Sunday, April 27, 2008

Important, but off-center

This legislation, I feel is important, but off-center. This is putting a band-aid over a cut artery. The real issue is better treatment for the mentally ill. This is the legislature that needs reform. This is like the abortion issue. The issue is why are so many women getting pregnant in the first place. There are free clinics in every city that give birth control devices. Stop having children you can't afford to raise on your own. But that is a different issue. The similarities are in the way the cart is placed in front of the horse. We need to address what causes people to be mentally ill or why are these women getting pregnant. Legislating gun control, or campus safety, or passing laws about abortion are all after the fact. Let's back up a few steps to the roots of these issues. These are, of course, just my opinions.

Topics in University Security: Lockdown 101

IN February, a man carrying a fake assault weapon burst into an American foreign policy class at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. The seven unsuspecting students, along with a stunned professor who later remarked that he was “prepared to die at that moment,” were held hostage for 10 minutes. During that time, the gunman said he would kill at least one of them.

The class survived because the gunman was a volunteer, part of an exercise intended to test the university’s system for responding to a possible campus attack. The university had alerted its students and faculty with e-mail and text messages, but not everyone read them. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the simulation — at least physically.

In the year since the shooting at Virginia Tech last April 16, American colleges have been under pressure, from worried parents as well as from the news media, to beef up campus security. Like Elizabeth City State, many schools have overreacted by instituting safety measures of questionable effectiveness. Safety officials are quick to shut down classes, as happened recently at California State University, Dominguez Hills, when an R.O.T.C. student with a drill rifle was mistaken for an assailant toting an automatic weapon. Instead of making campuses safer, we are fostering an unwarranted and unhealthy level of fear.

An article in Newsweek’s “College Guide” last fall advised families on how to tell whether a university is safe, and earlier this year Readers’ Digest graded 135 colleges nationwide on their safety precautions — notification systems, campus lockdown plans, armed security and the like. A bill in Congress, too, pushes the security agenda by proposing that universities be required to issue campus alerts within 30 minutes of a reported emergency.

The vast majority of institutions in the Readers’ Digest survey have in place security measures that not long ago would have been considered unnecessary, if not absurd. All but six of the schools surveyed have installed mass notification systems; more than half have lockdown plans; and more than 40 percent have authorized their campus police officers to carry firearms.

Although a popular response, campus-wide notification systems, ranging from low-tech sirens to text-message alerts on cellphones, are not necessarily a reliable way to protect students. An emergency siren could signal anything from a fire to gunfire. Text alerts would fail to reach a packed lecture hall if the instructor requires students to turn off their cellphones.

Anxious parents have been particularly keen on lockdowns, plans to seal off buildings manually or electronically to prevent a gunman from moving from place to place. The lockdown may do little to prevent casualties, however: Almost all college shootings have taken place in one location — in just one building, if not just one classroom. And a lockdown introduces dangers of its own. The same locks that bar a gunman from entering classrooms and dorms can also prevent potential victims from escaping into a locked building if they are being chased by a gunman.

Perhaps the most important change inspired by Virginia Tech is a renewed emphasis on mental health services. And given that there are many times more suicides on campus than homicides, this could benefit countless students, the vast majority of whom pose no danger to others. Over the past year, one-third of campus counseling centers have added staff members, including psychiatrists, and 15 percent of campus counseling centers have received larger budgets.

But this approach, too, may fail to identify and stop a violent student. Thousands of college students are depressed or even suicidal, but there is no consistent profile of a person who turns from disappointment and frustration to violent rage.

Colleges are not helpless in preventing and responding to campus shootings. Certain measures clearly make sense. Every university should have a well-trained and sufficiently large security force. Faculty and staff members should be trained to handle volatile students and situations. And it pays to conduct emergency preparedness drills, but not ones that involve students nor ones that are staged when classes are in session.

By overreacting to Virginia Tech, not only are college administrators instituting security measures that may well prove ineffective, but they are also undermining the carefree atmosphere of campus life. They chance making students feel like walking targets.

I especially worry that the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings will mean endless replaying of video images of that campus under siege. With last year’s shooting there, and the Valentine’s Day massacre at Northern Illinois University, the violence on campuses feels like a conflagration. There is no need to stoke the flames.

