Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ABA Article on Mental Disability and Capital Punishment

The Spring 2007 issue of Human Rights Magazine, a quarterly publication of the American Bar Association's Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities, now is available online. This issue focuses on various aspects of the death penalty and includes an article by Ron Tabak entitled "Mental Disability and Capital Punishment: A More Rational Approach to a Disturbing Subject." In his article, Tabak describes the ABA recommendation that calls for a prohibition on the death penalty for persons with severe mental illness.

Read the full ABA Recommendation and Report on the Death Penalty and Persons with Mental Disabilities, as it appeared in the Mental and Physical Disability Law Review.

Read the other articles in Human Rights Magazine.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Advancing Mental Health through Consumer Involvement

Next Thursday, October 25th, the Texas Health Institute will host a forum entitled "Advancing Mental Health through Consumer Involvement." The forum will examine the current state of consumer involvement in Texas and the United States.

Speakers include:

  • Stephany Bryan, Technical Assistance Coordinator, Federation of Families
  • Maria Felix-Ortiz, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor in Psychology, University of the Incarnate Word (Dr. Felix-Ortiz has a weekly column in the San Antonio Express-News)
  • Carolyn Nava, Social Advocate, Leadership International
  • David Knudsen, Ph.D., Organizational Consultant, Oklahoma Innovation Center
  • Jack Szczepanowski, J.D., CEO, Value Options

The forum will take place from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM at the United Methodist Church Family Center; 1300 Lavaca St; Austin, TX 78701. Parking is available at the Doubletree Guest Suites; 303 W. 15th Street. A networking lunch will follow from 12:00 to 1:00 PM. Registration is free.

Contact Amanda Conway at Texas Health Institute for more information: or (512) 279-3907.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The history of HPD crisis team and why city needs it

That's the title of an op-ed that appeared this past Sunday in the Houston Chronicle by Betsy Schwartz and Steven Schnee. Schwartz is the president and CEO of the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston. Schnee is executive director of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County.

Here is an excerpt:

"There has been much discussion recently about the Houston Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). As individuals who were involved in the establishment of CIT, we want to ensure people understand why it was originally created and how it serves our community.

Unfortunately, there are not enough mental health services in the community to meet the needs of individuals with mental illness. Until the resources are available to significantly build that capacity, law enforcement will continue to have frequent encounters with people experiencing psychiatric crises."

Read the entire op-ed at

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Do you know the facts about mental illness?

Today, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Dr. María Félix-Ortiz's column in the San Antonio Express-News presents a series of true/false questions to test your knowledge about mental illness. Can you answer these questions correctly?

Mental illness is the 10th leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. True or False?

False. Mental illness is the second leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. By 2020, depression will be the leading cause of disability worldwide.

One in 4 of us will need to use mental health services at one point or another in our lives. T or F?

True. No one is immune from mental health problems; some problems are minor and quickly addressed, while others are more challenging, and some are lifelong struggles requiring ongoing medication, therapy and community support.

Schizophrenia is split personality. T or F?

False. It is a disorder of thought, emotion and perception; it is not multiple personality disorder. We call that "Dissociative Identity Disorder."

Treatments for mental illness are ineffective. T or F?

False. Mental-health services and treatment have come a long way. Treatments are effective for 70 percent to 90 percent of people who have mental illness.

Bipolar disorder is always obvious, and easy to diagnose. T or F?

False. On average, an individual with bipolar disorder will go about 10 years before getting an accurate diagnosis. About two-thirds go without adequate treatment.

Read the column in its entirety.

Editorial on Crisis Intervention Training for Houston Police

Here's an editorial that appeared October 9, 2007 in the Houston Chronicle, with regard to training the Houston police force how to deal effectively with people with mental illness:

"In the past year Houston officers have fatally shot four mentally ill people during confrontations. The rash of incidents indicates officers need much more tactical and sensitivity training in order to subdue irrational suspects while preventing unnecessary loss of life.

The Metropolitan Organization, a network of community activists, called on Mayor Bill White to institute an incentive pay program to coax officers into training as crisis intervention specialists. While the request is well-intentioned, the department is short of officers and money. Police officers should not need to be lured by more dollars to learn how to do their job and protect life.

In recent years HPD salaries have been substantially boosted. There is no need for an incentive program for police officers who already have a testing system for promotions to higher paying ranks.

As Mayor White pointed out, every HPD officer graduating from a cadet class should be an expert in dealing with the mentally ill. Unfortunately, of the nearly 4,900 officers on the force, only about 700 have had the required training. For all those in positions where they might encounter deranged suspects or supervise such situations, crisis training should be a priority.

