Why is it so difficult to get help for someone who is struggling with mental illness? And why has mental illness become an issue for the criminal justice system?
"MINDS ON THE EDGE: FACING MENTAL ILLNESS," moderated by CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno, zeros in on wrenching situations that play out every day in hospital ERs, on city streets and school campuses, in courtrooms and in jails, as Americans struggle with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. As the dramatic scenarios of this Fred Friendly Seminar unfold, they reveal the dilemmas facing individuals and families, the medical practices that can be obstacles to treatment and the public policies that are falling short. "MINDS ON THE EDGE: FACING MENTAL ILLNESS" airs Tuesday, October 6, at 9 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7.
The program brings together panelists with compelling personal and professional perspectives on the challenges of mental illness. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is shocked to discover that acts of kindness and caring may be illegal. Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel asserts that compassion is an important foundation for treatment. Law professor Elyn Saks, who has lived with chronic schizophrenia for more than 30 years, describes the nightmare of a psychotic break -- even as her eloquent intelligence and distinguished accomplishments signal the potential for recovery. Journalist Pete Earley, whose son developed mental illness four years ago, describes the frustration of a parent faced with a system designed to ensure freedom of choice for individuals who may not have the capacity to recognize the meaning of those choices.
Sesno introduces the panelists to two stories, using the signature Fred Friendly Seminars format of a hypothetical situation drawn from real life to probe difficult issues.
Olivia, a young college student, shows signs of bipolar disorder, an affliction that often strikes at this age. The panelists explore the dilemmas confronting a university professor who realizes she's ill, but is unsure how to approach her. Given privacy protections for students, is it legal for him to contact her parents? The panelists also consider the limited options available to Olivia's anguished parents, who are desperate to get treatment for her, but are blocked by a legal standard that safeguards individual liberty, prohibiting involuntary medical intervention unless there is a condition of "imminent danger."
James is an adult who has coped with his mental illness until his mother dies. His critical support gone, his mental health unravels. He can't get treatment, keep his job or maintain his home. He becomes homeless. Finally, he is arrested for a minor crime and engulfed by a criminal justice system that is both inadequate and inappropriate for dealing with a mentally ill person. A panel that includes Pennsylvania's Secretary of Public Welfare Estelle Richman, housing advocate Sam Tsemberis and Judge Steven Leifman describes the merry-go-round of homelessness and jail that has become the common consequence of a fragmented and dysfunctional mental healthcare system.
When Sesno asks the panelists what approaches might provide a better outcome in each situation, there is no shortage of suggestions. Supported housing, continuity of care, peer-to-peer counseling, employment opportunities and innovative criminal justice practices such as Crisis Intervention Training [CIT] for police officers and mental health courts are enthusiastically recommended as cost-effective alternatives to a system widely acknowledged as badly broken.
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