1 in 6 people has a common mental illness at some point in their life (Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2000).
About 1% of the population experience schizophrenia at some point in their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 1999).
About 1% of the population experience manic depression at some point in their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 1999).
1 in 200 people have experienced a psychotic illness in the last year (Singleton, Psychiatric Morbidity, 2000).
The average age of onset of psychotic symptoms is 22 (Department of Health, 2001)
Deprived areas and rural districts have the highest levels of mental health problems and suicides (ONS, 2001).
People from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds are 3-5 times more likely than others to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital for schizophrenia. (Mental Health Foundation, 1999)
About 25% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia will make a full recovery; about 60% of people will have fluctuating symptoms; about 10-15% of people experience long term incapacity (Mental Health Foundation, 1999).
35% of people with mental illness are unemployed but want to work (ONS, 2003), the highest want to work rate of any disability.
Only 1 in 4 employers said that they would knowingly employ someone with a history of mental illness (Manning et al, 1995).
Three quarters of employers say that it would be difficult or impossible to employ someone diagnosed with schizophrenia (DWP, 2003).
Less than 5% of people who kill a stranger have symptoms of mental illness (Department of Health, 2001).
People with mental illness are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence (Walsh, 2003).
More than 1 in 4 people with severe mental illness report being shunned when seeking help (Rethink, 2003).
30% of GPs’ time is spent with people with mental health problems (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (Maudsley Monograph, 2002).
44% of people with mental health problems report discrimination from general practioners, such as physical health problems not being taken seriously (Mental Health Foundation, 2002).
Almost 80% of carers for someone with a severe mental illness say that caring has had an impact on own their mental health (Rethink, 2003).
Almost 80% of carers for someone with a severe mental illness say that caring has had an impact on their own physical health (Rethink, 2003).
Only 48% of mental health professionals know about local policies on sharing information with carers (Rethink/IoP, 2006).
Mental health problems cost the economy untold billions per year through care costs, economic losses and premature death. (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2003).
21% of people with schizophrenia have a dual diagnosis (Cantwell, 2003).
Up to half of people dependent on alcohol have a mental health problem (Turning Point, 2003).
People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder die 10 years younger due to physical health problems (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2000) and have double the average rate of heart disease (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2006) and five times the average rate of diabetes (Department of Health, 2004).
People with severe mental illness smoke twice as much as average, do half as much exercise and eat less fruit and vegetables than average (Running on empty report, 2005).
Alien Boy Showtimes
April 23 - 5:30 PM
“Infuriating, tragic, heartbreaking and incendiary in equal measures... plays out like a horror film and leaves you absolutely breathless.”
~ AP Kryza, Willamette Week
The Mental Health Association of Portland is Oregon’s leading public advocate for people with a diagnosis of mental illness. We mean to stop discrimination in Oregon.
Today, mental illness is ground zero of the civil rights struggle. People with mental illness are the most discriminated against group in Oregon and throughout society. We are routinely treated with contempt and excluded from participation, an invisible subclass whose rights and freedoms are sparingly parceled out and capriciously withdrawn.
From Ward 81 by Mary Ellen Mark
We encounter discrimination in all areas of life, including housing, employment, insurance, health care, educational institutions, the justice system, the military and the media. Many of us live in abject poverty or in restricted environments. We even die prematurely, an average of 15 years sooner than people without mental illness.
But the clearest reminder of our status can be seen in the shadow of large, locked buildings, the so-called “mental hospitals.”
Our group has been a long-standing critic of the Oregon State Hospital, and of incarcerating people due to mental illness.
We oppose any further development of a public psychiatric hospital at Junction City.
We urge Gov. John Kitzhaber to withdraw his endorsement of this project’s construction, and to direct the project’s budget toward effective community-based treatment that will actually benefit us.
The Junction City project is a high-priced offense to logic and conscience, a luxury our community neither needs nor wants. Especially after renovating and expanding the Oregon State Hospital facilities in Salem, building a new hospital would represent a financial and clinical commitment to the same regressive “lock-’em-up” model of care Oregon has supported for more than 150 years — and worse, would continue this disgrace into the next 150 years.
The inadequacies of the community mental health system do not justify starving it further. Putting money into segregated care takes dollars away from the few, underfunded community resources we have, while creating excuses to spend even less in the future: “We gave at the (Junction City) office.”