James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice and law, policy and society at Northeastern University, is a co-author of “The Will to Kill” and “Extreme Killing.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mentally Ill Children

This article is correct with the concept that a lot of mental illness is present in younger school-age children. This illness goes un-diagnosed sometimes with these young children. I have worked, as an educator, with 5th grade students who were already taking Lithium. It is frightening to think of what will happen to their brain cells and body chemistry if they continue to take anti-psychotic drugs for life. That could be seventy years of serious drugs. I do recognize that some drugs are the only thing to help maintain a severe mental illness, but I am encouraged by the research coming out about chemicals and dyes found in the food that a lot of children are eating. These chemicals and dyes have been found to increase and sometimes create ADD and ADHD in children. This is research that should be taken seriously and watched closely for excellent results.

Parents, advocates push for better mental health care for kids

By Steve Landwehr
Staff writer

SALEM — Sally Padden, chief justice for the Essex County Juvenile Court, had a somber message for parents and advocates gathered in Salem yesterday morning to push for better mental health care for children.

Sooner or later, she said, we pay the price for not treating children.

"I guarantee that if you walk into Middleton Jail or Cedar Junction, 90 percent of the inmates had problems when they were 5 years old that weren't treated," Padden said.

Padden was one of about 60 child advocates packed into a room at Children's Friend and Family Services to promote greater awareness and better treatment of kids with mental health issues. They were also lobbying legislators for passage of a bill, currently in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, that would ensure early screening, prevent overly long stays in psychiatric hospitals, improve coordination of services and increase coverage for children with mental illness.

Lisa Lambert, executive director of the Parent/Professional Advocacy League, offered a compelling statistic.

"We have the No. 9 expulsion rate (from kindergarten) in the country," Lambert said. "Only eight states expel more than we do."

Many of those expulsions are the result of undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, Lambert said.

Marblehead's Betsey Cassidy has three sons, all enrolled in Marblehead public schools and all diagnosed with mental health issues. Her oldest, Brian, is 16. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 7.

She and her son's psychiatrist eventually found a combination of medications that kept Brian fairly stable, but Cassidy had problems convincing his teachers he had the disorder. They also tried to get her to take Brian off his medications and give him Ritalin instead.

Ritalin helped Brian learn better, Cassidy said, but had nasty side effects, including severe tics.

Brian's care became a battle when he was in seventh grade. Cassidy said he was going through a particularly difficult time, and the psychiatrist, who was out of town and unable to consult with school officials, told her to get Brian into a hospital immediately.

She called the hospital and the school nurse, but when she arrived at school, the nurse told her she had called the hospital and told them Brian didn't need to be hospitalized.

"She treated me really badly," Cassidy said. "That woman thought she knew more about my son than I did."

Lack of understanding

Several parents spoke to the frustrations of dealing with a health care system they said is failing them. Lack of resources has created what is called the "stuck kid" syndrome.

Parents take their child to the emergency room, where treatment in a psychiatric hospital is recommended — but there are no beds available, anywhere. And if more home-based mental health services were available, advocates said, kids might not get "stuck" in a restrictive hospital environment to begin with.

Rodel Treggiari of Salem said she and her husband ended up spending $1,600 a month for 18 months — money they could ill afford — to get their daughter the treatment she needed.

Cassidy said she doesn't think school officials act inappropriately intentionally. She said she thinks they just don't understand mental health problems in children and don't recognize that the diseases don't come with age limitations.

Schools are geared toward learning and are good when dealing with learning disabilities, less so with mental health problems, she said.

The bill that advocates are backing is estimated to cost about $4.7 million. It's not a large sum as state budget items go, but state Rep. Steve Walsh, D-Lynn, cautioned that in this budget crisis, every program is fighting over a limited supply of money.

Betsey Cassidy continues to have good days and bad ones, but her determination to support her sons is paying at least one dividend

"When he was in the seventh grade in school he was told he'd never be anything more than he was right then. He's going to graduate (high school), and I think he's going to go to college," she said proudly.

Children's mental health statistics

r More than 140,000 young people in Massachusetts need mental health services. More than 100,000 do not receive them.

r The number of children with mental health needs is greater than the number with leukemia, diabetes and HIV/AIDS combined.

r Of youths involved in state and local juvenile justice systems, 70 percent suffer from mental disorders.

r Nearly 50 percent of the students with a mental disorder drop out of school.

r Ninety percent of children who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable disorder. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people 10 to 24.

Source: Children's Mental Health Campaign

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Money paid to Mentally Ill Victim's Families

Another twist in the shooting on Virginia Tech's campus. Whose money is being spent to pay these families of the victims? This would not be happening either if that young man had proper mental health care.

