#thanksTerry – Iowa’s governor’s push to privatize Title XIX and gut the already rickety mental health system will make 2017 the year mental health gets real in Iowa

The reality of mental health treatment – and the biggest challenge our prisons, law enforcement, and health care providers face today – is keeping patients safe in state or private mental health beds while implementing proper medication regimes, initiating proper therapy, providing community support, and developing a plan for ongoing therapy.

Estherville, Iowa Police Chief Brent Shatto told Congressman Steve King of Iowa’s fourth district that mental health was one of the greatest challenges to law enforcement in the town. Officers sometimes wait for hours in the ER with individuals in mental health crisis as hospital staff work to place them in one of only 64 state psychiatry beds. But wait. Current Department of Corrections inmates already occupy two-thirds of those beds, leaving only 24 public and just over 700 private beds for approximately 123,000 Iowans living with a major mental illness.

Mental health care has always been the ghetto of health care; that fact is not unique to Iowa. Now as people who were recently living in a residential facility return prematurely to the community, they will require all the support available, and even that won’t be sufficient to handle their needs.

The community-based supports that struggled to meet the needs of people living in the community, who were relatively stable on medications, therapy, and alternative treatments, will be unable to get help when they need it.

Those yet to be diagnosed, who are suffering from their symptoms, will be told it could be six months, or even longer, before they can see a professional.

Whose lives will be lost in this denial of critical care? How many will lose the lives, careers, relationships they had because they were able to manage symptoms with the help of their doctors and therapists, but now are turned away from treatment because their care team is overburdened?

It’s already broken, and now the pieces are spilling out all over in the form of more children acting out in class, more parents neglecting their children, more reports of suicide and substance use, more arrests, more acting out in pain.

In Estherville, a task force of several dozen is looking at the problem of children younger than 13, who cannot be helped in the juvenile justice system, but who have severe issues of attacking teachers and other students, acting out of what appears to be trauma of unknown origin, or which could well be organic, physical brain illness which, if it was treated like any other illness, could be improved greatly with the treatments now available.

Where will these children be in a few years if there is no help for them now?

I admit I had looked at other things like hunger, homelessness, medical cannabis for the past while, which reduced my capacity for mental health advocacy. As an adoptee, I have had four parents. Three have died due in whole or in part to mental illness: my birth father due to schizophrenia, my mother who raised me from under-treated depression; she had a fatal heart condition, but chose her day, and my father who raised me from seasonal affective disorder, self-medicated, which developed into closet alcoholism.

While I’m part of a posse of badass advocates, including Andy Behrman, author of “Electroboy: A Memoir,” and single dad of two extraordinary tweens; Speaker/Advocate Gabe Howard, Laurel Roth Patton, John McManamy, who started McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web before mental health websites were a thing, and who has authored a number of books between playing the digideroo, and others too numerous to list here, the death of Carrie Fisher has spurred me to do what I have talked about for years: develop media products of investigative and solutions journalism to at least suggest a future for Iowa and beyond.

The Stanley brothers deliver a Realm of Caring.

Five Colorado brothers, Jon, Jordan, Joel, Jesse and Jared began breeding strains of the  cannabis sativa plant in 2009 to contain higher concentrations of CBD with lower concentrations of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis).

Their efforts gave rise to the Realm of Caring company. They’re not just breeders, growers, manufacturers or distributors — the Realm of Caring provides help with access and support for patients with intractable epilepsy, Dravet’s syndrome, and other serious conditions, as well as the parents of children who suffer with these ailments.

Many neurological illnesses are not successfully treated by pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine. Intractable seizures are so life-quality limiting and debilitating, patients become desperate for any relief.

Cannabidioil is often the answer to the problem of brain diseases and disorders. Charlotte’s Web cannabis oil is carefully cultivated,

lovingly produced under the best scientific conditions, and distributed to as many patients in need as possible.

Medical cannabis legal in Iowa — but not

iowa cannabis

This is the conflict. It’s a battle between patients with intractable disease, and in the case of children, their parents, and legislators who don’t want to be reckless.