And let’s be clear: a new hospital is not some sort of necessary “transitional” step on the road to community care. Transition implies movement, not stasis, and certainly not entrenchment. Investing in a new psychiatric institution can be called “transitional” only in the manner that investing in new deck chairs transitions you off the Titanic.
Over a decade ago, the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision affirmed that unjustified institutional isolation of people with mental illness is a form of discrimination; it further mandated that states provide care in the least restrictive setting possible.
Oregon’s response plan pledges development of “a robustly funded community-based system of care.” That’s an empty promise if money is flowing away from community treatment and toward more big-box lockups.
Recovery from mental illness isn’t just a set of solitary tasks for an individual to take. It’s a constellation of clinical tools, vocational options, and spiritual directions made available to an impaired individual. These tools, options and directions have no set script — and that is entirely their strength. Owning our illness gets us and keeps us well.
Study after study shows people sick with mental illness recuperate and recover when friends and family are engaged with their treatment and care. In this light, there could hardly be a worse location in Oregon than Junction City for a psychiatric hospital.
Junction City’s social infrastructure does not have and cannot sustain the array of external supports needed for recovery from mental illness — churches, libraries, 12-step meetings, parks, schools, bookstores.
Since the town is not served by buses or trains, the only visitors would be those who have cars, essentially excluding many patients’ families and friends, and virtually guaranteeing no new friendships. Junction City also lacks sufficient opportunities for competitive employment. For many of us, worthwhile work — not weaving baskets or hammering furniture — is central to the chance of recovery. In Junction City, that can’t happen.
From Ward 81 by Mary Ellen Mark
We would oppose the Junction City hospital even if it were a bargain. Cheap discrimination is still discrimination. But given the recession, we can’t ignore the cost — neither can the governor.
Perhaps in better times, it wouldn’t matter so much if Kitzhaber threw our money at a few bad choices along with the good ones. It matters a great deal now, and every dollar Oregon puts into the Junction City hospital is a dollar that can’t be put elsewhere.
On a cost basis alone, community-based care is the wise choice. On any other basis — our rights, our recovery, or simply “do unto others” — community-based treatment is wiser still.
There is no soft middle ground here. Any support for the Junction City hospital is opposition to our community. Kitzhaber’s record is one of strong leadership in health care policy and equal rights for all Oregonians. We stand united against this hospital, and we ask the governor to stand with us now, to take action, to change his mind.
Signed by the board of the Mental Health Association of Portland
This is the book that spawned a movement…
The most fundamental assumptions of psychiatry are now being questioned:
How effective are psychiatric medications?
How reliable is the supposed science underlying our mental health care system?
Has the truth been suppressed?
Explore these questions and more…
Our Book Club comes from the unique perspective of people with a lived experience of mental health issues. Our facilitators are Dianne James and David Green, who have both worked in the mental health field, and are persons with that lived experience.
Our first book will be “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker. Whitaker is an award-winning journalist. His amazing book has started conversations all around the world. Now, we invite you to join the conversation! Everyone is welcome – don’t worry about whether you feel the material is too challenging – we are all here to learn together.
Every week, we will examine one chapter, and have the opportunity to empower ourselves both with the information in this groundbreaking book, and also the thoughts of our fellow book club members.
We do have a limited number of copies of this book to lend, but encourage you to bring your own, or get one from the library.
Prescription drug abuse often starts with mom and dad's medicine cabinet. (Image: cavale/Flickr.com)
Local, state and federal officials are gathering this morning to urge community members to dispose of their unused prescription drugs during Saturday’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.
They also want to raise awareness about the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Oregon’s Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Matthew G. Barnes, Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall and Oregon Partnership director Judy Cushing attended a news conference this morning at Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct.
“There’s a significant role for all of us and personal responsibility for disposing of these drugs and saving the environment,” Wyden said.
“As Oregonians, it took us awhile to see the meth epidemic,” Wyden said. “We are not going to let that happen again with prescription drugs.”
Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem. She said she’s concerned about the growing number of heroin users who started with an addiction to prescription drugs.
“We urge you all to take this opportunity to clean out your medical cabinets,” Marshall said.
Portland’s police Chief Mike Reese did not attend. He was headed to a meeting at the Oregon public safety and standards department.
Jenni Bernheisel, a city crime prevention coordinator, said there are three locations available in Portland for the drug take-back day Saturday: the North Interstate Fred Meyer, the Gateway Fred Meyer and a SW Sixth Avenue and Hall Street location a t Portland State University.
