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Liveblogging Primetime Outsiders

Aug 25 2009 | Comments 18

All the below is about this show.

Madigan: They didn’t flatter you with that lighting.

David Oaks: You’re looking so handsome! I had no idea. Your eyebrows are very sexy. (I’m completely sincere.)

“But critics worry …” That’s journalism-speak for “We don’t have any specific sources who say this, but we’ll generalize it so we have reason to focus on …”

… violence. That’s what they’re focusing on. Why am I not surprised?

So of all the things they could talk about related to Mad Pride — and related to mental health — this is what they’ve come up with: criminals and violent crime. Ugh. TV is so predictable and depressing.

Okay, so now we’re telling the story of a kid with hallucinations and delusions (the CIA, yadda yadda) who KILLS HIS MOTHER? Does the average American viewer understand how fucking rare this kind of thing is? That it’s not the necessary result of deciding not to take meds?

On to the withdrawal story: Clearly, the program wasn’t looking for a success story. This poor woman who decided to do the show so they could feed off her misery — I knew that’s what they wanted. Is she doing the withdrawal in conjunction with a doctor? Who the hell knows? The show doesn’t tell you. It hardly tells you her name. And …

Oh! There it is again: “Critics worry … ” (that she’s going to be “a time bomb” without her meds). Who are these critics worrying about this girl? Frank Rich? David Denby? I’d love to know.

“Violence is unpredictable with or without drugs.” Brilliant script.

Blurry homeless images. Madigan cello-ing. … This show is so bad, it’s like a joke. I guess it all goes back to what producer Ia Robinson told me, when we discussed my being on the show: She doesn’t have any friends or family who have mental problems, so the whole topic was like “walking on the moon.” Yes, that’s the phrase she used. The show should’ve been blasted out to Mars.

Except Joey P. He’s delightful and a voice of reason.

liz | 9:34 PM | SCHIZOPHRENIA, alternative treatments, bipolar disorder, celebrities, criminal justice system, depression, hospitals / hospitalization, meds, philadelphia, side effects, stigma, suicide, violence

Cho Docs Released

Aug 20 2009 | Comments 50

As we know now, the man who committed mass murder at Virginia Tech, Seung-Hui Cho, was subject to psychological and psychiatric intervention several times while on campus. Some of what disturbed professors were plays like Richard McBeef, a takeoff on Macbeth that took things a little too far.

On Wednesday, the university finally released the documents that were “lost” after the shootings. They reveal a great consistent gap in the psychiatric system, and one that can’t easily be remedied. Though the documents attest that Cho was interviewed several times, he was lucid and able to say that he wasn’t a threat to himself or others. This is typically the standard that merits commitment, and if a person avers that he’s not a danger, we have to take that at face value. We can’t just go around virtually incarcerating people for being strange.

In the case of one incident, a roommate reported concerns of suicidal ideation on Cho’s part. But Cho voluntarily went to the counseling center to discuss it, and was clearly not psychotic or delusional. He was, to all appearances, under control. Much of what was done (physical tests, etc.) is standard and mandatory, and some might say detracts from really engaging. But on the other hand, if the person is suffering due to a physical problem, this must be discovered.

Here are two pages from that incident report (sorry for the formatting issues):

In this case, I don’t see particular misconduct. Which is the problem. It’s impossible to know a person’s state of mind with any surety. And maybe that’s good, in an existential way. But a later communication breakdown seems to have been a concern. From the New York Times:

A state panel convened by Gov. Tim Kaine faulted the campus center for failing to “connect the dots” related to the dangers of Mr. Cho’s mental condition.

Investigators from that panel concluded that campus officials were not aware of the judge’s order requiring that Mr. Cho receive treatment.

As for those missing documents, the director of the center who “inadvertently,” he said, took them home, was fired. No surprise there.

What’s sad about looking at the records is that it’s not clear what could have been done for this agonized young man. I know from my experience teaching and that of my friends in academia that students write bizarre shit, and you can’t assume that every one of them will kill people on your campus. You don’t know when to worry, and what about. And when does it stifle creativity?

Some of the documents indicate that Cho was seen with frequency, and that should’ve been a red flag. There was clearly knowledge that something was wrong. But again, what to do? Was a 302 (involuntary commitment) in order? That’s a slippery slope, to say the least.

