The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Groups cast doubt on validity of state hospital’s electrotherapy consent forms

Here’s an article I found on the Austin American-Statesman that talks about the efficacy of the consent forms for controversial treatments on mentally ill patients.  I have often wondered about the use of consent forms on the floridly psychotic and the legalities of such use.  It seems others are wondering also.  Please read this article and tell me what you think.

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By Andrea Ball
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Updated: 11:25 p.m. Thursday, May 31, 2012
Published: 8:05 p.m. Thursday, May 31, 2012

Texas’ public psychiatric hospitals never should have used a controversial treatment on more than 120 aggressive patients because the consent forms they signed did not spell out potential side effects and other information required under state rules, mental health watchdogs said this week.

Patients who received cranial electrotherapy stimulation at North Texas State Hospital in Vernon were not told in writing that the treatment can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and skin irritation, said Beth Mitchell, a lawyer with Disability Rights Texas, a federally funded mental health advocacy group. The consent form — a copy of which was obtained by the Austin American-Statesman — also fails to mention alternative treatments and the condition that is being targeted.

But state officials say the form was adequate and is just one piece of the informed consent process.

“The form alone may not be the full picture,” said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services, which oversees the 10 public psychiatric hospitals. “Risks, benefits and alternatives could have been laid out verbally and documented in the progress notes.”

Challenges to the validity of the consent forms come several weeks after health department officials said they learned that a North Texas State Hospital psychiatrist had conducted unauthorized research on the use of cranial electrotherapy stimulation on violent, mentally ill patients.

The consent forms go to the heart of the questions advocates have posed on the issue: Did the patients understand and willingly agree to the treatment? Or were they being used as research subjects without regard to their civil rights?

“Honestly, I just don’t understand how this could happen,” Mitchell said. “I think there was a breakdown across the board here.”

State officials say they are still trying to determine whether …[read more]

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June 1, 2012 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Texas cuts force police to care for mentally ill

Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitati...

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Here’s an article from Chron: Texas AP News that I just had to post here.  As a psychiatric nurse currently working in the state of Texas, this article was of some interest to me personally and professionally.  Texas is not known for its generosity in dealing with mentally ill people; so it seems that the current budget crisis is a perfect opportunity for the Texas government to squeeze even more out of this pocket–maybe even to rip this pocket out of the budget totally.

The current trend to “criminalize” the mentally ill is not okay.  Police do not have the time or the skills to deal with psychotic and delusional persons.  The police are trained to prevent crimes and not to assess a persons mental status.  My fear is that with police having to deal more and more with the mentally ill, there will be more accidental shootings or even more intended shootings.  Suicide-by-cop seems to be an acceptable method of committing suicide in the population I treat.

Please read this article and let me know your thoughts on this topic.  I am frightened for my patients and for the state of mental health care in my state.

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By SOMMER INGRAM
© 2011 The Associated Press

March 13, 2011, 10:27AM

AUSTIN, Texas — In a state that offers meager funding for mental health, law enforcement officers across Texas have performed the duties of psychologists and social workers — roles they have neither the training nor the manpower to bear.

The Texas Legislature, which has never been generous to mental health clinics, has further withered services under the strain of a strapped state budget, and as a result, police and sheriff’s departments say the number of mental health calls they respond to is snowballing.

And thanks to a new $27 billion budget crisis, it may only get worse.

Initial proposals would cut services provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services by 20 percent, making it more likely for mentally ill Texans to end up in emergency rooms, having mental breakdowns or being thrown behind bars.

“We’re about to see huge setbacks. I think we’re going to get slaughtered,” said Leon Evans, chief executive of Bexar County Mental Health Care services. “We’ve been developing some tools so people don’t have to go to the hospital and prison. But I think all these programs that are very effective, that help to reclaim lives, are at risk.”

Experts say slashing mental health funding will have a painful and resounding effect across Texas when the mentally ill can’t access the treatment and medication they need to function.

“What’s happening is the criminalization of mental illness,” said Polly Hughes, public policy chair of National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It shifts the responsibility of taking care of mental illness to the counties and officers who are already stretched thin.”

Community services such as clinics, crisis hotlines and outpatient treatment are critical to keeping the mentally ill out of state institutions and jail.

The shortage of mental hospital beds means officers often have to drive a mentally ill person hundreds of miles to the next open bed.

“What we’re facing in 2011 are law enforcement officers as de facto social workers and jails becoming asylums,” Houston Senior Police Officer Frank Webb said. “Police officers are responding to more mental illness than social workers.”

Jails are packed with mentally ill Texans who most often haven’t committed a violent crime, but cycle endlessly through the system for minor violations, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Texans with a serious mental illness are eight times more likely to be incarcerated in jails than treated in hospitals, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A community health care program costs $12 per day to care for a patient, compared to $137 per day to incarcerate them, the group said.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said mentally ill inmates cost the county the most money, with more than a third of the county jail’s 6,000 inmates requiring mental health services. The cost of housing and providing care for these inmates was nearly $19 million in 2010.

As the seventh largest in the country, the jail is already dealing with limited resources and overflowing cells.

“If community mental health services don’t get the money they need, we’re going to end up being mental health institutions. In fact, we’re already there,” Valdez said. “If we start overloading the system, we’re not going to have what we need to take care of them.”

The stream of people into jail is continuous because it’s easier to get arrested than get treatment, Webb said.

Mental health cases are becoming so prevalent that departments across the state and nation have made …[read the rest of this article here]

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April 4, 2011 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , | 6 Comments

State budget cuts threaten local mental health resources

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As an Austinite and a mental health nurse, of course I would find and post an article about budget cuts that affect Austin and Texas in general.  This article below is about just that.  However, I also wish to provide this article as a way to help bring the “Big Picture” down to our level.  The issue is funding for the mentally ill.  Our law makers can legislate whatever they deem necessary, but you cannot legislate away mental illness.  These are the people in our midst who are the most vulnerable and who need the most help.  Why is it fiscally responsible to deny the funding to care for this part of our population but to continue to fund a war?  I don’t understand, but then I must have different priorities.

My concern is that more and more mental health funding is being lost yet no solution to the problem of helping this population is being put forth.  Mental illness exists.  We need to be dealing with the problem instead of hoping it will “just go away”.

This article is from the Community Impact Newspaper of Central Austin and can be found here.

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By Andrea Leptinsky and Beth Wade Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Decreased funding may transfer burden to taxpayers

CENTRAL AUSTIN — On any given day, more than 1,200 people are waiting to receive treatment for a mental health disorder through Austin Travis County Integral Care, the local authority for behavioral health and developmental disabilities.

If the Texas Legislature, which reconvenes in January, moves forward with proposed plans to cut $134 million in mental health services in the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years, this number would most likely increase. ATCIC would immediately cut 700 active mental health patients from its program, leaving them untreated. As a result, more of the burden would be placed on taxpayers to make up for other forms of treatment and fewer programs would exist to treat individuals with brain disorders.

“As a taxpayer, joe average will end up spending more for law enforcement, health care and related services than the foregone cost of behavioral health prevention and treatment,” said Mike Abkowitz, interim executive director of Front Steps, the managing organization of the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless located at 500 E. Seventh St. “Average joe should care because he, a family member or a close friend could experience a mental health crisis at any time. When that happens, Joe will want those services and providers to be available to provide … the necessary treatment and support.”

Providing treatment

In the last year, ATCIC served more than 18,500 individuals and families in Travis County, offering numerous services and programs year-round. ATCIC receives $25 million annually to provide behavioral health care, said David Evans, ATCIC executive director. Even if ATCIC had to cut just 10 percent from its budget, the immediate effect would be significant.

“If we, as an agency, through every which way took a 10 percent reduction, we can do the math and see the numbers of people it would affect,” Evans said. “The impact to the agency would be $2.5 million; however, what I think is important is that it is not an impact on the agency, it’s an impact on the community—everyone.”

ATCIC provides a 24-hour crisis hotline that allows individuals suffering from a mental disorder to call to ask for help, a doctor’s appointment or if they are having thoughts of suicide. By calling 472-HELP, ATCIC is able to dispatch a team to that person’s location or provide a doctor available to treat the individual, reducing the possibility of self harm, harm toward others or committing a crime. If legislators take funding away from state mental health agencies, services such as the hotline may be the first to go.