Not all pleased with state's proposed deal to families of Tech shooting victims

Posted to: News Virginia Tech Shootings Virginia

Dale Harris, background left, and John Meston, members of Nansemond River Baptist Church, hang ribbons April 19, 2007, in memory of Virginia Tech shooting victim Nicole White. (Genevieve Ross | The Virginian-Pilot)

A proposed multimillion-dollar settlement by Virginia to head off lawsuits over the Virginia Tech mass shooting offers $100,000 to each of the families of those killed; payment and insurance for medical and counseling expenses for families and surviving victims; and repeated opportunities to question the governor and university officials, in person, about the tragedy and its aftermath.

The mediated agreement isn't pleasing everyone, though.

"My people are pretty unhappy with it, and I don't blame them," said Edward Jazlowiecki, one of the lawyers representing the family of Henry Lee, a sophomore from Roanoke who was among the 32 students and professors killed by gunman Seung-Hui Cho in the April 16, 2007, attacks.

Like other families, Jazlowiecki's clients fault Virginia Tech for not better warning or protecting students after the first two students were killed.

"One hundred thousand dollars for a human life is an insult, an absolute insult," Jazlowiecki said.

It's also Virginia's legal maximum when suing the state in cases of simple negligence, as opposed to gross negligence or willful misconduct. Juries could be asked to determine which, if any, of these standards applies to the Virginia Tech tragedy if any families decide to sue.

Families and victims already have received payments ranging from $11,500 to $208,000 from the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, created from more than $8 million in donations that poured in for victims and the Blacksburg school after the shootings. Some recipients used part or all of the money to endow memorial scholarships.

The proposed state settlement is still being negotiated and revised, participants said. According to a copy obtained by The Virginian-Pilot and dated March 14, families have until Monday to decide whether to participate. If they do, they agree not to sue the state - including Virginia Tech - the town of Blacksburg, Montgomery County or the local New River Valley Community Services Board, which provides mental-health services.

Roger O'Dell of Roanoke, whose son, Derek, was wounded, said families were asked not to discuss the settlement negotiations. He added that his son has made no decision - he doesn't want to become adversarial toward the school that he loves, but he has been told his lifetime counseling costs could range from $125,000 to $500,000, plus higher health-insurance costs because of his pre-existing conditions.

Post-traumatic stress disorder "could flare up at any time and could be disabling without regular treatment," Roger O'Dell said. "He'll have constant reminders because he'll have the bullet holes."

The proposal seeks to have all agreements signed by April 15 - one day before the first anniversary of the shooting rampage in which disturbed senior Cho killed two students in a dorm and 30 more in Norris Hall classrooms, wounded or injured another 27, and then killed himself.

The proposal also states that "(p)articipation by nearly all claimants is necessary. The Commonwealth may withdraw the proposal if there is insufficient agreement for settling claims on these terms."

Among the terms:

- A Direct Payment Fund that, in addition to paying $100,000 each to representatives of the 32 deceased victims, would provide a total of $800,000 for the injured, with a maximum of $100,000 to any individual.

- A Special Damages Fund to reimburse or advance expenses for medical, psychological and psychiatric care for victims and immediate families that is not covered by insurance.

- An attempt to provide to "seriously injured victims" state employee health insurance at employee rates, which would require changes to the state budget and possibly state law. If that is impossible, negotiations would continue over ways to provide coverage.

- Attempts to provide free or reduced-fee treatment through the University of Virginia or Virginia Commonwealth University health systems, with fees covered by the Special Damages Fund.

- A two-pronged, state-administered $3.5 million Public Purpose Fund. Half of the money would be for charitable purposes, such as campus safety and related grants or remembrance activities, decided on by a board of victims, family members and state officials. The other half would be for payments to victims and family members suffering "severe hardship, injury or loss" from the shootings. A neutral party would evaluate requests, and payments to any individual would be capped at 7.5 percent of the hardship fund. Money left over from the Direct Payment Fund also would go into the Public Purpose Fund.

- The Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, scheduled to close this past December, would remain open for at least five years for new contributions to its scholarship fund.

- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine would meet personally with victims and family members three more times in the next two years before he leaves office to review legislative and administrative actions taken in response to the shootings and other family concerns.

- Within six months of the settlement, victims and families would meet with senior Virginia Tech officials, including President Charles Steger and police Chief Wendell Flinchum, for an overview of campus changes, to ask questions, and to weigh in on April 16 remembrance activities. Also within that time, Flinchum and Virginia State Police would update victims and families on the shooting investigation and answer questions.

- Families would be able to contribute to and review contents of an electronic document archive relating to April 16.

- Lawyers from the Washington firm of Bode & Grenier, representing 20 families, would receive $750,000 in fees plus $50,000 for expenses. Others who had filed notices on behalf of families would receive $25,000.

Several of them, as well as a lawyer in the governor's office overseeing the mediation, either declined to comment or didn't return phone calls Monday.