This is not to say there weren’t major, major red flags, in these yellow pages (not all of which are downloaded here) in particular. Note the things that changed — that’s always a key question people in counseling take note of. When habits change, something is wrong, and Cho knew this, which is why he was seeking help. The designation of “Troubled” was ominous, and the deferral of filling out a form was a mistake, obviously — perhaps why the director of the center thought it best to accidentally take things home with him.

I’ll be interested to hear what you all have to say. Oh, and to those who might say that I’m giving too much space to a sensational, violent case — which of course represents a freak episode in the life of people with mental illnesses — I see your point. But this can’t go unremarked by me. The mainstream media has their say; I won’t be silent just because I don’t like the fact that this happened.

liz | 9:02 PM | Uncategorized, criminal justice system, violence

R.I.P. Cecilia Casals

Aug 19 2009 | Comments 6

The obits are churning about Don Hewitt today, but I want to note the death of someone who has only been written about as a freak show.

Cecilia Casals, 43, went to the Mall of the Americas in Miami, where her daughter worked, and set herself on fire. She was ablaze for about two and a half minutes, during which she reportedly walked slowly without making a sound. The flames were doused by firefighters and she was rushed to a hospital. But yesterday she died.

According to news reports, she had a criminal history, mental illness and had been desperately trying to get psychiatric help, to no avail.

The very sensitive features the headline: “‘Human Torch’ Dies After Mall Blaze.” Is that a class act or what?

The real class act is John Torres who, rather than breaking out his cell phone, injured himself trying to help her.

liz | 5:44 PM | suicide, violence

Scott McGann

Aug 3 2009 | Comments 8

Thanks to Tony W. for sending a link to a NY Daily News article about Scott McCann, who placed a fake bomb at LaGuardia. He’s now at Bellevue for observation, and his mother is upset, to say the least:

The distraught mother of would-be LaGuardia bomber Scott McGann defended her mentally ill son Sunday night.

“He’s not a kook,” Margie Jones told the Daily News, barely able to speak through her tears.

She said her 32-year-old son suffers from catatonic schizophrenia – a form of the disease that leaves victims in a psychotic state where they’re unable to speak, respond or even move.

“I love my son,” said Jones, a school psychologist who lives three hours north of San Francisco in Willits, a town of 5,000.

The heartsick mother had planned to see McGann this past weekend after buying him a ticket to fly to California some time before Saturday’s airport scare.

The question of his mental illness and diagnosis is likely to be pursued intently if there’s a criminal trial, and catatonic schizophrenia seems, on the surface, an odd explanation for this particular event. More about McGann from the article:

A computer programmer and artist, McGann was described by friends as a kind and pensive person who peddled his handmade goods in Union Square.

“He was a friendly guy who worked a lot with skateboarders,” said William Saar, 50, who sells used books in Union Square.

“He didn’t seem like the type of guy to do something like this,” Saar said.

Christopher Gause, 20, another artist who sells in Union Square, said McGann made sculptures out of scrap metal.

“There was some spirituality he found in his art,” Gause said. “He was very calm, very friendly, and smiled.”

Sounds like such a nice guy. I wish the diagnosis hadn’t been disclosed so early on — or maybe I just wish it weren’t true. While to “normal” citizens, the diagnosis seemingly explains bizarre behavior, to those who deal with mental health issues — especially those with schizophrenia — it merely exacerbates the perception that we’re all dangerous and could “snap” at any moment.

LaGuardia fake bomber Scott McGann’s mom says he’s sick and needs help, not crazy

For a more humorous look at the situation, you must check out New York Magazine’s take on how Scott McGann could be your boyfriend.

[Photo copyright NY Daily News]

liz | 10:21 AM | SCHIZOPHRENIA, violence

Zoloft Made Me Do It: Try to Kill Myself and Murder My Girlfriend

Jun 29 2009 | Comments 0

Despite the glib title of this ongoing TTWS feature (Blank Made Me Do It), there are some cases that are quite serious and upsetting. The one of Randall Robbins II is that kind of case, if only because it brings up–for the umpteenth time–this issue of those black-box warnings on antidepressants. From the L.A. Times:

Randall Robbins II, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2002 strangulation of 17-year-old Brittany Eurek, argues that both Pfizer and his doctor should have known that Zoloft might have made him attempt suicide and commit murder.

He says the drug intensified his agitation, suicidal desires, hysterical behavior and hostility and diminished his self-control.

Those arguments are similar to claims made in a few other cases since 2004, when antidepressants gained new warning labels highlighting the risk of suicidal behavior in people under 18.

In 2007, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Christopher Pittman, who is serving a 30-year sentence for killing his grandparents when he was 12. The court rejected his argument that he was involuntarily intoxicated by taking Zoloft and didn’t know what he was doing when he killed his grandparents and burned down their home in 2001.

A year earlier, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of a man who killed a 19-year-old woman with a shotgun and later tried to blame the 2003 slaying on the antidepressant drug. Zachary Schmidkunz is serving a 35-year prison term.

What puzzles, somewhat, is the conflicting behavior of Pfizer, though their continuing legal victories do justify it. On the one hand, there is the black-box warning, which specifically concedes that this kind of reaction to the drug is possible. On the other hand, there’s the response to a case like Robbins’:

“Pfizer’s evaluation of Zoloft data never has revealed any signal of an increased risk of violence related to either use or discontinuation of use of Zoloft,” [spokesman Chris] Loder said.

The FDA also says the underlying mental illnesses that antidepressants are used to treat are the most important causes of suicidal thoughts and actions.

So is that tantamount to Pfizer saying they don’t believe their own warning? Robbins, who’s in prison for the murder, is now suing Pfizer for $1 million and serving as his own lawyer. (Isn’t that always a bad idea?) Go here for more.

liz | 10:01 AM | BIG PHARMA, criminal justice system, violence

Goodbye, Anti-Sacred and Profane Writing Machine

Jun 25 2009 | Comments 2

After a long battle with cancer, PW staff writer, Guardian columnist, punk-rock novelist, NME gadfly, gender-twisting rebel comedian and poet Steven Wells has gone on to other things. Well, not really. According to Steven, there’s no such thing as the afterlife, and if there is, I guarantee he’s really, really pissed off right now. I can just picture him at St. Peter’s Gates, saying, “Fuck me! This shit actually exists?”

We’ll all miss Steven so much, and I’ll say more about that later. For now, I’m wishing the best to all family and friends who are hurting. That’s what Steven really cared about in the end, though he was very passionately annoyed by knitting, as well.

Steven was often told he was anti-American. I loved his passion, and he cracked us the fuck up every day. This video was part of a series he did for PW called Steven Wells’ America, in which he took sacred cows and basically grilled them for dinner. Below, he reflects on the religiosity of an America that voted for Bush a second time (Steven was a staunch atheist). Toward the end he smiles a bit, so you know that he knows he’s being ridiculous. And that’s part of what was so cute about Steven — he’d rant, but then laugh at himself.

liz | 10:41 AM | BIG PHARMA, Funny or Offensive?, GLBT, Song of the Day, alternative treatments, anxiety, celebrities, children, cute fix, depression, hospitals / hospitalization, media, meds, military, philadelphia, phobias, politics, random, religion, suicide, violence

Mental Illness (Not Ideology) Made Me Do It: Kill the “Abortion Doctor”

Jun 5 2009 | Comments 17

Though I’m a died-in-the-wool liberal — and much of the time, radical — I’ve found it hard to believe that Wichita’s Dr. George Tiller was murdered because some right-wing ideologue had been driven into a pro-life frenzy by the likes of Bill O’Reilly. Much as I believe the right is responsible for many ills in our society (unjust war being top of my list), I don’t believe rhetoric can be so inflammatory, that it drives a person to commit murder. The person must be disposed already to commit crime.

Now it appears that Scott Roeder, who’s being held for Tiller’s death, isn’t just your regular guy who got so agitated by pro-life demagoguery that he had to kill. Instead, reports suggest that he struggled with mental illness. From the Telegraph UK:

In a statement released on Monday, Mr Roeder’s family admitted he had “suffered from mental illness at various times in his life” but insisted they had never believed he would kill anyone.

But it emerged that Mr Roeder had a history of extreme hostility and suspicion towards the US government and later allegedly became dedicated to closing what he called Dr Tiller’s “death camp”.

In 1996, a district judge said Mr Roeder presented a “threat of danger to the public” after bomb-making equipment was found in his car along with a military rifle, gas mask and ammunition.

At the time, his father, John, described him as an “obsessed” but loving man who wouldn’t “kill a fly”.

In a statement released by Mr Roeder’s family, his brother, David, said: “We know Scott as a kind and loving son, brother and father who suffered from mental illness at various times in his life.”

Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist from Iowa, … said he met the suspect once. “He told me about a lot of conspiracy stuff and showed me how to take the magnetic strip out of a five dollar bill,” Mr Leach told the Kansas City Star. “He said it was to keep the government from tracking your money.”

This is not to say that every conspiracy theorist is mentally ill. But there are people with mental illnesses whose issues express themselves this way. I’m thinking particularly of the sad case of Russell Weston, who had governmental obsessions.

Suspect in abortion doctor killing ‘had history of mental illness’

Slaying suspect ‘obsessed’ with Kansas doctor, ex-roommate says

liz | 10:07 AM | criminal justice system, violence

Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Not in Philly.

Jun 3 2009 | Comments 2

I’m horrified by the so-called vigilante justice meted out by enraged community members yesterday, putting a “person of interest” — who has not been charged with any crime, nor officially named a suspect — in critical condition in a hospital. Police are searching a man who raped an 11-year-old girl, and distributed this person’s photograph to news outlets. Once found, he was beaten with sticks and fists by a mob, like something out of a Flannery O’Connor story. From the Philadelphia Daily News:

DEMETRICE REYNOLDS said she had one wish for the thug who brutally raped her 11-year-old daughter: “I want him dead.”

Her wish may as well have been broadcast across Kensington.

About a dozen neighborhood residents flew into a rage yesterday afternoon when they cornered Jose Carrasquillo, who police said they had linked through physical evidence to the heinous Monday-morning rape of Reynolds’ daughter.

The justice-seeking mob rained fists, feet and wooden sticks upon Carrasquillo, 26, for several minutes until police intervened at Front and Clearfield streets.

When the dust cleared, Carrasquillo, whose last known address was Orkney Street near York, was in critical condition at a local hospital, and police officials were thanking the locals for helping them catch a man they had pursued feverishly but identified only as “a person of interest.”

“Justice, community-style. It’s a beautiful thing,” said a resident who declined to be identified.

“The people took it [the case] to heart,” said Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. “It says a lot about the community.”

Ramsey noted, however, that he didn’t condone the burst of vigilante justice. “They injured him pretty badly,” he said.

Hmm. It sure sounded like he was condoning it in the quote above that. Maybe if they had just smacked him around a bit and not injured him pretty badly, it would be okay.

The criminal justice system is far from fallible, especially at the start of a sensational case like a child rape. And mob violence is never acceptable, not even in Salem.

liz | 11:21 AM | violence

It’s All About Sports Today

May 14 2009 | Comments 9

Ex-Yankee Jim Leyritz threatened to commit suicide and voluntarily admitted himself—so says FOX Sports.

The background:

Leyritz is free on bail while awaiting trial on DUI manslaughter charges for the late 2007 death of a restaurant waitress Fredia Ann Veitch in a two-car crash that occurred after the former Yankee was celebrating his 44th birthday. Leyritz allegedly had a blood-alcohol content of .14 — well above the legal limit — several hours after the crash, while Veitch had a .18 alcohol level at the time of her death.

Davie police then went to Karri Leyritz’s home who told them that Jim Leyritz had blown into the Breathalyzer in an attempt to start his car, but the device indicated he had been drinking, Coyne said.

Karri told cops that Jim had not been drinking. Karri said Leyritz went out to the car a second time, and that when he tried the device that time it indicated he had not been drinking.

That is when Leyritz became upset because he knew the first result would be reported to authorities as a possible violation of his bail conditions, Karri told cops, according to Coyne.

“That caused him to be distraught,” Coyne said.

Karri then told cops that Leyritz said something to the effect that, “He might as well ‘end it’ if it’s too much trouble,” Coyne said.

I gotta say, I’m not feeling deep, deep sorrow for Leyritz right now. It’s hard for me to sympathize given stories like this one. He wasn’t even supposed to be driving, let alone drinking and driving. She was drinking and driving too, so there aren’t any winners here. But sometimes things get really, really simple. Let’s break it down:

If you are drunk, you cannot operate a motor vehicle.
If you are not drunk, you can operate a motor vehicle.

(Unless you’re my mom, in which case alcohol is immaterial. Joking!)

liz | 3:59 PM | criminal justice system, suicide, violence

Update on Rebecca Riley

May 4 2009 | Comments 6

Rebecca Riley’s doctor now the target of a grand jury

liz | 10:19 AM | bipolar disorder, criminal justice system, violence

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