“What we are seeing in budget proposals—it’s dramatic,” said State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. “We will have to look at the option of closing beds, pushing more onto streets and pushing more into ERs. We’re talking thousands of adults and thousands of children not receiving services because there’s no other place to cut.”

Insufficient funding

Only a small portion of the state’s budget goes toward mental health funding, Howard said. In a 2007 report by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors when ranking the states’ per capita mental health spending, Texas’ per capita spending of $34.57 ranked 50th, only above New Mexico.

And, because mental health care funding is taken from the state’s discretionary funds—rather than funding that is reserved for certain state entities under state law—it is “in the position of being one of the only things we have to cut,” she said.

“How can we tolerate losing funds when we’re already so close to the bottom of the barrel?” said Cathy Weaver, president of National Alliance of Mental Illness Austin. “Early intervention and prevention of chronic illness saves lives.”

Mentally ill in the jail

If the budget cuts take effect, officials from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and ATCIC said the result could lead to more mentally ill inmates at the jail, as preventive programs and mental hospital space becomes nonexistent due to the state’s lack in funding.

On any given day the jail’s population fluctuates between 2,400 and 2,600 inmates, and of that, more than 400 have been identified as special needs because of their mental health status, said TCSO Maj. Mark Sawa.

“The cuts that happened several years ago already had a ripple effect so [these new cuts] could only have a subsequent ripple effect because the community mental health system is a diversion from the jail system,” Sawa said. “Because of the lack of resources that are dedicated to the community component we just have the exact opposite in place.”

When compared to the Austin State Hospital, which has a peak capacity of 299 patients, the jail could be regarded as the largest mental health facility in Travis County, Evans said.

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton said the issue of the jail being the largest mental health unit in the county has been on his radar since he was first sworn in six years ago. He said the problem is not only a lack of funding, but also a lack of pressure on elected officials to make it a priority.

“I think that we as citizens need to hold our legislators—people that we elect—accountable, and we are not doing that. We forget real quickly what our concerns are, and mental health is a serious issue,” Hamilton said.

Having a voice

According to state legislators, Austinites are encouraged to voice their opinion on mental health funding to their local state representatives and senators.

“The Texas Legislature has made great strides in the funding of mental health services; however, with the current budget outlook, maintaining these resources will be very difficult,” Howard said. “Constituents must contact their legislators and detail how these services have positively affected their families and how the use of these measures has averted tragedies or costlier measures, such as suicide or incarceration. Citizens must put a face to the issue.”

Beth Olson-Drew, a legislative aide for Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said people should explain how Texas will see a significant return in its investment by adequately funding mental health preventive services.

“This is going to be a hard Legislature, and it’s going to get ugly,” Olson-Drew said. “But that doesn’t mean that anything you have to say means less. Every single [legislator] has some sort of connection to someone with a mental illness. This is not transportation—this is an issue that can really negatively and positively affect people.”

Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, said citizens should participate in the Legislature’s public hearings to speak about the mental health issues Austin will face if it does not receive sufficient funding.

“Be prepared to testify about the impact of the proposed cuts when committees … in the House and Senate hold public hearings,” Naishtat said.

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December 16, 2010 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , | 1 Comment

Mental Health Care Cuts: Texas in Trouble

Here’s an article that describes the state of mental health in the great state of Texas.  Although I am from Texas, I started my career in the state of Oklahoma and I am appalled at the difference between the two states.  I find it very amusing that Texans always denigrate Oklahoma as being backward and behind the times due to it’s high rural population, but what I am seeing both in the news and online is that Texas is slipping backward in its dealings with the mentally ill and Oklahoma seems to be a much more forward thinker.  I say, its’ an interesting switch.

Let me know what you think of this article, won’t you?  Click here to view the original article and leave them a comment.

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Submitted by KC Kelly Ph.D. on 2010-07-25

The many states in America that are facing huge financial deficits are now being effected by cutting of health care, in particular, mental health care. The stated of Texas is seemingly facing one of the largest deficits and is cutting their mental health care at a time when people need these services the most.

With employment layoffs leading to an increase in depression, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and even suicide, mental health services are needed more now than ever. However, that is not going to happen, especially in the state of Texas.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Lillian Aguirre Ortiz reported, “The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recently released a proposal to eliminate $134 million from its already underfunded and overburdened mental health programs. Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker Joe Straus ordered the agency to cut its 2012-13 proposed budget by 10 percent. This reduction is in addition to a 5 percent cut that was recently made to the current DSHS budget.”

By cutting mental health care in the state of Texas, they are asking for an increase in issues in so many other areas. With the legislature planning to cut a proposed $134 million from health care, the state is only asking for problems.

According to the Houston Chronicles, Ortiz, “Untreated mental illnesses lead many individuals to cycle in and out of homelessness as well as our emergency rooms, jails and prisons. Lack of treatment also leads to an increase in the utilization of police man-hours since law enforcement personnel are often called in to deal with individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.”

The increase in issues of crime, violence and suicide caused by those who are mentally ill are expected to increase due to these cuts in services. The public at large, will therefore be put into danger with many public safety issues that will most likely arise.

There has been talk of a proposed cutting of $80 million that would be taken from Texas’ thirty nine publicly supported community mental health centers. These centers provide mental health services for those who are in the low socio-economic bracket and cannot afford health care or mental health care. The cuts are said to eliminate services to 11,000 adults and 2,000 children across the stated of Texas.

The five state hospitals will also suffer with a proposed $44 million said to be cut. With over 183 beds in these hospitals proposed to be eliminated, where are the mentally ill going to go? The Harris County Jail is now the largest provider of mental health services in Texas due to the fact that those in the jail who are awaiting beds will not get them due to the fact that they will not be available.

Texas is not the only stated facing a difficult financial future, as other states worry that mental health service cuts will be coming soon. The long term effects of these cuts is yet to be seen, but health reform needs to be more closely scrutinized in order to keep the mentally ill and the public at large safe.

Stay in touch with HULIQ NEWS on Twitter @HULIQ

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July 28, 2010 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mental health programs hit hard in proposed budget cuts

This is an article from my neck of the woods.  In the Austin American Statesman, this article was prominent.  Doesn’t look good for the mentally ill in Texas, does it?  Where will this stop, does anyone know?  When it stops, what will we be left with?  Does anyone care except those of us out in the trenches?

Please read the article and feel free to leave comments at the site or here.  I really love hearing from you and I value your opinions.

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More than half of state health department’s proposed $245 million in cuts would affect mental health.

By Andrea Ball and Corrie MacLaggan
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Published: 10:50 p.m. Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More than 20,000 Texans who receive state-funded mental health services would lose care under budget cuts proposed this week by the Department of State Health Services.

The agency — acting on an order from state leaders to reduce its 2012-13 budget by 10 percent — released a list this week of $245.9 million in proposed cuts. And while services across the agency were affected, mental health programs took the hardest hit — $134 million in proposed cuts.

A proposed $80 million cut to the state’s 39 publicly supported community mental health centers, which provide low-cost psychiatric care for poor or uninsured people, would eliminate services to 11,000 adults and 2,000 children across Texas, according to the agency.

Another $44 million in cuts to five state psychiatric hospitals — in Austin, Terrell, San Antonio, Rusk and Wichita Falls — would eliminate 183 beds, or 12 percent of their total capacity. Austin State Hospital would lose 24 of its 299 beds.

A proposed $10 million reduction to psychiatric crisis services would cut care to 6,000 people.

“That’s just horrifying,” said Lynn Lasky Clark , president of the advocacy group Mental Health America of Texas . “These cuts are going to be terrible for adults and kids that need services.”

The proposed reductions stem from a projected $15 billion to $18 billion state budget shortfall in 2012-13. Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus directed all state agencies to cut 5 percent from their 2010-11 budgets. Agencies were then ordered to find ways to cut an additional 10 percent over the next two years.

“We painstakingly combed through our budgets and had to make some very tough decisions, but this is not the end,” said Carrie Williams , spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services.

The Legislature, which convenes in January, will make the final determination on the cuts.

Under the proposal, other health department programs that would see cuts include Children with Special Health Care Needs, which provides money for treatment and medication for children with a variety of health problems and for people of any age who have cystic fibrosis. The program’s budget would be cut by $24.1 million, and it would serve 837 fewer people. In 2009 , the program helped about 2,300 people.

EMS trauma care reimbursements to hospitals and grants to local EMS providers would drop by $25 million , and childhood immunization programs would lose $7.5 million .

The proposed cuts follow two legislative sessions in which state leaders boosted funding for mental health care. Those increases helped the state — which is ranked 49th in country for its per-capita spending on mental health services — make up some of the ground lost in 2003. That year, faced with a $10 billion budget deficit, legislators cut $170 million from mental health services.

Cutting mental health services won’t save the state money in the long run, some mental health advocates say. People with serious, untreated psychiatric illnesses often end up in the criminal justice system or in hospitals, which cost more than the outpatient treatment that may be cut, said Robin Peyson , executive director of NAMI Texas, a mental health advocacy group.

Steven Schnee , executive director of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County , said that the proposed cuts would lead to an increase in the homeless population.

“Can you imagine treating people with diabetes like this?” he asked.

But Michael Quinn Sullivan , president of Empower Texans , which advocates for limited government, said it’s not realistic to say that any area of the budget is sacred.

“No one wants their pet projects cut,” he said, “but at the end of the day, someone’s pet projects will be cut.”

aball@statesman.com; 912-2506

cmaclaggan@statesman.com; 445-3548

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July 14, 2010 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Study finds military children suffering

This article simply states the obvious.  How could the families and children of deployed servicemen and women not be affected?  Frequent and lengthy absences have to interfere with the relationships between parent and child as well as between spouses.

As a grandmother to two grandsons whose father was deployed to Iraq, I can tell you first hand that there is a noticeable change in the psyche of these children.  The oldest became defiant and oppositional toward his mother while the youngest became worried  and anxious.  Both started having school issues.  To me this is just to be expected; these young boys, as well as all the other children of deployed parents, have to make major adjustments that they may not be physically able to make.  Separation is difficult for children, but then to have every paper and magazine and television talking about the war; that triples the burden.

I’m glad to see that there are studies going on to measure and help determine a way to manage this issue.  These are our future, these children.  We owe them something better.

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Tuesday, Dec. 8 2009 02:10 AM

By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald

Children of military parents deployed overseas appear to suffer more emotional and behavioral difficulties than their peers, according to a RAND Corporation study.

In the largest study on military children to date, researchers found that one-third of military children surveyed reported anxiety symptoms. The researchers also found that the longer a parent had been deployed in the past three years, the greater chance his or her children were to have trouble in school and at home.

“Multiple deployments take a toll on everyone in the family. … It’s a roller coaster ride,” said Jennifer Cernoch, president of Operation Homefront-Texas, a nonprofit that offers financial and morale support to military families.

The study, which was published Monday by the journal Pediatrics, interviewed 1,500 military youths from across the nation, surveying both children and their at-home parent. About 95 percent of the children surveyed had experienced at least one parent deploying in the past three years.

“Our study begins to shed more light on the nature of the problem. Much more work is needed to better understand these challenges and to improve ways to support children throughout the deployment cycle,” Anita Chandra, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND, said in a statement Monday.

Older children and girls struggled the most when a parent was deployed overseas. This may be due to increased pressure among girls and older children to take on additional household duties when a parent is deployed, researchers say.

Older youths experienced more academic challenges and acted out more in school, while younger children reported a greater number of anxiety symptoms.

The mental health of the non-deployed parent is closely linked to the child’s emotional well-being, the study found. This suggests more services may be needed for military spouses, Chandra said.

Children who live on a military base reported fewer difficulties than those living off-post.

“This is very consistent with what we’re seeing,” Cernoch said. “Active-duty military families connected to a military base have those resources and know people who are in the same situation. Versus the National Guard families spread throughout Texas, they don’t have that immediate support network.”

The study’s release came in the wake of President Barack Obama’s order last week to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Cleopatra Stanonik, a family readiness support assistant for the 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Battalion, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said in addition to counseling, Fort Hood provides military children with deployment briefings before and after their parents deploy to help them through these challenges.

“There are several avenues out there for children. It’s much different than how it was years ago,” Stanonik said Monday. “The military has learned that the key to good retention is through the families.”

The deployment briefings prepare children and teens for what to expect while their parent is gone and provides them with tools to manage stress. Prior to the soldier’s return, Fort Hood offers another briefing to teach children and spouses how to incorporate the soldier back into their family structure.

