I’ve written before about my ghost stories folder, the bookmark tab I keep of every local news story about a crime or a death or a disappearance related to mental illness. I get these stories from google alerts, mixed in with the front-page sensational trial coverage and the endless market-watch stories on psychiatric medication futures. I’ve been thinking lately that looking at these alerts day in and day out has given me a wildly different impression of the American mental health landscape than one gets without such a dedicated effort. For most people, “mental illness” news is associated with celebrity suicides, or mass shootings, or with bourgeois discourse about Anxiety and Depression(TM) and finding a good therapist. But most stories aren’t like that. They’re about small crimes, and small deaths, and small disappearances and difficulties and frustrations. They’re about an immense aspect of American life which is not necessarily shocking, but not necessarily harmless either, and I think that in order to understand why I’m so often frustrated with both the punitive/stigmatizing and woke/destigmatizing narratives of mental illness, it helps to see the landscape the way I see it.
Instead of writing an essay this week (or rather, instead of writing a second essay, since I’m bogged down writing a long, difficult draft of a longer piece about the non-pharmaceutical elements of mental health management), I want to recreate just one subsections of one week of the news alerts I get. I won’t quote each story in full, but I want to quote enough to give a sense, both of the scale, and the patterns, and the grinding dreary sadness of it all. I’m not including the dozens of “STOCK TIP: FUTURES ON NEW DRUG MARKET” stories, but otherwise: here is just one week’s worth—about twenty stories—of hits just on what is by far my lowest-volume alert: “schizoaffective disorder”.
Death penalty bill faces uncertain vote in House
Though the Texas House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would deem people convicted of capital murder ineligible for the death penalty if a jury finds that they have a severe mental illness, the bill’s author expects it to fail on final passage Thursday.
The House must approve bills on two separate days, and Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, says House Bill 1936 will run up against Republicans who support the death penalty in its second vote. Rose slid it by her colleagues Wednesday, she said, as the bill came to the floor as many members returned from lunch.
Under HB 1936, defendants could ask the jury during the sentencing phase to provide a separate determination on whether the defendant had schizophrenia, a schizoaffective disorder or a bipolar disorder at the time of the murder. Those who are found guilty and to have one of the illnesses to the degree that it hindered their decision-making process would be sentenced to life without parole.
The defense must provide a notice 30 days before the trial date that it intends to prove that the defendant had a severe mental illness. Additionally, either side or the judge can call an expert to examine the defendant.
Rose’s bill was grouped with other death penalty bills in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, where it passed along party lines 5-3 with one Republican absent. Yet, she said her bill was about mental illness policy rather than death penalty policy.
“A person can’t control what they’re born with,” said Rose, who was a mental health professional in Dallas prior to her first House election in 2013. “If you’re born with a mental illness, how are you going to be able to control that?”
Canvassing for the bill showed Rose that Texans and members of the Legislature lack mental illness awareness, she said.
“We’re the state leaders. We’re the leaders of Texas, and if we don’t understand, how can we make laws regarding mental health?” Rose said. “If we don’t understand it, how can we make good judgment on the resources and allocating funds for Texas?”
NSB man claiming to be secret agent on trial in grandmother’s killing
DAYTONA BEACH — Did Patrick Campbell believe four years ago that he was a “United States agent” sent by the “master of ceremonies” on a “sanctioned mission” to kill his grandmother at her New Smyrna Beach home?
Or did Campbell, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, simply want the money that his grandmother was keeping in her safe, and made up the bizarre story to claim he’s not guilty by reason of insanity for the 64-year-old’s 2015 slaying.
That’s a question a jury of 13 people, nine women and four men including an alternate, will decide as Campbell goes on trial this week before Circuit Judge Matt Foxman at the S. James Foxman Justice Center in Daytona Beach.
Campbell, 31, is accused of using a rock and knife to fatally beat and stab his grandmother, Darlene Robertson, on March 17, 2015. Campbell is charged with first-degree murder, robbery and grand theft auto. If convicted on the murder count, he faces a mandatory life in prison.
There is no dispute Campbell killed his grandmother. There is no dispute he has a mental illness. The legal fight centers on whether Campbell was legally insane when he killed his grandmother. And Campbell has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
The two sides have opposing experts who will testify on that point during the trial.
“Patrick Campbell the defendant in this case killed his grandmother, Darlene Robertson, in a violent and brutal encounter,” said Assistant State Attorney Ryan Will who is prosecuting the case along with Tammy Jaques. “He beat her in the face and head with a landscaping rock. He used a kitchen knife to repeatedly stab her in the chest and then he cut her throat. The killing was premeditated and the defendant is not denying his actions.”
Will said Campbell knew that killing his grandmother was wrong and went to a criminal defense lawyer after the crime.
“He was using that CIA story as another way to cover up his crime,” Will said.
Assistant Public Defender Matt Phillips said Campbell did not know the consequences of his actions and or did not know right from wrong at the time of the murder.
“You’ve already heard there is no dispute. Patrick Campbell suffers from a major mental illness,” Phillips said. “The state attorney’s office agrees Patrick Campbell was suffering from a major mental illness.”
Campbell sat stoically in a white shirt and dark coat at the defense table. Most of the time Campbell sat straight and looked ahead, showing no emotion. But he reacted as a family member described finding Campbell’s grandmother’s body.
Controversial psychologist testifies: 'Psychotic symptoms don't work like that'
John Jonchuck was lying about his symptoms according to one of the prosecution’s expert witnesses.
Dr. Emily Lazrou is now the prosecution's second expert witness to take the stand.
Whether she would testify was in question before the trial. Defense attorneys said Lazarou was biased and coercive when she questioned of Jonchuck. They wanted her off the case, but a judge disagreed and ruled a jury will decide the credibility of her testimony.
That testimony was different than a lot of what has been said on the stand, so far. Her diagnosis stands in stark contrast to the other expert witnesses.
She believes Jonchuck is faking some of his symptoms and that they don’t match what she knows as a psychiatrist.
Unlike other experts, Dr. Lazarou didn’t diagnose Jonchuck with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, not even bipolar disorder.
She believes he has traits consistent with psychopathy. Basically, she thinks he’s a psychopath, which is the most severe form of anti-social personality disorder, and that was the driving force behind killing Phoebe.
“You don’t go from God to archangel to the devil to a demon to the Pope,” Lazarou said, putting her flattened hand high in the air, then back down again with each description. “In a very short period of time like that - even in a long period of time – psychotic symptoms don’t work like that. It doesn’t change like that all the time. But people that think psychotic symptoms; when you fake that’s what it looks like,” Lazarou said.
Prosecution: Do you believe the defendant was malingering mental illness on the date of offense and thereafter?
Lazarou: Yes, I do.
Prosecution: Do you believe he was insane on the date of the murder?
Lazarou: No, I don't.
The word psychopath is not something the jury will hear in the case because the judge ruled, early on, the word is too prejudicial and is not a medical diagnosis.
If she could say 'psychopath,' Dr. Lazarou has said in the past she would.
Tardive Dyskinesia Market Grows
…Tardive dyskinesia is an involuntary movement disorder that typically arises from the long-term use of antipsychotic medication in schizoaffective disorders. Tardive dyskinesia is characterized by involuntary, repetitive movements of the face, trunk, or extremities, including lip smacking, grimacing, tongue protrusion, facial movements or blinking, puckering and pursing of the lips. TDs are most common in patients with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder who have been treated with antipsychotic medication for long periods, but they occasionally occur in other patients as well.
The key factors driving the growth of the Tardive dyskinesia market are rising schizophrenia patients, increasing bipolar patients, growing antipsychotic prescription, increased use of long-term neuroleptic drugs and increasing incidence of neurological disorders. However, the expansion of the market is hindered by side effects of drugs and under-diagnosed…
An Equal-Opportunity Condition
Crucial to ameliorating pharmacotherapy-associated tardive dyskinesia (TD) is recognizing the impact of TD on patients’ lives. Results from the RE-KINECT study, presented at the Congress of the Neuroscience Education Institute, which took place this past fall in Orlando, Florida, demonstrated the prevalence and disruptive impact of involuntary movement in patients with suspected TD.1 Another study, presented at the same meeting, offered a consensus approach to clinical guidelines for TD.2
Of the 204 patients, 111 (54%) had schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder and 93 (46%) had a mood or other psychiatric disorder. Although the investigators found that patients with mood disorders were more likely to be older, female, and racially white compared with patients with schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder, TD affected both groups of psychiatric patients equally. More than 30% of patients in each group reported that involuntary movements impacted their activities of daily living, productivity, and ability to socialize.
Another subanalysis of the same study, however, found that greater risk of TD severity may be associated with lack of a good support system.3 This RE-KINECT subanalysis focused on patients who were age 55 and older because, although TD is thought to be associated with longer exposure to antipsychotic drugs, it also manifests in older persons after shorter courses of antipsychotic therapy.
Of the 300 patients in the subgroup analysis, 114 (38%) had clinician-confirmed possible TD and 186 (62%) had no visible involuntary movements or had movements that were inconsistent with TD. The researchers found that the highest frequencies of severe abnormal movements affected the head/face (25%) and upper extremities (14%). The researchers also determined that patients in the possible TD group were less likely to be married, more likely to live in care homes, and more likely to have longer lifetime exposure to antipsychotics than the comparator group. Although further research is needed, the investigated stated that limited support systems and reduced quality of life appear to be associated with greater risk and severity of TD in this older population…
NSB grandmother killing: Jurors deadlock, mistrial declared in insanity case
DAYTONA BEACH — The murder trial of Patrick Campbell, who testified of having a “sanction” from the government to kill his grandmother, was declared a mistrial on Tuesday after jurors announced they were deadlocked.
Jurors told the judge about 2:40 p.m. that they were deadlocked with seven panelists voting that Campbell was guilty and five finding him not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury of eight women and four men began deliberations at 9:48 a.m.
Circuit Judge Matt Foxman ordered them to go back in the jury room and each one express their viewpoint on the case. If they still could not come to a unanimous verdict then Foxman said he would declare a mistrial.
At about 3:26 p.m. there was another knock on the door from jurors who said they were still deadlocked. Foxman sent them home. Jurors declined comment to The News-Journal as they filed out of the courtroom.
Campbell, who was represented by Assistant Public Defender Matt Phillips, did not appear to show any reaction or emotion as the deadlock was announced. Campbell will remain locked up in the Volusia County Branch Jail while awaiting a new trial.
Woman accused of killing mother found not guilty by insanity
PAULSBORO, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey woman accused of stabbing her mother to death in 2017 has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.
El Jahan Gardner was charged with murder in the killing of 55-year-old Alesia Burns at the older woman's Paulsboro home. The verdict was recently handed down by a judge after a bench trial that was held late last month
A psychologist testified that Gardner wasn't taking her medication and was having a psychotic episode at the time of the killing.
He testified that Gardner had schizoaffective disorder and cannabis abuse disorder, adding that Gardner told him voices had instructed her to kill her mother.
The 31-year-old Gardner has remained psychotic despite two years of treatment while in custody. She is being treated at a state psychiatric hospital.
Closing arguments made in Davis murder case
FREEPORT — The fate of a 35-year-old Freeport man accused of killing his parents in February 2017 will be announced in court on May 29.
While the defense for Mitchell Davis does not dispute that he committed the crimes, he was in a Stephenson County courtroom Tuesday for a bench trial to determine whether he was insane at the time.
The case has been delayed multiple times because of Davis’ mental and physical fitness. He has a history of mental illness. His parents, Patrick Davis, 66, and Carlotta Davis, 59, were found stabbed to death in the early hours of Feb. 15, 2017.
Mitchell Davis faces two counts of first-degree murder in the case. If Judge Michael Bald determines that his mental illness at the time of the crimes did not rise to the level of insanity, then Davis faces life in a mental health ward in the Department of Corrections. If Bald finds that Davis committed the acts but was insane, he would spend the rest of his life in a secured facility in the Department of Human Services.
Closing arguments were made Tuesday by State’s Attorney Carl Larson and Assistant Public Defender Travis Lutz.
Larson argued that Davis was in control of his faculties to the extent that he could clean himself up after the stabbings, change clothes and call an acquaintance to arrange for a place to stay.
Larson also noted that Davis had previously threatened his parents when they mentioned putting him in a mental hospital, just as they had before they were killed.
“There’s significant evidence that the motivation was not delusion,” Larson said, “but rather his desire to avoid being hospitalized again.”
Lutz pointed to the testimony of forensic psychologist Dr. Edward Mahoney, the expert witness in the case. Mahoney said Davis has schizoaffective disorder, and that he did not understand at the time of the crime that what he was doing was illegal.
“There is one expert,” Lutz said. “And that expert has said that this individual, Mitchell Davis, has in his clinical opinion as a result of suffering from schizoaffective disorder, lacked the substantial capacity to realize his actions at the time of events and meets the Illinois state statute for insanity.”
Bald will read his ruling in court on May 29.
Trial for Tennessee church shooting suspect to start Monday
NASHVILLE, TENN. — Prosecutors are seeking life without parole for a man accused of fatally shooting a woman and wounding seven people at a Nashville church.
Local news outlets report that 27-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson's trial will start Monday. A jury is being selected this week.
Samson faces a 43-count indictment, including a first-degree murder charge, in the September 2017 shooting at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.
An arrest affidavit says Samson waived his rights and told police he arrived armed and fired at the church.
A psychiatrist has diagnosed Samson with "schizoaffective disorder bipolar type" and post-traumatic stress disorder after an abusive, violent upbringing.
Samson is black and the victims are white. Authorities haven't definitively said whether they believe he targeted them based on race.
Al Levin Interviews Charles Minguez | Mental Health Advocate & Aspiring Journalist
In this episode, Al interviews Charles Minguez, mental health advocate and aspiring journalist (recorded 5-16-18). Charles had his first suicide attempt at age thirteen. Before he reached his eighteenth birthday, he had been hospitalized three times. At age seventeen, Charles was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and major depression. Hear how Charles was originally misdiagnosed and medicated for bipolar disorder.
Mold rapper defying mental illness with first studio album
A BUDDING rapper and mental health patient is showing that disabilities do not have to be constraints in the pursuit of dreams.
Trevor Yau, who lives in Mold, lives with paranoid schizoaffective disorder.
But that has not prevented him from pursuing his passion of making music, so much that he released his debut studio album in 2016.
Trevor, who has built a strong following to his YouTube and Facebook videos, linked up with Temple Records music store in Hereford for the launch of his 'Locked in Rehab’ album, named in reference to the mental illness rehabilitation units he has stayed in…
With The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang offers a haunting personal look at mental illness
It took eight years after she first began having hallucinations for Esmé Weijun Wang to receive her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Her diagnosis, while laden with its own orbit of stigma and baggage, is a source of comfort. "I like to know that I'm not pioneering an inexplicable condition," she writes in the first essay of her new book, The Collected Schizophrenias.
Halton police locate missing 75-year-old man
Schizophrenic, Bipolar Lancaster Man Missing
Woman killed by a policeman after saying she was pregnant suffered from schizophrenia, attorney says
Patients with both schizophrenia and epilepsy die alarmingly early
The Difficulty of Loving Someone with Mental Illness
It can cause psychotic symptoms and psychosis, which can lead to hospitilastion, and is usually treated with medication. Bipolar disorder, like schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder, can be a very difficult condition to live with, both for the sufferer and for loved ones around them
The life and tragic death of Janice Dotson-Stephens
By the time Janice Dotson-Stephens died in the Bexar County Jail, after days had turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and meal after meal had been refused, she had lost 136 pounds.
She had been jailed in July for criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. Because of her obvious mental health issues, she was placed in the jail’s infirmary, where doctors, nurses and social workers noted her erratic and abusive behavior and her refusal to eat. She also refused treatment, even though medical staff knew of her diagnoses for schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, as well as hypertension.
She weighed 290 pounds at intake in July and 154 pounds at death in December. She lost almost a pound a day while waiting in jail. Staff noted meal refusals more than 100 times, medical records show.
“The stomach is empty,” her autopsy report noted, concluding she died from an enlarged heart, but “contributing to death is schizoaffective disorder.”
Dotson-Stephens’ death sparked national attention — but not because of the poor handling of her mental health. The outrage mostly centered around her low bond. For example, the bond was featured prominently in the first sentence of a CNN story: “A woman held on a $300 bond for five months died Friday in a Texas jail, and the 61-year-old’s family was unaware she had been arrested until it was time for them to collect the body.”
And it made for a provocative headline in The Root, an online magazine with a black focus: “Black Grandmother Who Could Have Been Freed for $30 Died After Spending the Last 150 Days of Her Life in Jail.”
As unjust and egregious as her incarceration and bond were, this was never a story about the inequities of cash bail. It was always a story about mental health, and our failure to treat and understand it even when it’s right before our eyes. Even in the aftermath of her death, we failed to truly see it.
Who knows? Maybe the news will be better next week.