Any one can drop off the pills anonymously.
“The pills will be incinerated so they don’t go into the water supply,” Bernheisel said.
If you throw medications in the trash or flush them, drugs can find their way into waterways. Wastewater treatment plants eliminate some contaminants, but not all can be filtered out; an Associated Press investigation found traces of prescription drugs in the drinking water of 41 million Americans in 2008, including hormones, antibiotics, and psychiatric medications. –JW
In 2010, more than 400 Oregonians died of prescription drug overdoses, nearly five times the number of homicides, according to Oregon Partnership.
To make it easier for the public to properly dispose of unused and expired prescription drugs, disposal locations across the state will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Pamela R. (Pallin) Chassé – age 74, born May 25, 1937, died October 24, 2011
Pamela was born to Edgar and Dorena (Brands) Pallin. She grew up in Tillamook, Ore., and attended school there from first grade through high school. Pamela had many great adventures growing up, and made important bonds that she kept throughout her life. She enjoyed many reunions in her home town for Tillamook High School and other groups. After attending Willamette University, Pamela worked in Portland for Ma Bell and a printing company. During that time, Kathy was born to Pamela and Wayne Gibbens.
Pamela was a single mother during much of Kathy’s childhood, and she worked hard at it doing it well. She enjoyed raising Kathy, being an unofficial den mother for Kathy and her friends, and giving piano lessons for children in their neighborhood. Pamela eventually remarried to Paul Davis, who died just seven years later. Pamela married James “Jim” Chasse Sr. in 1983.
Pamela worked as a maintenance executive secretary at the Crown-Zellerbach/James River West Linn Paper Mill for 30 years. She retired in the early 2000s. She enjoyed her co-workers and found the work challenging and pleasant. Pamela had an active civic and social life. She played organ and piano for various churches she attended. She was involved in various square dance projects, including promoting dances to benefit children’s hospitals, being purchasing manager for a National Square Dance Convention and serving as president (and other positions) for a 1500-person organization.
She and Jim met while taking square dancing lessons in 1983. Pamela enjoyed working with flowers at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and preparing food for Operation Nightwatch clientele. She also loved attending high school and college basketball tournaments, which led her to travel over most of North America during the past 15 years.
Pamela fought valiantly to keep on with her life after her cancer diagnosis in 2007. While she spent a lot of her personal time adjusting and coping with changes, she continued to live life to the fullest extent she could. Pamela stayed active socially and was an inspiration to many around her for how hard she fought for life and to be with those she loved.
She was particularly happy that she was able to attend her granddaughter Krista’s wedding in July 2011. Pamela’s grandchildren, Krista, Brandon and Claire, added zest to her life, as did her daughter, Kathy Maas; son-in-law, Chris Maas; stepson, Mark Chasse; and daughter-in-law, Becky Chasse. James Jr., Pamela’s card playing stepson, preceded her in death in 2006.
Pamela is also survived by her husband, Jim, who was her steadfast companion, husband and friend. A memorial will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 N.W. 19th Avenue; 503-222-9811. Remembrances may be made to Breast Friends in Tigard, Ore., or to your own favorite charity.
Police Lt. Robert King holds a less-lethal shotgun, showing the side carrier that will be pre-loaded with six beanbag rounds when officers check out less-lethal shotguns from their precinct armory. Officers must load the guns in their cars from this supply only, under a new bureau order.
On the day the police commissioner and chief were subpoenaed to court to address what Officer Dane Reister’s attorney called the bureau’s “gross negligence” in the handling of beanbag shotguns and ammunition, police supervisors alerted officers Tuesday of a new safeguard the bureau adopted.
Effective immediately, officers who are certified to carry the beanbag shotguns must now check out the firearm from their precinct’s armory at the start of their shifts. They must only load the beanbag shotguns with bureau-issued, less-lethal ammunition that will now be stored in a carrier attached to the side or stock of the orange-painted, 12-gauge shotguns.
The guns must be loaded in the police vehicle from this supply only. Officers certified to carry the beanbag shotgun are still required to visually and physically inspect each round as they load them, but are now “encouraged to have another bureau member view and confirm this.” Only supervisors will carry loose, replacement beanbag ammunition.
The new executive order comes nearly four months after Reister mistakenly loaded lethal rounds into a beanbag shotgun, and seriously wounded a man in Southwest Portland on June 30. The new directive also was announced as the bureau faced mounting criticism for not having taken immediate steps to prevent a similar mishap.