Betsy Schwartz, head of the Mental Health Association for Greater Houston, said some officers are temperamentally unsuited for a job that requires them to control a scene without force. They should be screened out, and only properly trained officers should be sent on calls involving the mentally ill. That policy seems only reasonable, but it should not require incentive pay to implement.

State legislation already exists requiring veteran police officers to take 16 hours of training by 2009 in how to deal with mentally ill persons without resorting to violence. Yet less than 25 percent of HPD officers have taken the course two years after the Bob Meadours Act became law. The bill mandates that veteran officers must have completed the training by September 2009.

Although HPD initiated crisis training in 1999, officers have shot at least 15 mentally ill people since then. In only one of those incidents had the officer involved gone through intervention training — this despite the fact that HPD claims to have the largest officer training program for mental health in the nation. Just last month, one of HPD's trainers was in Alabama giving such instruction to the Mobile County Sheriff's Department.

It's admirable to assist other law enforcement agencies, but it would be more desirable if all appropriate Houston officers went through the program before it was marketed elsewhere. Mayor White should instruct Chief Harold Hurtt to comply with the law and make sure veteran officers receive the same crisis training that is taught to incoming cadets."

Learn more about Crisis Intervention Training from the NAMI website.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

November 9 Seminar on Restoration to Competency

On Friday, November 9, 2007, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Capacity FOR JUSTICE and Texas Mental Health Consumers will present a seminar on "Restoration to Competency Under SB 867." It will take place at the Austin State Hospital Canteen Conference Rooms, 4100 Guadalupe, Austin, Texas, 78751.

The seminar aims to update attorneys and mental health professionals and to inform, coordinate, and apply the legal, ethical, and clinical aspects of restoration to competency under Senate Bill 867. It will feature presentations by numerous legal and mental health experts from around the state. Participants receive CME/CEU or CLE credits, as well as a comprehensive training manual.

For more information, visit or email Genevieve Hearon at

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mental Illness Awareness Week

Mental Illness Awareness Week will be observed nationwide October 7-13. Local and state chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will sponsor numerous activities throughout the country.

In Austin, NAMIWALKS for the Mind of America will take place on Saturday, October 6, 2007. Here are the details:

Registration/Check-In: 9:30 am

Walk Begins: 10:30 am
Auditorium Shores Parking Lot FREE EVENT Corner of W. Riverside Drive & S. 1st Street
Free Parking is available at One Texas Center at the corner of Barton Springs Road and S. 1st Street

This event aims to to increase public awareness about mental illness and the devastating effects that it has on the lives of millions of Americans every year and raise funds for NAMI's support, education, and advocacy programs in the Austin area.

And next Friday, NAMI Austin will host an opening reception for "Fine Line: Mental Health/Mental Illness - A documentary of voices, stories, and portraits by Michael Nye". The reception will take place from 11:30 am to 2 pm at the Main Administration Building of Austin State Hospital, 4110 Guadalupe Street. The exhibit will run from October 12 to November 14. It is sponsored by NAMI Austin and the Austin State Hospital Volunteer Services Council.

RSVP for the reception by calling (512) 420-9810 or sending an email to

More information is available from NAMI Austin.

New Article Regarding Competency to Be Executed

Here's an abstract from a new article that appears in Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association:

"Law & Psychiatry: Death Row Delusions: When Is a Prisoner Competent to Be Executed?"
Paul S. Appelbaum, M.D.

This column examines a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Panetti v.Quarterman, which embraced a broader view of what makes death row prisoners incompetent to be executed. Although the defendant understood that he was to be executed and the state's purported reason for seeking his death--two criteria suggested by the Court's 1986 decision in Ford v. Wainwright--he suffered from a fixed delusion about the actual reason for his death. The Court indicated that competent prisoners must have a "rational understanding"of the reason that a death penalty is being imposed but declined to define a clear standard.

You can purchase the article for $15 online at:
American Psychiatric Association Psychiatr Serv 58:1258-1260, October 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Lois Robison Speaks Out

The new blog of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights has posted excerpts from the speakers on its panel of families of the executed at the Third International Women's Peace Conference, which took place in Dallas this past July. The panel included Lois Robison, whose son Larry suffered from severe mental illness. Larry was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 21 years old, but could not receive long-term treatment by the state because he was "not violent." He committed the brutal crimes for which he was sentenced to death during a psychotic episode, but the jury rejected his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Larry Robison was executed by the State of Texas on January 21, 2000.

Read the comments of Lois Robison: