Letters to the Editor

Mike Lehmkuhl’s sad death tells story of mental illness

Rethink approach to mental illness

Re “Did Mike Lehmkuhl have to die? How California’s mental health system failed one family” (Page 1A, July 31): Thanks to the Bee for keeping issues of mental illness and homelessness before readers. Mental illness, so shrouded in stigma, is feared and misunderstood.

Mental illness is just that, an illness, which, like cancer can be put into remission and does not have to be terminal. But our approach to it must change.

Most importantly, family members need more access to their loved ones in treatment. Currently, facilities can neither affirm or deny if the mentally ill individual is there. Likewise, in the hearings of the type mentioned in the article, family members are not notified without the patient’s permission.

The person affected does not realize how gravely ill he is. The more serious the disease, the longer the treatment and follow-up. But only people with good insurance or individuals with a conservator seem to actually receive treatment.

Diana Lee Vriend, Sacramento

Mike Lehmkuhl died with rights on

Yes, Mike had to die. People who loved him tried to get him help, but the bureaucracy stopped them because of their concern for civil rights, even for a mentally ill man who was incapable of making rational decisions.

Yes, it was inevitable; Mike had to die, crucified on an inverted cross of civil rights, as will another hundred Mikes until sanity is restored to bureaucracy’s dealing with the mentally ill. And until then all their loved ones can do is say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

William Jurkovich, Citrus Heights

Reforms of 1960s went too far

The article illustrates a central defect in California’s antiquated laws governing how we treat our sickest mentally ill. California law forces hospitals to discharge severely mentally ill patients before they are stable.

Other states do not do this because the Constitution does not require it. Here, dangerousness must be proved and reproved at every stage. This is virtually impossible once the mentally ill person is in a controlled, safe environment with a patient advocate to coach them.

The reforms of the 1960s went too far. Laws that were written to empty the state hospitals were neither designed nor intended to help sick people get better. California needs a new, modern statute – or at the very least, an amendment requiring hospitals to keep mentally ill patients until they are stable.

Mary Ann Nernard, Sacramento

Personal fight with mental illness

My perceptual problems were evident in high school, but became a crisis in college. Filled with paranoia, I felt constantly watched, walked wildly erratic paths to school to avoid hallucination-stimulating crowds, and often felt people – mostly strangers – were trying to harm me.

And yet I was lucky. After some rough years, the problem stabilized. I’ve had access to care for 25 years, and the same dedicated doctors for more than 20. But there are no easy answers.

I take the antipsychotic Zyprexa, which quiets the mind but has serious side effects. I work and have friends, but the social landscape remains deeply challenging.

Battles with serious mental illness are savage and ugly. Without easy solutions, the answer is simple, but difficult – empathy. Remember Mike and his suffering; but for fate there go you, or I.

Steven O’Donnell, Carmichael

A therapist’s view of people like Mike

As a mental health therapist who has worked in the private and public sectors, I have seen the system’s many failures. So many people working in this field are either afraid to buck the system for fear of liability or ill-equipped to use good professional judgment and make decisions that are in the best interest of the patient.

There are thousands of Mikes in the world, and many do not have family or friends to look out for them. The sick and the lonely have few advocates.

Maria Padilla-Castro, Sacramento

American River Parkway tragedies

Unfortunately, this tragic story of one man’s life and the loving attempt of family and friends to help, which sadly failed, eventually leading to his death while illegally camping in the American River Parkway, is a story that probably parallels some of the other homeless illegally camping in the parkway.

Stopping the illegal camping in the parkway once and for all, and establishing adequate services for the homeless, including those with mental health issues, is vital if we are to reduce the chance of this happening again.

David Lukenbill, American River Parkway Preservation Society, Sacramento

Mike’s family should sue

Mike’s family and the injured security guard should sue. Make the medical-mental-health community and government more accountable for cases such as Mike’s. This is the only way to create the changes we all need.

Kathy M. Warnock, Sacramento

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