Acting Police Chief Larry O’Dea, who was also subpoenaed for Tuesday’s hearing, signed the order. It was sent by e-mail to bureau members at 4:14 p.m. on Monday, and announced at roll calls Tuesday morning.
Chief Mike Reese, who last month wrote a guest column in The Oregonian that he didn’t want to rush through any policy changes, is out of town at an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago.
“It’s important to us to make changes we need to make,” said Lt. Robert King, bureau spokesman. “It’s not tied to any legal process.”
According to O’Dea, a bureau less-lethal committee last week recommended the change, and he signed the executive order Monday. He said the bureau was not ready to give up use of either the less-lethal shotgun or lethal shotgun. “To date, we have not found a system that offers us the reliability, ease of use, and effectiveness that the current system offers,” O’Dea wrote in an e-mail to officers. “The less lethal program has had a 15-year long record of being safe and effective and is an important tool in safely resolving dangerous incidents.”
Reister’s lawyer, Janet Hoffman, who has argued in court motions that the bureau’s “gross negligence” contributed to Reister’s error on June 30, questioned why it took this long for the bureau to make a change.
“It’s appropriate that they’re making these changes, and it’s unfortunate as it pertains to my client’s situation that these minimal standards have taken so long to go in effect,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman had subpoenaed the mayor, the chief, assistant chiefs, Central Precinct’s commander and armory supervisor, the training captain and lead trainer to a court hearing Tuesday morning.
She urged the presiding judge to allow a sitting grand jury to consider whether the bureau’s “failure to put in place adequate safeguards” for its less-lethal ammunition affected Reister’s actions on the day he shot William Kyle Monroe in Southwest Portland June 30.
In particular, she wanted to question bureau supervisors as to why Portland police adopted the same weapon platform, a 12-gauge shotgun, that can carry both lethal and less-lethal rounds, and why no safety provisions were in place to avoid the mistake Reister made.
Presiding Judge Jean Kerr Maurer, though, quashed the subpoenas and prevented Hoffman from presenting any evidence as to whether or not “gross negligence” by the bureau contributed to Reister’s accidental shooting. Maurer said the court has a role to play in interpreting legal questions, “but to expand the court’s role into pre-screening of evidence is, in my view, inappropriate.”
“It’s invading the province of the grand jury,” Maurer ruled.
Maurer left open the possibility that she could further weigh in on any questions about evidence or instructions that the grand jury reviewing Reister’s shooting may have.
Firearms expert Ronald Scott, who spent more than 25 years as a Massachusetts state trooper and ran the agency’s ballistics sections investigating police shootings, called the bureau’s new order a “preemptive strike” as it faced the possibility of a hearing that would have shined light on its lack of safeguards since it adopted a less-lethal beanbag shotgun that utilizes the same 12-gauge shotgun platform that fires lethal rounds.
Scott called the bureau’s new restrictions a first step.
“To cover their backside, they’re saying we’re going to take away from the officer, any choice that he may have,” Scott said. “This is a policy that should have been in place a long time ago.”
Portland police have stressed that Reister’s mistake was the first since the bureau adopted the beanbag shotgun in 1997.
Portland’s new procedure is similar to that of Los Angeles Police, which checks out less-lethal shotguns to officers, with the less-lethal rounds preloaded onto a sleeve of prominently marked green less-lethal shotguns. The Oregonian reported last month that other law enforcement agencies have adopted more stringent policies. Many don’t carry the same weapon for lethal and less-lethal rounds. Others require officers to carry one or the other, not both.
PORTLAND POLICE BUREAU NEWS RELEASE
Occupy Portland Public Safety Updates
The following series of events involving Occupy Portland occurred on Monday, October 24, 2011 and early morning Tuesday,
October 25, 2011: Dayshift Report
An Occupy Portland sign occupies a Portland Police cruiser. (Image: The Gateway Pundit)
7 a.m.: Central Precinct officers received a request from Occupy Portland to get in touch with Project Respond. The volunteers at Occupy Portland report they are getting overwhelmed with the amount of mental health issues presenting themselves at the camp and want to establish a liaison with Project Respond to help in dealing with these problems as they occur. Officer Miller of the Mobile Crisis Unit is the liaison.
10:30 a.m.: East Precinct officers were leaving the Multnomah County Courthouse when a woman, 39-year-old Angela Hallinger, threw a paintbrush at the officers because they would not stop and look at her art. The paintbrush hit one of the officer’s pants and left paint on them. The subject then picked up the paintbrush and threw it again at them, just missing their heads. Officers were told that a Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney had reported that a woman was flashing her breasts at people. It was determined that it had been Hallinger, and she was arrested and booked in the Multnomah County Detention Center for Disorderly Conduct in the Second Degree and Criminal Mischief in the Third Degree.
During the same incident, officers found that the porta-potties on the south side of Chapman Square along Southwest Madison Street were overflowing and it appeared raw sewage was running down the sidewalk toward Southwest 3rd Avenue. The sanitary conditions were reported to the Parks Bureau who said they were aware of issue.
3 p.m.: Officers received a report that Hallinger was out of jail and flashing her breasts again at the camp. She was excluded from the parks.
On Monday’s afternoon shift, there were multiple calls of various fights/disturbances. Officers said there appeared to be a different call every 45 minutes or so, called in by witnesses to these incidents. Several were unverified, with no complainants or suspects located. The following were reported incidents:
6:35 p.m.: A very intoxicated/high subject was contacted at the corner of Southwest 3rd avenue and Main Street. It appeared that 25-year-old Dylan K. Hunter, was acting in a confusing manner and was on probation for Delivery of a Controlled Substance/ Methamphetamine. He was given a citation and transported to Hooper Detox.
6:45 p.m.: A sergeant took a phone call from a “donor” of two food boxes to Occupy and he wanted to complain that when they dropped off the food, he and his friend saw “buckets of human waste” sitting around the camp. This was very disturbing to the donor and his friend.
7:56 p.m.: Uniform officers responded to a call of a man causing a disturbance near the medical tent of “Camp A” (Lownsdale park). He was reportedly throwing things and knocking down fences. He was wandering around the Veterans Memorial, which is located in the center of the park.
Officers observed 35-year-old Devn Merner acting in a bizarre manner. He had red paint on his feet and torso. Occupy Portland peacekeepers were trying to talk to him while he displayed “fighting poses,” but he refused their contact. Officers requested Project Respond to assist with this contact.
Merner turned his attention to officers and advanced toward them. Merner began to circle the officers both rapidly and at a very close distance, and eventually stopped in front of one of the officers, grabbing the arm of the officer’s jacket. This placed the officer in a potentially dangerous situation, with a subject grabbing on his arm and within reach of being struck or his weapon grabbed. At this point, officers took custody of Merner and he was lodged at the Multnomah County Detention Center on Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest and Harassment.
9:30 p.m.: Officers responded to a call regarding “5 subjects beating another subject,” in the center of Chapman Square, by the drinking fountain. Officers could not find any victim or suspect and overheard people say everyone “ran off.” Within a minute or two, district officers received another call of a fight at 3rd Avenue and Yamhill, similar to the one from the park. It appeared related, with the suspects chasing the victim through the blocks. As officers arrived, they were told by witnesses that the group was chasing the victim down Southwest 4th Avenue toward Burnside Street. It was reported as many as “15 street kids with skateboards” were chasing a shirtless subject.
A total of 3 separate calls from different locations were generated about this incident. The victim was reportedly hiding out in a camp on West Burnside, at 4th Avenue. The victim was ultimately located at Northwest 4th Avenue at Couch. The victim, 19-year-old male, said he was assaulted in Chapman Square by a group of street kids, after he had a verbal altercation about a dispute a friend of his had earlier in the day with the group.
The victim reported he was jumped from behind by a group of bandana-masked subjects, and repeatedly punched in the face and head. He said Occupy Portland peacekeepers came over to him suggested he “run away,” since they could do nothing to stop the assault. The victim reported he was chased to 4th Avenue and Burnside, where two of the masked subjects continued to assault him. He said others in the area assisted him, and the suspects ran off. The victim was injured in the face, and said he thought about calling the police, but decided not to, since the residents of Occupy Portland are supposed to take care of these matters themselves.
11:59 p.m: A known subject, walked into Central Precinct to report an “assault.” He reported someone had pointed a finger at him, and that was the assault. He made several alleged assault reports during this event. The subject returned 10 minutes later to report a “riot” at Occupy Portland. There was no riot in progress. The subject was told to leave, but initially refused. He was escorted from Central Precinct lobby, given an trespass order, and told if he returns again to make an erroneous report he may be arrested.
October 25, 2011, 4:56 a.m.: a resident of Occupy Portland called 911 to report a man inside the encampment who had punched someone and broken a bottle. Officers spoke with the victim of the punch and learned the suspect had fled after the incident. The victim did not require medical attention. Witnesses believe the suspect does not live in the encampment and was possibly intoxicated.
On October 28, 2006 over 400 people came together to remember the life and death of James Chasse.
You can now listen to that memorial service in its entirety. Speaking are – Patricia Ross of First Congregational Church, John Paul Davis of First Congregational Church, Jim and Pamela Chasse, Linda Gerber (Jim’s mother), Mark Chasse, KT Kincaid, Eva Lake, Steve Doughton, X J Elliott, Mike Lastra, Avel Gordly, Beckie Child, Martin Gonzales, & Jason Renaud.
Known for his remarkable drawing skills, Randy Moe, like many of us, is a casual photographer. In the late 70s and early 80s he documented his friends of the burgeoning Punk Rock scene in Portland.
This particular exhibition is sourced from a single roll of Polaroid film all shot in 1979. Of the 12 photographs, 4 of the subjects have passed on – from drugs, from AIDS, from illness and from police brutality. Like the subjects, the portraits possess a rare veracity and authentic feel of the times.
Reception for the artist – First Thursday, November 3, 6 -9 PM.
Gallery Hours: Thursday through Saturday 12 – 6PM and by appointment. The Independent is located at 530 NW 12th, Portland, Oregon.
The feeling of danger was so close and overwhelming that there was no time to find its source, no choice but to get out of the apartment, fast.
Keris Myrick headed for her car, checked the time — just past midnight, last March — and texted her therapist.
“You’re going to the Langham? The hotel?” the doctor responded. “No — you need to be in the hospital. I need you consulting with a doctor.”
“What do you think I’m doing right now?”
“Oh. Right,” he said. “Well, O.K., then we need to check in regularly.”
“And that’s what we did,” said Ms. Myrick, 50, the chief executive of a nonprofit organization, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, a close cousin of schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. “I needed to hide out, to be away for a while. I wanted to pamper myself — room service, great food, fluffy pillows, all that — and I was lucky to have a therapist who understood what was going on and went with it.”
Researchers have conducted more than 100,000 studies on schizophrenia since its symptoms were first characterized. They have tested patients’ blood. They have analyzed their genes. They have measured perceptual skills, I.Q. and memory, and have tried perhaps thousands of drug treatments.
Now, a group of people with the diagnosis is showing researchers a previously hidden dimension of the story: how the disorder can be managed while people build full, successful lives. The continuing study — a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Southern California; and the Department of Veterans Affairs — follows a group of 20 people with the diagnosis, including two doctors, a lawyer and a chief executive, Ms. Myrick.
The study has already forced its authors to discard some of their assumptions about living with schizophrenia. “It’s just embarrassing,” said Dr. Stephen R. Marder, director of the psychosis section at U.C.L.A.’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, a psychiatrist with the V.A. Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and one of the authors of the study. “For years, we as psychiatrists have been telling people with a diagnosis what to expect; we’ve been telling them who they are, how to change their lives — and it was bad information” for many people.
No more so, perhaps, than for Ms. Myrick, who after years of devastating mental trials learned that she needed a high-profile position, not a low-key one, to face down her spells of paranoia and despair. Her treatment regimen, like most others’ in the study, is a combination of medication as needed and personal supports, including an intuitive pet dog, the occasional weekend stay at a luxury hotel — and, not least, a strong alliance with a local psychiatrist.
“I feel my brain is damaged; I don’t know any other way to say it,” Ms. Myrick said. “I don’t know if it’s from the illness, the medications, all those side effects or what. I only know that I do need certain things in my life, and for a long time — well, I had to get to know myself first.”
‘The Jagged Piece’
Keris Jän Myrick was an Army brat. She grew up around the world and nowhere in particular, moving from Bremerhaven, West Germany, to Los Angeles to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to Englewood, N.J., to Seoul, South Korea, and back stateside again, as her father advanced in the ranks. The changing locations and temporary friends made the family close, and Col. Howard A. Myrick and his wife, Roberta, were strong advocates for their daughter and her older brother, Kyl, wherever they landed.
“Let’s just say that their mother and I had to continually go to school and deal with teachers who had presumptions about their ability based on cultural factors,” said Howard Myrick, now a Temple University professor of communications who lives in Philadelphia. Roberta Myrick died in 2009.
