Choices, Choices

Peering over my glasses as I ponder my choices
Peering over my glasses as I ponder my choices

 

Okay, so maybe this isn’t the proper forum to be weighing pros and cons of volunteer opportunities. So far I’ve shadowed two MHA (Mental Health Association of Orange County) Hearing Advocates to three different hospitals over two Fridays. Last Friday I was sick, and the Hearing Advocate I had hoped to shadow never called.

(I’m using the term patient, not consumer, in this post since I’m talking about hospitals. I consider myself both a consumer of mental health services and a patient of my mental health providers.)

The hospital nearest my home also happens to be the nicest of the three at which I trained. I mean, how many hospital psych wards have ocean views? I do not know if the program is as good as it was a decade ago when I was voluntarily admitted. I was inpatient for two weeks and partially hospitalized for a few months until the program got repetitive. Back then the hospital was under different ownership and their program was highly respected and highly structured. Patients were not allowed to mill about and loiter. You were in group, actively participating, or you were to stay in your room. During breaks and in the evening, we could enjoy the break room, watch TV, and “walk the circuit” since the bedrooms were arranged in a semi-circle with offices in the center. The layout enabled fluid movement, as opposed to walking up and down halls with locked doors at either end, which results in rather unsettling and caged pacing.

I do not know the details of the programs at the three hospitals where I trained. I do know that I felt uncomfortable at the two I visited on my last Friday of shadowing. Patients seemed like they were wandering about without much structure. Perhaps it was too close to lunch time, but many of the patients seemed either too symptomatic or unresponsive to participate in structured group activities. I sensed that at any time, someone could go off and chaos would ensue. (Actually, I witnessed chaos at both hospitals in response to decisions made by the Hearing Officer. Decisions that were clearly well-founded.) Needless to say, I didn’t feel particularly safe, nor did I feel welcome. There, I said it. A couple of patients saw us as part of the system that “imprisoned” them. Honestly, I was at a loss. The Hearing Officer does not want to release someone if they might turn around and kill themselves or hurt someone else. The decisions Hearing Officers make are difficult. They must balance the right to personal freedom against the need to protect. When we (those of us living with serious mental illness) are dangerously symptomatic, we cannot think clearly, and we do not always behave in our best interest, or in the best interest of others.

My other volunteer options rest with NAMI Orange County where I interviewed this morning. They have several volunteer opportunities I may enjoy and for which I may be well suited. I could be trained to be a Peer teacher for their Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Course. I could be trained to be an In Our Own Voice speaker. I could volunteer at special events by sitting at their table, handing out information, and answering questions. I could even volunteer in their office doing clerical work. I would NOT do all of these activities. That would be WAY too much. Both the Peer-to-Peer Recovery Educator and In Our Own Voice public speaking require training, which I greatly appreciate and need. I am impressed with NAMI’s structured training programs.

I NEED structure. Perceived risk of chaos and danger trigger me. I do not need that in my life. In writing this, I’m pretty sure I have made up my mind. I cannot handle being a Hearing Advocate right now. Truth be told, I respect people who are highly motivated to seek treatment and am at a loss about how to best help those with serious mental illnesses (brain disorders) who refuse help, whether due to their symptoms, or because they reject the medical model outright. I do understand not wanting to stay in a hospital in which your personal freedom is severely limited and in which you feel punished rather than healed. I am 100% behind improving our mental health system, including making psychiatric hospitals hospitable, healing and safe for patients, their visitors, their advocates, and their mental health providers.

In Our Own Voice Interview

This week I’m feeling much better than I was on Friday and over the weekend. Spending so many days in bed or slouched on the couch did a number on my lower back and hip flexors. I was in extreme pain this morning. Walking around while doing errands seems to have loosened them up again. This morning I got my hair cut and went clothes shopping to prepare for my interview tomorrow at NAMI – Orange County for their In Our Own Voice program. Here is how NAMI describes the program:

NAMI In Our Own Voice

Presentations by those who are recovering from mental illness are designed to raise awareness and reduce stigma by providing a dialogue on the issues related to recovery from severe mental illness.

