He is now getting help for mental illness and drug and alcohol issues. We asked the question: How should law enforcement agencies, the courts and mental health facilities coordinate efforts better in treating the seriously mentally ill?
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Civil rights shouldn’t prevent treatment
“Recovery, with a question mark” (Forum, Dan Morain, Dec. 29): Editorial Page Editor Dan Morain’s article zeroed in on the problem regarding mental health: Money is not the issue, but the law is.
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The laws on mental health have to be amended to distinguish between the application of civil rights in the case of a person who is not mentally ill and the application of civil rights in the case of a mentally ill person.
Mentally ill means that you don’t know what you are doing. Children and the mentally ill have limited civil rights. Mental health professionals need to be able to treat every mentally ill person, especially those who tell the world, “I’m not sick, and I don’t need help.”
Mentally ill people should not have their civil rights used as a barrier to treatment, so that they end up homeless.
– Peter Henneberry, Olivehurst
Laura’s Law reduces confrontation
Kudos to Dan Morain for exposing weaknesses in our state’s mental health care system. Morain is right to advocate for adoption of Laura’s Law, which provides assisted outpatient treatment to the seriously mentally ill with a history of lack of adherence to treatment.
One of the life-saving – and cost-saving – aspects of Laura’s Law is it allows family members who fear for the safety of their mentally ill loved one to call county mental health and request an assessment of that person’s condition. That means no 911 calls or frantic visits to ER to beg for help.
In Nevada County, where the law was first adopted, the vast majority of people who qualified for assessment voluntarily agreed to mental health treatment plans with no court intervention. Often, simple contact with a trained professional in a nonconfrontational setting sets recovery in motion.
– Pamela Martineau, Davis
Kathy Day – We’re looking at the issue of mental illness all wrong by criminalizing it. We need to change our mind-set and recognize that this is a medical condition, not behavioral and not criminal. If we can do that, we can then help those who need it most and stop the endless cycle of jail, hospitals, streets, home. Focusing on medical treatment will also end the stigma. Severe mental illness, while it does have some behavioral components, is first and foremost a medical brain disorder. Let’s treat it that way!
Joyce Neeley – Problems must be addressed over the long term, not three weeks here and two weeks there until the next crisis.
Teresa Pasquini – Thank you for stating that California dumps patients, too, and thank you for continuing to be a champion for Matthew. As the mother of a son much like Matthew, I am grateful for the help that he and his mom received. However, I am opposed to a system of heroics. I want a system of care. Moms should not have to call news agencies for help. Care should not depend on who you know, and luck. Laura’s Law would provide a tool to the system of care for those like Matthew and my Danny. It would provide the coordination of agencies and facilities. It would save money, and it would mandate accountability. Most importantly, it would be less coercive than LPS Conservatorship.
The LPS Conservatorships are not working for the reasons you describe. However, it is possible to pressure the public defender and most importantly the county mental health department (which pays for the supportive treatment) to fight the client in court and win. Matthew should not be allowed off his conservatorship without a challenge.
My son has been on an LPS Conservatorship in Contra Costa County for 13 years, almost continuously. He was allowed to drop it once and within days was suicidal on a BART track. He has been permanently conserved ever since. However, he did challenge it twice and twice I pressured the conservator, the county mental health department and the county counsel to fight it.
I also took the stand to share why my son needed to stay conserved. It is a cruel system that makes a mother take the stand against her child to keep him safe and others safe. It is also cruel that society blames us when things go wrong. There is no real accountability in an LPS Conservatorship, and it creates an anti-therapeutic relationship.
Laura’s Law would provide the teeth and the therapeutic alliance among the judge, the treatment team and the consumer. Most importantly, it removes law enforcement from the front line of care. I want a medical system of care from home to hospital to health center to home, just like other medical illnesses. I don’t want treatment by cop, jail or after tragedy.
Heidi Sanborn – My mother Joyce suffered most of her adult life with paranoid schizophrenia. Until I was granted conservatorship, she would stop taking her medication (her illness prevented her from understanding she was sick). She would end up psychotic, in the streets and dangerous to herself, and then in emergency treatment which made her condition harder to treat long-term. All this caused her and others great suffering.
After I was granted conservatorship, she lived 10 years in her own apartment and had good quality of life, full of love until she passed in 2008. I hope Laura’s Law will be implemented statewide to protect the patient and society from financial, physical and emotional trauma.