Contact Rebecca LaFlure at rlaflure@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7548.

Here’s the link to the original article

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December 11, 2009 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mental health of troops comes under scrutiny

FORT RILEY, KS - AUGUST 13:   Soldiers in the ...
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Long before the shooting at Ft. Hood, I was concerned about the mental health of our nation’s troops.

It is unfortunate that it takes an event of this magnitude to bring home the truth of the problem, but at least now there is an active investigation and conversation going on between the government and the leaders of our nation’s troops.  This was a tragedy that could and should have been prevented.  Unfortunately many people paid a high price for sweeping these issues under the carpet.

What is important now is what we learn from this tragedy and what we intend to do about making amends.  The number of suicides, the number of murder-suicides, the number of homicides that involve our soldiers has grown exponentially with the number of deployments.  Why can our government not see the connection?

Here is an article that just points out rather poignantly the plight of our young soldiers who return from combat unprepared to deal with the aftermath and the emotional devastation of war.  Please read the article then visit the original site to read some of the follow-up articles.

Let me know what you think.

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Ft. Hood has had 10 soldier suicides this year, the second-highest of any Army post. Families of troops who have committed suicide say troubled soldiers are slipping through the cracks.

Teri SmithTeri Smith holds a photo of her son, Iraq veteran Staff Sgt. Justin “Jon” Garza, who shot himself in July at a friend’s apartment near Ft. Hood, Texas. Last week’s shooting rampage has drawn new attention to soldiers’ mental health. “My son slipped through the cracks,” Smith says. (Luke Sharrett / New York Times)
By Molly Hennessy-FiskeNovember 11, 2009

 

Sgt. Justin “Jon” Garza joined the Army eight years ago at 20. When he arrived at Ft. Hood in June, the communications specialist had deployed six times to Europe and the Middle East, including two bloody stints in Iraq, and was due to return in September. He had broken up with his girlfriend, developed a drinking problem and gone AWOL.

 

While he was AWOL, Garza threatened to kill himself with a shotgun. Military personnel took him to Ft. Hood’s Darnall Army Medical Center.

Psychiatrists there diagnosed him with an adjustment disorder and depression and sent him home with his best friend, a fellow soldier. He was put on a Monday-through-Friday suicide watch. Eleven days later, on July 11 — a Saturday — Garza was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

It was the eighth anniversary of his enlistment.

“I’ve been a wreck and in pain for a long time. I could not take it anymore,” Garza wrote in a suicide note left for his mother. “I was never good at opening up and letting things out, so things just festered and got worse.”

With the shooting rampage at Ft. Hood last week drawing attention to the mental state of America’s troops, the families of soldiers who have returned from combat with significant mental health issues think the public may be ready to listen to their stories.

“My son slipped through the cracks,” said Garza’s mother, Teri Smith, 52.

Army records show that 117 active-duty soldiers have committed suicide so far this year, including 10 at Ft. Hood, the second-highest number of any Army base (Ft. Campbell in Kentucky had 14 soldier suicides). Ft. Hood has had 76 soldier suicides since 2003, according to Army records, but it is also the largest base in the country, home to about 50,000 soldiers.

Two weeks after Garza’s death, Ft. Hood’s commander, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, told Congress that he needed more mental health staff.

“That’s the biggest frustration,” Lynch told a House subcommittee. “I’m short about 44 [personnel] of what I am convinced I need at Ft. Hood that I just don’t have.”

In the last six months, Ft. Hood has added suicide prevention classes, and in September opened the Army’s first Resiliency Center Campus, a resort-style building with rock climbing and yoga staffed by psychologists and chaplains. Officials have encouraged soldiers to seek counseling, especially after last week’s shooting.

But Garza’s family and others say the Army must still overcome a culture that discourages showing weakness.

“I asked him one time, ‘Did you see a lot of bad stuff over there?’ ” said Gary Garza, 44, who lives near Ft. Hood and often spent time with his nephew. “He said, ‘Uncle, we just drink a lot not to think about it.’ ”

In February, Jon Garza told his uncle that one of his fellow soldiers had sent him a text message in the middle of the night saying, “If you want to come to my funeral, this is my mom’s phone number.” He told his uncle that by morning, his friend had committed suicide.