We’ve told the story of so many patients in Iowa, and especially children who have intractable epilepsy and other conditions, and they’re at odds with legislators who sympathize with the conditions, or so they say, but they can’t find it in their conscience to make the legislation. But they cannot just say no in the face of their suffering constituents. So what to do?

Pass a bandaid solution. That is what the Iowa Medical Cannabis Act really is. According to Iowa Senator Bill Dotzler, what patients are finding is that they cannot find a catalyst for getting medical cannabis in their hands. The cannabis cards made possible by the passage of the Act have not made cannabidiol more accessible to them because right now no one in Iowa can grow the cannabis sativa plant, and no one can bring in marijuana products or hemp products to Iowa.

Hemp, as we reported last week, was legal and used for a variety of purposes. It was the major medicinal ingredient used in the U.S. before it was outlawed. Dr. Donald Abrams of Stanford University attempted to test cannabidiol for its effectiveness in countering the body wasting of patients with AIDS, but his research was blocked by governing authorities. Meanwhile there are patients who cannot wait.

When the brain has endured a number of seizures, brain cells are broken down and you cannot get them back, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

This is what Jennifer knows: the cannabis from CW Botanicals that Liam is taking — it’s helping him. He’s found relief from seizures. Harli from Fonda, Iowa — it’s helped her be self-determining in her own life. This is anecdotal evidence, as parents like Jennifer find a way, researchers suspect the evidence will grow into a collection of data.

The data will convince the people who need to be convinced the most — the legislators standing in the way of patients getting the relief they need.

The other element to this, of course, is big pharmaceutical money. Is the strong possibility that the pharmaceutical industry will lose money if cannabis is legalized a factor in the slowness to effective legislation?

Two medical cannabis experts in social media

The issue with medical cannabis is that the evidence of its effectiveness is anecdotal. This creates controversy in which lawmakers seem to put their fear of a patient getting high (nearly impossible with trace amounts of THC in medical strains) above relieving pain, seizures, tremors, mental illness, and other debilitating disorders.

Two international experts emerge from divergent corners to add to the base of data about the effects of medical marijuana on serious illnesses.

The first is Kyle Kushman. Kushman, a former editor of High Times Magazine is now host of The Grow Show and has spent the last two decades perfecting the cultivation of cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use. His current focus is on making medical cannabis available to patients.

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There were no mentions of Kushman on LinkedIn, but he does have a  profile.

On Google+, Kushman promotes news and videos about medical cannabis, including this one about the Cannabusiness summit.

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On Facebook, Kushman’s presence is expanding as he also promotes his show.


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There’s no typical profile of a homeless person. Check here.

Todd Lowe does not fit the stereotype of a person who has been homeless.

He grew up in a typical middle class home with a teacher mom and banker dad. He married and he and his wife amassed an affluent life with a nice house and cars, and plenty of money for purchases, vacations and a social life.

“When I turned 40, everything fell apart,” Lowe said. “I bear a large responsibility for it. I lost everything — my marriage, my home, my finances, my job — I had nowhere to go, and no one to turn to. So many of my family and friends abandoned me, and I was taken in by strangers.”

Lowe found a job running a coffee shop in a mostly abandoned former mill town in North Carolina. Though the town was a textile powerhouse for over a century, when the industry left, nothing remained for the people there, and the town died.

For a while after he was out of his home, Lowe slept in his car. Then he became a Macgyver of homeless people, and called upon a get-it-done ethic learned as a Marine when he outfitted the basement of the coffee shop as a makeshift apartment.


Homeless Infographic 2

“I made a bathtub out of the utility sink. I went to the hardware store and bought a shower nozzle and long tube. I found a plastic bin at a farm store that would usually serve as a water trough for animals. I washed my clothes in a five gallon bucket — that was a huge change from the $2,000 washer that had cleaned my clothes a short time before this. But my clothes still ended up clean.”

There was an upside to poverty for Lowe. “When you have a few dollars, and you only need another dollar to afford something you want, and you get it, you’re thankful. When someone would bring me lunch, so I could save my tips from the coffee shop for another day, I was thankful. Affluence can take away your gratefulness when you think your good fortune is all on you.”