Brother and sister thrived, in academics, in music, he in sports, but she was the more sensitive soul and felt increasingly isolated socially, and self-critical. The only black girl among her playmates in West Germany and South Korea, she also became conscious of race early on. “It’s important to know that everyone around me was white; I was the epitome of a minority,” she wrote about one period living overseas.
Yet if she looked different from her classmates abroad, she spoke and acted very differently from the African-Americans in Englewood. She was taunted, ostracized; the black world seemed no more ready to offer her a place than the white one. When she was 8, her father left to serve a tour in Vietnam, and suddenly her one constant, the family, felt vulnerable, transient.
Soon she gave herself a private name and made it the title of a journal: “The Jagged Piece.” “Of course as opportunities permitted I could transform myself to appear round and smooth, but out of my element,” reads a later entry, when she was back in the United States. “My whole life, try as I might, I never fit.”
Not in college, where in her freshman year at Wellesley she became increasingly isolated and erratic, wearing roller skates everywhere, even in class, and spending odd hours on the roofs of buildings, and sometimes in a bell tower. Nor back at her parents’ home in Virginia, where, after being asked by the college to take time away, she began to hear a voice, for a time telling her that most foods were poisonous. She all but stopped eating; doctors told her she had an eating disorder.
Ms. Myrick somehow pushed herself to finish an undergraduate degree at Temple and later completed a business management program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, while stalked by severe anxieties and that voice, ringing at the edge of her thoughts, now strict and critical. She was engaged, for a time, to a man she met at Temple; but that did not fit, either.
"I feel my brain is damaged; I don't know any other way to say it." KERIS MYRICK, the chief executive of Project Return Peer Support Network, a nonprofit organization that helps people who are struggling with mental illness.
Something was wrong, she knew that, and even as she landed her first job — in the admissions office at Case Western — she was on the phone with her mother almost every day, trying to work it out. A doctor in Cleveland diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder and depression in the late 1990s. But for a young, ambitious woman who had yet to find her purpose, those labels seemed no more than that — labels, one person’s opinion.
“I had this belief that if I found the right place, the right work situation, I would be O.K.,” she said.
Epiphany After a Setback
She made a crucial first step toward that goal one summer night when she was too wired to sleep.
It was 2006, and she was not at all O.K.: she had just lost a good position in the admissions office at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena. She had been working frantically, putting in long hours, paranoid that her co-workers were out to undermine her — and she finally blew up at someone in the personnel office. The voice in her head was not letting her forget it, telling her that she was a failure, finished. You’re 45; good luck starting over.
She could barely sleep and was often unsure whether she was awake or dreaming.
“But one night about 2 a.m., I had this epiphany, that’s how I think about it,” she said. “I called my mom and said: ‘I see it now. I wasn’t meant to be in admissions, or higher education — it’s suffocating me, my creativity. I need to be in charge of my own life.’ ”
She was crying, and her mother asked why. “I told her it was because I had figured it out, and that’s exactly the way it felt at the time. I finally figured it out.”
It was a start, but only a step on a long road. From 2000 to 2006 the police had taken Ms. Myrick to the hospital at least six times after she called one of her therapists with thoughts of suicide and hallucinations and the therapist made an emergency call.
The diagnosis changed, to schizoaffective disorder with obsessive-compulsive disorder. She was never violent, she said, but she was stubborn enough in demanding to know what was happening to her that security officers held her down more than once — memories that make her shake with fury.
“I was thrown into a holding room once, right next to a young man who’d just stolen a gun from his father, and I could see the gun in the gun box through the thick glass,” she said. “And I’m thinking, ‘What, now I’m a criminal?’ ”
On another occasion she crawled into the closet of her hospital room and curled into a fetal position. She was “catatonic and completely mute,” according to a discharge summary dated Jan. 2, 2005.
Her therapist, Dr. Timothy Pylko, a psychiatrist in San Marino, visited her in the hospital.
“I just sat down on the floor with her, to get to the same level, and eventually we started having a conversation,” said Dr. Pylko, who became her regular therapist and later texted with her on her way to the hotel. “That may be when she first started to trust me.”
It wasn’t always that way, when she first began seeing him in regular sessions. Ms. Myrick insisted that there were large holes in her brain, probably from the side effects of drugs she took to control her symptoms. Dr. Pylko ordered a brain scan, handed her the images and said, “O.K., show me where.” She couldn’t; there were none.