The following month, the Army sent Garza to Ft. Gordon in Augusta, Ga., for training. In May, he crashed his car in what friends and family now consider a failed suicide attempt. He went AWOL in June, buying a shotgun and heading back to Ft. Hood.

Garza was soon caught, and he was checked into a civilian hospital until there was an opening at the base facility.

“He said this military hospital didn’t do nothing for me,” said Gary Garza, who visited his nephew at Darnall. Only after his death did Jon Garza’s mother learn that his best friend had talked him out of suicide several times but did not report him to commanding officers. On her son’s laptop, she found suicide notes written in May.

Smith, who runs a federal contract management business out of her apartment in Laurel, Md., said she never suspected her son was suicidal, and no one from the Army told her he was struggling.

“The Army needs to step up,” Smith said. “These kids are coming back, and they’re young and they don’t know how to deal with it. The soldiers that are helping each other need to not be afraid. They need to know if you want to help them, you can’t be afraid to call someone and say, ‘This kid is suicidal, come get him.’ ”

Officials at Ft. Hood and Darnall Medical Center familiar with Garza’s death declined to comment specifically about his case.

“The command is taking a strong, hard look across the formation to help identify any potential problems” with soldiers’ mental health, said Tyler Broadway, a Ft. Hood spokesman.

In August, Defense Department leaders created a suicide prevention task force expected to make recommendations within a year. One of the co-chairs is Bonnie Carroll, executive director of the Washington-based Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which supports relatives of service members who have died, including 500 families of soldiers who committed suicide. The group has a two-person office at Ft. Hood, where commanders in August invited families to address troops about suicide awareness.

“It will be almost a cultural shift to remove the stigma of seeking help,” Carroll said. “Why do people join the military? Because they want to be part of a team and have purpose. They don’t want to be a weak link.”

molly.hennessy-fiske@ latimes.com

Read the original article here

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

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November 14, 2009 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Mental Health Policy Came Days Before Fort Hood Shooting

US 1st Cavalry Division SHOULDER SLEEVE INSIGN...
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Below you will find an article that details the orders by Lt. Gen. Cone to revise the way the soldiers with emotional/psychological issues were to be treated.  You can read the actual order by clicking on the phrase, “document obtained by U.S. News” in the first paragraph.

Too bad that this was not enacted and enforced years ago.  The troops at Ft. Hood have endured 2, 3 and sometimes 4 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Their families have been separated from them numerous times.  Sometimes these soldiers return to find their families are no longer as they remember and have difficulty adjusting to the changes.  There are so many military children who grow up with only a “phantom” for a father or mother due to frequent and lengthy deployments.  How can this not cause emotional stress and trauma?

Please read the article and let me know what you think.  I am trying not to be like the media with all the hype and misinformation.  I just want to address the emotional and psychological needs of our troops in a rational and objective way.  Maybe I can’t be objective, I don’t know.

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Posted November 5, 2009

Three days before a shooting rampage that left a dozen dead and more than 30 wounded at Fort Hood in Texas, the base commander, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, issued a new mental health policy aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental health counseling and encouraging soldiers to seek help, according to a copy of the document obtained by U.S. News.

 

Mental health issues have come to the forefront at the Pentagon because of the stress of repeated deployments over the past eight years with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers face a far different daily life when they return home, but are often haunted by their experiences in combat. As a consequence, mental health counseling at the nation‘s various military posts has become increasingly important.

“This policy change recognizes that, as a nation at war, soldiers’ well-being must be given the highest priority,” according to the two-page document dated November 2. “Commanders shall lead the way in promoting strong behavioral health at Fort Hood by publicizing this policy change.” The policy memo orders unit commanders to “actively encourage soldiers to seek professional care for any behavioral health related issues that could affect their well-being.”

Another section of the policy stressed that soldiers undergoing mental health counseling related to “marital, family and grief issues, and counseling for adjustments from service in a military combat environment” would not have that fact held against them when they apply for security clearances. Soldiers, airmen, and marines sometimes cite confusion about what can and cannot be considered in the security clearance process as a reason not to seek counseling for ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Read the full mental health policy here.

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November 12, 2009 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment