Articles Posted in mental health

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John Christiana was a California resident who had a long history of schizophrenia-related symptoms. Throughout his life, he also committed many crimes in the central region of California. In September 2008, for example, the state charged Christiana with grand theft, vandalism, and unlawful possession of a firearm. Then, in April of 2009, the state charged him with arson for starting a fire at the Schulman Grove Visitor Center in Bristlecone Pine Forest. At a trial for these crimes, four medical professionals evaluated his competence. All four noted that Christiana might have schizophrenia or a paranoid version of it, and three professionals determined him too incompetent to stand trial. With antipsychotic medication Christiana would be competent to stand trial.   The trial judge ordered Christiana to take the antipsychotic medication, but he refused to follow the order.

In California, the State has the right to administer antipsychotic medication when a defendant’s psychosis interferes with a trial. Sell v United States, a Supreme Court case, allowed states to medicate individuals too incompetent to stand trial. In Sell, the Court established a four-factor criteria that all states must follow: (1) Is the crime considered serious? (2) Will antipsychotic medication restore competency? (3) Are there less intrusive methods for restoring competency? (4) Would the drug produce serious side effects?

When Christiana appealed the judge’s order, the appeals court determined his Constitutional Right to Due Process had been violated even though he had refused to take any medication.  The Appellate Court found that the Sell factors 2 and 4 were not met. The experts had failed to  recommend a specific antipsychotic medication and further failed to consider what side effects would result from taking it.

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Recently, I was one of the first attorneys to have a client granted Mental Health Diversion

pursuant to Penal Code Section 1000.36. The catch to getting such a motion granted is to put

together a treatment plan that convinces the judge that the defendant can successfully

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Stephen Collins, the actor, told the truth to his therapist. He wanted help with a disease. He felt sick and needed guidance. So he told his therapist about touching young girls in a sexual manner thinking it was a very private and emotional moment. He hoped it would lead to greater understanding by him and help in his therapy.

Big surprise! Not everything you tell your psychologist or psychiatrist is private. In fact, the mental health professional was under an obligation to report such behavior to law enforcement. Instead of leading to help, opening up to your therapist can land you in jail. Just ask Stephen Collins after the police arrested him.

A therapist is required to report acts of child molestation to law enforcement unless it’s already been reported and he is willing to rely on that as satisfying his reporting obligation. You might think that this would have a chilling effect on individuals seeking treatment. You would be right on that score.

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Are you worried that a loved one with mental health issues is being railroaded by the system? As a society our understanding and compassion for those who suffer mental health issues is still evolving. But when a loved one suffers under the weight of such an issue, this evolution can seem painfully slow. For instance, sometimes loved ones suffer from an affliction that robs them of their ability to understand the consequences of their actions, or to even understand what is going on around them at all. Unfortunately, the District Attorney’s office will not take this into account when piling charge after charge against your loved one. In fact, they’re likely to accuse them of “faking it” or “making it up.” No one else will watch out for your loved one’s interests during a criminal proceeding except for their attorney.

For instance, in California, Penal Code Section 1368 allows for an attorney to express a doubt to the court over whether or not their client is competent to take part in criminal proceedings. The Court must hold a hearing if such a declaration is made, and through this hearing your loved one may be given grace to receive treatment for their disease(s). While this does not erase the criminal charges against them, it does mean that they will be assured a stay at a hospital that can effectively nurse them back to health. Only when they’re able to understand the serious nature of the charges against them and provide help in their defense can they be subjected to the stresses of the criminal justice system

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The recent shootings in Connecticut have been used to call for gun reform. The critics of the Right to Bear Arms guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment are calling for the abolition of gun owners’ right to own firearms. Restrictions on gun ownership are sought in an effort to curb gun violence. These calls are in response to the horrible crimes which have been perpetrated on innocent children and bystanders in our schools and public places. Guns are portrayed as the reason for the violence. I would contend that gun control in the form of restriction of the sale and possession of automatic weapons and weapons that contain multiple shot magazines are already regulated and can be even more restrictive. Not because they are the cause of these shootings, but because no law abiding citizen needs to own a firearm that can fire many times without reloading. We don’t live in a war zone and don’t need to be equipped to do combat. However, guns are not the inherent evil at work in these tragedies. Untreated or under treated mental illness is.

Almost every mass shooting that has been committed in recent memory has been perpetrated by a gunman suffering from mental illness. “Socially awkward” is a phrase used in the press because it is politically correct. In reality, it appears that it is a euphemism for mental illness. Many times individuals who have significant mental illnesses are being under treated or not treated at all. People suffering from mental illness often don’t want to take their medication because of the effect is has on them. Medication also brands the person taking the medication as mentally deficient in some way. Negative social stigma is a deterrent to taking medication or even being diagnosed.

Society has chosen not to invest in mental health for our children or adults. Many of the homeless people on the street suffer from a mental illness. State legislators have chosen to close mental health facilities in order to save money. Instead of saving money, this policy choice has cost more money and lives. We must reexamine our priorities and commit to better funding to meet the mental health challenges of our people. Treating the symptom, such as gun violence, is not the answer. We need to treat the cause, mental illness. If we find more treatment for those afflicted with mental disease we won’t need the draconian gun control measures currently advocated as “the solution”.

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