When asked what is one thing an individual can do if a homeless person is in his or her path, Lowe said, “Everyone who helped me had been in a similar situation before, or was going through a tough time. I wish others would realize it’s not difficult to find yourself in a dire situation and to reach out instead of judging.”

While Lowe did not have a criminal conviction on his record, it takes very little for a criminal conviction to bar a person who is homeless from having a roof. Housing organizations are beginning to consider mitigating circumstances in deciding to award housing assistance, or to extend a lease, instead of canceling it.

Lowe reported that while he had relatives whose homes could have provided  short-term shelter for him, as they had plenty of extra space, they declined.

While the mayor of San Francisco claimed victory as 8,000 people were housed with family members willing to take them in, homeless advocate and long time executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, Jennifer Friedenbach says it’s “ridiculous” that the program of purchasing bus tickets to reunite San Francisco’s homeless individuals with family in other locations is considered a cure for homelessness.

“Unless something new and aggressive is done, we’ll stay in a holding pattern,” Friedenbach said.

In the San Francisco neighborhoods most in need, the shelter is almost comically inadequate, Friedenbach said. “Two homeless shelters in our Mission neighborhood provide only 85 beds, and those are only for men.” There are no services for women and families in the area.

Budget cuts during the recession impacted the ability to serve the homeless, according to Friedenbach. “In a time the government should be doing more to serve the destitute, they actually do less,” she said.


The Homeless — they’re just like us but without a roof

I’m trying to put all my hats together and in the process I’m becoming an unmanageable hyphenate: playwright/activist/journalist/ nonprofit exec/supermodel

That is, all except the last part.

Playwright: I wrote this play called The Feast of Jovi Bono that was presented in New York in 2013. Since then, I have jumped into a Master’s in New Media Journalism that has led me to try to put all of my content into Tweets, videos, podcasts, Instagram images, Facebook, and any other digital packet that could arise.

Behind each play is an activism cause, and on this site I will report on the investigation of those issues. Coming soon: the story of how my director team for The Feast of Jovi Bono in Boston went out in the ugly early snowy morning to volunteer with the homeless. They connected with #BostonWarm — a collection of people in various places who help the homeless through the particularly ghastly winter that has hit Boston this month.

The directors, Laurie and Marina, learned that Boston’s homeless have a writer’s group and a literary magazine edited by a staffer at The Atlantic: http://www.thepilgrim.org/#!about/c69s

All this is not only to plan for the activism project that we hope will engage the entire cast, crew and audience for the play (which will be performed in Boston in June) but also to create awareness of homelessness.

Meanwhile, my research is showing that the number one way communities and policymakers can end homelessness is by putting people in homes. It will improve educational outcomes for the children. It will improve the health of people with mental illness (who make up a huge chunk of the homeless population). It will reduce criminal activity, substance abuse, joblessness, and all the other ills that come with not having an address of one’s own.

Our production cannot put people in homes, but it’s my goal that no one experience my shows without doing something to alleviate the issues I raise in them — in this case homelessness.

Coming soon — an educational and outreach video.


Does the cure have to go down like medicine?

I’m working on a show about a lot of things, not the least of which is medical marijuana. It’s called “Elvira, the Druggist,” after St. Elvira of Spain, one of the first women in that country to earn a degree in pharmacology, who was later executed for protecting those who stood up against the tyrannical government that was then in power. If you’re interested there is more information here.

In the play, opponents of medical marijuana worry that patients who take it to alleviate the symptoms and complications from seizures, multiple sclerosis, pain, glaucoma, AIDS, mental illness, and cancer will experience a high. Explore this with me. The fear is that some pleasure might come from a plant that could provide relief from some of the most painful and debilitating conditions to affect humans?

Must medicine be — medicine? Must it be chemo and radiation that cause hair to fall out, crushing fatigue, and a weakened immune system? Must it be giant pills that cause indigestion and heartburn? Must it be a pharmacy in a bag of dozens of medications daily, which cause additional symptoms, which are alleviated by another pill, all of which costs hundreds or thousands of dollars each month, which patients often do not have because they miss a lot of work, or they cannot go to work, due to the original sickness and the sickness from the cure.

Does it sound paranoid to believe big pharma can be harmful? The pharmaceutical industry has done a lot of good, and there are miracle drugs on the market.

