PA Officials: Budget Constraints Limit Care For Mentally Ill Inmates

KEYSTONE CROSSWORDS – Following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation in 2014, the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, demanding changes to provide better care for mentally ill inmates. DOC settled in 2015, and three years later, the state says it no longer uses solitary confinement as prevalently. “We no longer utilize the same level of segregation that we did prior to the reports and the investigations,” said Lynn Patrone, DOC’s mental health advocate. She said the department is working to meet the requirement that the settlement put forward to divert inmates into treatment instead of solitary confinement. Patrone said even when the misconduct of inmates with mental illness results in solitary confinement, they are offered 20 hours of out-of-cell activities per week.

PA Psychiatrist Sees Health Trends Among Blue Collar Workers


HARRISBURG (WSKG) — A Pennsylvania psychiatrist and his colleagues are noticing some troubling mental health trends related to joblessness among their working-class patients. And those trends seem inextricably tied with the current political climate.  Dr. Kenneth Thompson is the president of the American Association for Social Psychiatry. He’s based in Pittsburgh, and said many of the people he sees fall into a specific category–they’re white, male, high school-educated former Democratic voters who supported Donald Trump for president. And he said increasing numbers of those people are struggling with addiction or mental health issues that seem tied to the trouble they’re having in the current economy. “The overall sense is there’s a population that is more highly stressed than it has been in the past,” he said.

Independent Lens Presents 'Newtown'

On December 14, 2012, a disturbed young man committed a horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that took the lives of 20 elementary school children and six educators. Filmed over the course of nearly three years, Newtown uses deeply personal, never-before-heard testimonies to tell the story of the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history. Through raw and heartbreaking interviews with parents, siblings, teachers, doctors, and first responders, Newtown documents a traumatized community still reeling from the senseless killing, fractured by grief but driven toward a sense of purpose. There are no words of compassion or reassurance that can bring back those who lost their lives during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Instead, Snyder delves into the lives and homes of those who remain, all of whom have been indelibly changed by the events.

Guest Perspective: Helping Families Cope with Incarceration

Editor’s Note: WSKG invited community partner and local service organization Mothers and Babies Perinatal Network to share insight on initiatives that are helping families going through incarceration. Through the Eyes of Children
Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you are 8 years old again. You are spending a regular Tuesday night with your mother and two younger siblings. The normal evening routine was underway…dinner was over, you are bathed, in your pajamas, and playing with your favorite toy while your mother puts your little brother and sister to bed. Next, you and your mother meet in your bedroom to read your favorite bedtime story.

The Battlefield is Hard on a Boy: Suicide in the Civil War

Editor’s Note: WSKG has asked faculty and graduate students in the History Department at Binghamton University to explore the history behind PBS’s new drama Mercy Street. In today’s blog post, Professor Diane Sommerville discusses the topic of suicide and the Civil War.  

Warning: this post contains spoilers. The Battlefield is Hard on a Boy: Suicide in the Civil War
In Episode 4 of Mercy Street, the daring escape of Confederate private Tom Fairfax ends with his suicide. Tom’s boyhood friend Frank Stringfellow spirits him out of Mansion House Hospital under cover of darkness and escorts him to nearby Confederate lines so that Tom can rejoin his regiment. As Frank prepares his departure, Tom begins muttering, looking pre-occupied and anxious.

"When Truth Lies" by Terry Garahan

Writing of the mental illness called schizophrenia can allow a novelist to open many themes and characterizations.  For one thing, the cause for disorder itself is a mystery, so there is an evasive culprit who could attack at any time.  The victims are frequently young, their promising lives distorted and confused.  The world becomes bizarre and unmanageable; those who could help are often fearful and frustrated.  Uncertainty spreads, complications abound and neat conclusions are rarely apparent.  The hallucinations that are common in schizophrenia also can make for powerful descriptive prose, as the author draws the reader into the mind of someone losing a grip on reality. What Kevin noticed was the red flannel shirt on a man sitting at the end of the bar.  Other reds in the room began to glimmer — the cigarette packs on the tables, the labels on bottles behind the bar, the red lines in the eyes of the man standing next to him.  It was as if all red had a light behind it, causing the color to glow.  Then the colors exploded in the way a white light does in a photo flash, turning the back of his eyelids red when he closed them.   — from “When Truth Lies”