In Our Own Voice: Living with Mental Illness is a recovery education presentation given by trained consumer presenters for other consumers, family members, friends, professionals, and lay audiences.

A brief, yet comprehensive interactive presentation about mental illness–including video, personal testimony, and discussion–enriches the audience’s understanding of how people with these serious disorders cope with the reality of their illnesses while recovering and reclaiming productive lives.

I love public speaking, but have had little opportunity to do so. My whole life, I loved being on stage and the center of attention. Yes, I was a drama geek, and can be theatrical.

Wish me luck. I’m nervous (and excited)!

Get Out and Vote

Mental Health Care gets my VOTE! What do YOUR candidates know about mental illness?

For those who do not receive NAMI‘s Advocacy Update, here is their email dated 10/27/14 verbatim (just copied and pasted) just in time for the US elections, the Affordable Care Act’s HealthCare.gov open enrollment (11/15 – 2/15), and Medicare Part D open enrollment.

NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness ADVOCACY UPDATE

Make Your Vote Count Today’s candidates will become tomorrow’s elected officials, with the power to make important decisions. As voters concerned about mental health care, it is critical that you learn about issues, educate candidates about the importance of mental health, and use your vote to elect representatives that will help improve mental health care in this country. Ask the important questions. Know what your voting rights and options are. Educate the candidates that mental health is a priority. Tell your candidates that “Mental Health Care Gets My Vote!”

Health Coverage Open Enrollment Starts Nov. 15  

It’s that time again! Open enrollment for health coverage is Nov. 15 through Feb. 15, 2015. New affordable plans are available, so if you do not have insurance or you need to re-enroll check out HealthCare.gov to see your options.

Things to keep in mind when choosing your health plan. Make sure:

  1. Your mental health provider is in your network.
  2. Your mental health medications are covered by your plan.
  3. That your plan is affordable, which can mean low co-pays, low co-insurance and low deductibles.

Learn more about the cross section of mental health care and the health insurance marketplace.

Bonus Read: Learn about how the Affordable Care Act is impacting the Criminal Justice System.

Medicare Part D 2015 Open Enrollment Has Begun  

Medicare Part D is a crucial program if you or a loved one is a Medicare recipient who takes medication to treat your mental illness. The new 2015 guide for Medicare Prescription Drug Annual Enrollment is now available from Medicare Access for Patients Rx (MAPRx). Compare plan choices and find the plan that best meets your prescription medication needs. All Part D plans are changing in 2015. Use the guide to get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Read the guide.

Find out if you need to make a change.

Use Medicare’s plan finder.

Enrollment for Medicare prescription drug coverage is open until Dec. 7, 2014.

Finding Ways to Help People Who Are Homeless

Reducing long-term homelessness is a priority for NAMI in our new strategic plan for 2015 through 2017. Homelessness among people with mental illness is a tragic outcome of a broken mental health system. Addressing the needs of long-term homeless individuals, many of whom live with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, requires blending mental health services with supportive housing. Two new reports have been released which provide information about emerging best practices for blending resources to address chronic homelessness.

You can help address chronic homelessness in your state by sharing these reports with the agencies responsible for Medicaid and housing in your state and urging them to implement the best practices highlighted in these reports.

Read the reports.

Bright Spot: NAMI Policy Team Takes on Twitter

Two NAMI Policy Team leaders have joined the Twitter-verse and are actively tweeting about #MentalHealth policy! Follow them at @NAMIPolicyWonk and @DarcyGrutt to stay up to date! Below are some tweets from the last week.

You can also follow NAMI on Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you for your advocacy!

Sick with a Bug

Thursday afternoon my son threw up when we went to visit the allergist. Since then the whole family (all three of us) have been sick. I’ve been too headachy and nauseated to do much in the way of reading or writing. Been sleeping, watching TV, and playing jigsaws on my computer. Find the jigsaws relaxing.