There are also killers. Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy, started out as a spokesman for Bristol Meyers Squibb, makers of Abilify. Behrman’s fight with BMS is covered well in this Wall Street Journal article.

Behrman experienced nearly all of the possible side effects of Abilify in his first several days of taking the drug. He made a YouTube video that went viral, cautioning against Abilify. http://youtu.be/9VzMZX4nBz8

Abilify is a researched, FDA approved pill. Behrman stopped taking Abilify because he “didn’t want to experience the final side effect — death.”

Back to medical marijuana. THC is the ingredient in cannabis that causes a high. Medical marijuana has lowered concentrations of THC, which means it is virtually impossible to be high on the medical strains. It is difficult to find a non-biased source for breed and formula information about medical marijuana, but here, the group Safe Access Now discusses the various forms of cannabis available with pros and cons of each.

What if there was a high? What if a person with chronic seizures, with pain from cancer, with deadly depressions, with debilitating multiple sclerosis, had a pleasurable effect from the bit of THC? Does medicine always have to be something we choke down? Can there never be a positive side effect to a medicinal product? Whom is cleared to judge a patient who experiences more than the intended symptom relief? Why would it be such a bad thing?

All my creative works involve three components: the artistry, which I strive to make top-notch; the investigative and biographical studies on the historical people and the 21st century issues; and the public service part — I hope the entire audience cast and crew will get out and do something about it.

For now: what do you think of medical marijuana? Do you think making darn sure no one is getting a buzz should be the main concern?

Electroboy is a character/Andy is a guy – separating man from mania years after recovery from bipolar disorder

This past week marked a birthday of fifty-something for Andy Behrman. It wasn’t an age he thought he would reach when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his twenties. In his life a continent and two decades removed from when his life matched the pace of New York, he now spends his single father days with his young daughters, Emma and Kate.

“The penne is too…penne,” Kate says, over a plate of pasta at Cheesecake Factory. A family outing in the suburbs of southern California presents a wild contrast from Andy’s birthday twenty years ago, spent in a work-release facility after he was convicted of art forgery and fraud in a New York federal court. The book, Electroboy, is approaching its thirteenth birthday and covered mostly events in the 1990s that led to upper class nice Jewish young man Andy’s criminal involvement. With the growing pains of the book’s adolescence, Andy is working with a new team on bringing the book to the big screen.

The root of his issues as a young man was bipolar disorder — a mental illness characterized by extremes of wild mania: impulsive spending, sleeplessness, hypersexuality, high energy, poor judgment, sometimes rages and uncontrollable wild behavior, and followed by a crash into depression. Before his diagnosis, Andy used the manic energy to his advantage, brokering huge public relations deals and landing a job with a major art dealership. The impulsivity built up, and he traveled along with a coworker on a scheme to forge paintings and sell them for profit. It was a great gig until it fell apart and it landed him in jail.

A few years later, the book was published by Random House to a lot of noise.

“Perhaps because i had been a promoter for years, the book became successful and there was a lot of media attention surrounding it (and oddly, glamour – – parties thrown by Tina Brown, blah, blah, blah). But finally, mental illness was being openly discussed (in a raw and gritty way – – and with a funny guy doing the talking) all the way back in 2002. And then came my anti-pharma campaign, after working as the spokesman who launched Abilify for Bristol Myers Squibb and ended in me coming clean and telling the media what i really knew (i.e. cover of the Wall Street Journal). everything since 2002 – – since Electroboy was published – – has been, in my mind, blown up in the media.”

Something as shocking — if you will — as electroshock therapy became glamorous and for a while Electroboy, with it’s bright yellow and contrast black cover, became the book everyone read on the subway and in the therapist’s office.

Andy’s need for a more relaxed lifestyle and his then-wife’s career in film development precipitated their move to laid back southern California. Soon thereafter, Kate was born, debuted in an interview at the Behrman’s home in a video produced by Stephen Fry. A year later, Emma was born. Family life had a stabilizing effect on Behrman and he had no more arrests or hospitalizations. In his divorce, he was considered the stable parent and now has full custody of Kate and Emma. Behrman continues to be a mental health advocate.