If the unreality experienced by Kevin rings true it could be because author Terry Garahan — now an instructor of mental health counseling at Ithaca College — spent many years thinking about and working on “When Truth Lies”, years also spent running outpatient mental health services in Ithaca, NY.  He is a licensed clinical social worker and developed in Tompkins County “a proactive approach to working with emotionally disturbed persons and those with mental illness”, which received national attention.  Garahan is also an FBI-trained hostage negotiator. “When Truth Lies” is subtitled “A Journey with Schizophrenia” and opens in 1967, at the emergence of a counter-culture that could feed anyone’s disorientation.  We follow Kevin from his home in the community of Laketon, NY — a fictional college town clearly inspired by Ithaca — through mental health institutions and wandering around the country in a Dantesque descent through settings of Hell, Purgatory and at least an implication of Paradise. Terry Garahan joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to discuss the life challenges of persons dealing with mental illness.

"Sweater Quest" by Adrienne Martini


In her first book, “Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood”, Adrienne Martini told of her crisis bringing a baby into the world, the terror of post-partum depression and her striving to find mental balance amidst changing realities.  Ms. Martini could impart her painful experiences with an amazing degree of wry humor (“my righteous indignation was growing like kudzu in a southern summer”) and she was able to pull through.  Her readers would certainly be pulling for her. Things did settle down in her life, domesticity and parenting become a bit routine and on page 200 she mentions, “The rest of the time I filled with knitting hats, which I’d learned how to do after writing a story on local knitting groups” while working as a journalist in Knoxville, TN. Adrienne, her husband and daughter Maddy moved from Knoxville to Oneonta, NY, where she now teaches writing at SUNY Oneonta, is raising a second child and is still knitting.

Adrienne’s son joined the family without the stresses of her first pregnancy and her second book is entitled “Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously”.  She has woven together (sorry, it’s inevitable that you’ll be needled by knitting puns) chapters on wool from the Shetland Islands, English knitting techniques, British history and the physical/mental/emotional challenge of knitting a sweater in the complicated style called Mary Tudor.  She tells about how her new avocation attracted her to bigger challenges, more complex patterns and difficult materials, all the while keeping her life in focus.  She spins a good yarn (well, not literally yet).  But beyond explaining the intricacies of knit and purl and the various numbering schemes for needles on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Adrienne Martini shares experiences that contributed to newfound steadiness as a mother, a knitter and simply a human being. “I’m gobsmacked at how quickly my hands picked up the skill.  It took me the better part of a semester to master a decent do-si-do when I took square dancing as a PE credit in college.

"Kids Caught in the Psychiatric Maelstrom" by Elizabeth E. Root


During our national debate on health care the comment was made that “just being alive is a pre-existing condition”.  Though we like to believe that every child born is nature’s latest attempt at a perfect human being, we have to accept that we all come into the world and go through life with physical limitations and human weaknesses.  Generally these imperfections are not debilitating, and humans have an inspiring ability to overcome handicaps.  But when those faults appear in a young person and are mental, emotional or even social in nature it can be more difficult to settle on a diagnosis. Does an overactive child have autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or even signs of pediatric bipolar disorder?  Many modes of treatment have been developed, but sometimes it may be wisest to be cautious — chalk it all up to “growing pains” — and try to reassure parents, teachers and health professionals that concerns can be addressed without medication.

A recent report revealed that children receiving mental health treatment through Medicaid are four times as likely to be treated with antipsychotic drugs as those with private insurance, in part due to the drug regimen being cheaper and easier than counseling and therapy.  In her career as a licensed clinical social worker in upstate New York, Elizabeth E. Root of Trumansburg has dealt with many cases of children examined, labelled, medicated and ultimately treated, motivated by “good intentions” gone awry through the use of psychoactive medications.  In many instances, the drugs were not approved for use by children. Some years ago it was not unusual to receive calls from the schools pressing aggressively for psychiatric assessments for the purpose of putting a child on stimulant medication.  Sometimes it took weeks for a child to get an appointment with the staff psychiatrist, and I would take heat for the wait from impatient teachers who believed their classroom would benefit from my client being drugged.  It was even possible to report parents to social services for medical neglect if parents did not follow a recommendation to have their children evaluated by a psychiatrist or to refuse to give psychotropic medication to their children. Some states, including New York, have passed laws prohibiting school personnel from coercing parents in this manner, or from suggesting diagnoses such as ADHD or recommending medication.  School staff I encountered subsequently took care to heed the letter of the law but found alternative language that still accomplished the objective of getting students on medication.  Now they recommend “medical solutions”, a euphemism for psychoactive drugs.