He wanted her to try certain antipsychosis medications, and she was skeptical. “He basically fired me, at one point,” she said. “He was telling me that if I didn’t accept his help, there was nothing he could do.” She went along only after he presented her with the evidence of the drugs’ benefits and risks.
Dr. Pylko also thought she should feel her way back into the work force slowly, starting with less demanding work. She had other ideas; she would not answer phones or bag groceries, not with an advanced degree in management.
She began attending mental health conferences that were open to the public and saw that some of her skills — in administration, in computer technology — were crucial in mental health care, where people with psychiatric diagnoses often struggle to make sense of the patchwork of services and clinics. At one conference she met Paul Cumming, a well-connected advocate who works for a mental health care Web site.
The two became friends, and soon Mr. Cumming enlisted her as a speaker at one of his mental health technology conferences. “She was very nervous, and it was last-minute,” he said, “but she was a big hit, very smart and funny.”
In the audience was David Pilon, an executive at Mental Health America of Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization, who was looking for someone to run a unit of the organization in Commerce, Ca. “I was very impressed with her, and I just kind of filed it away,” Dr. Pilon recalled. “Then, later, we both served on a panel, and I said, ‘Listen, if you’re ever looking for a job. … ’ ”
She was. In February 2008, Ms. Myrick took over Project Return Peer Support Network, overseeing 94 trained advisers who provide symptom-management advice and other services to people struggling with mental illness.
As chief executives go, she is not from Central Casting: an intense, soft-spoken woman with nine earrings and an eyebrow post, she has decorated her office with action figures, including one she calls “Advocacy Barbie,” and a Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots toy (“That’s how we settle serious disputes,” she said). Steinbeck, her terrier, occasionally comes in for the day.
Yet for the staff of three dozen people, most of whom have had a diagnosis themselves, it has been a good match.
So it has, too, for their boss. Her search for belonging was stalled for so long in part because she was facing the wrong direction. She was looking outward for someplace to fit in, without turning to ask herself what it was that she needed — who fit with her.
“When I’m well,” she said, “I have to continually ask, ‘What does it take to be well?’ I need some very specific things around me. And if get spinny — that’s what I call it when my brain moves too fast — well, I need to have a plan.”
Her overall strategy combines a heavy work schedule, regular reality checks with colleagues, sympathy from her dog and the option to bail out for a few days if needed — in luxury.
Broadly speaking, her approach has a lot in common with the strategies that other people in the study use. The principal investigators — Elyn R. Saks of U.S.C., Alison B. Hamilton of U.C.L.A. and Amy N. Cohen of Veterans Affairs, along with Dr. Marder and others — have found that the participants typically adhere to a medication regimen, often check their thoughts and perceptions with those around them, and actively control their environment, sometimes with the help of a therapist. Some avoid travel, or crowded, noisy places; others prefer not to be alone. Most stay away from illicit drugs and alcohol.
At home, Ms. Myrick relies partly on Steinbeck to manage her moods. The dog is trained to jump in her lap when it senses distress or to rub against her leg if the lap is not available. She takes Steinbeck to work if she’s feeling fragile, and it will occasionally jump in the lap of someone else who is feeling down.
In the office, she can ask for a reality check anytime, given that most of the staff members have had their own struggles. “I’ll just say, ‘Excuse me, but is anyone hearing what I’m hearing?’ ” she said. “And if the answer is no — O.K., it’s no. Here it’s possible to do that and not worry about it.”
She travels a lot to conferences, and when she is back in California she keeps her schedule as full as possible. Her mind runs on high, and without fuel — without work — it seems to want to feed on itself. Her elbows usually tingle when that is about to happen, she said, and she will often play number games in her head. If she needs to, she will make a quick phone call.
Dr. Pylko said: “We might just talk for a few minutes. Maybe once is enough, maybe several times during the day. It’s an ongoing conversation at this point. It’s more like a friendship than anything else.”
Or she will call her father, who is always on her side and will make the trip west if needed.
She can no longer call her mother. When Roberta Myrick died, her daughter expected to land in the hospital yet again. She thought about surrendering to the grief. But she had a plan. She focused on controlling her symptoms and on the life she has now, what it means and how much of a difference she has made — in her life and in others’ lives. One of her earrings marks the anniversary of her hiring and more than a year without being hospitalized; it has now been five years.
“And then I just treated the funeral as what it was, a celebration of my mom,” Ms. Myrick said. “It wasn’t about me this time.”