President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
As a client of the mental health system in New York State and a sufferer of Major Depressive and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, I would like to express and share with you my experiences, concerns and recommendations on how I have endured the mental health system.
A little background on myself, I am thirty- three years old, live in Northern New York State, I have a bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and am studying to become a Social Worker at Fordham University. I work in retail part-time. I am on the young professional advocacy board for NAMI-NYC Metro and I also in my spare time advocate for those in the mental health system who are not able to advocate for themselves. My legislative mental health advocacy initiatives include reaching out to New York State Senator Greg Ball who is on the Senate Mental Health Committee and asking him to advocate on my behalf to the Department of Justice in requesting to have my case with New York Presbyterian Hospital investigated properly and speaking with Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney Senior Legislative Aide, Ryan Lehman on Gun Control and Mental Health legislation.
Last year in February of 2013 I became very depressed and called my therapist to speak with her. When I did not get an answer I did the next best thing and called the police and expressed how I was feeling. I needed to speak with someone I told them. My cry for help somehow got translated by another police department who was called into “ I wanted to drive my car into a ditch” which was not the case. I was admitted involuntarily to New York Presbyterian Hospital (although I was more than willing to sign myself in) and assigned to Dr. Xiaolei Baran. The very first day I was seen by Dr. Baran she wanted to discharge me, but my therapist told her not to because it was a long weekend and she wanted me to have a safe place to be. I asked Dr. Baran for a medication to help me sleep and she prescribed an antipsychotic medication. I explained to her that I had adverse side effects, for example, agitation, nervousness and suicidal thoughts. Falling on deaf ears Dr. Baran would not order anything else and at the same time she ripped me off of my anti-anxiety medication that I had been on for two years. That weekend I attempted suicide. The Monday that I was supposed to be discharged I was not and when I told Dr. Baran I would no longer take the medication anymore she prescribed another medication in the same family. Reluctantly, I took that medication because I had no choice. With no change in how I was feeling and my symptoms getting worse when I met with her again I told her I would no longer take that medication. She stated to me that if I didn’t take it they would propose ECT and if I didn’t comply they would take me to court. Well I didn’t take the medication, the ECT was proposed and I was taken to court. In order to prove that I needed the ECT Dr. Baran changed my diagnosis from Major Depressive Disorder to Schizoaffective Disorder. I was badgered and harassed by the staff and Dr. Baran in order to try and prove that the new diagnosis was correct. When I did not give in the treatment got worse, I began getting tormented by questioning to prove that I was paranoid. When that didn’t work, they began intruding on my privacy by having the door to my bedroom left open and the door to the bathroom left open while I was showering to see if I would get upset. In court Dr. Baran was allowed to be evasive in her answers and out of line with what was in the medical records, due to this I was sent back to be forcibly medicated. When she got the order from the judge to forcibly medicate me she didn’t even order the medication that she asked for and the medication that she did ask for and prescribed was at an unthereapeutic level when I left the hospital.
After I was discharged from the hospital to add insult to injury I was called into my school ( Fordham University) and told I needed to go through their re-entry process. When I found out what it entailed I began questioning it. I was told that I needed to hand over my entire psychiatric record from the hospital, sign waivers of consent to speak with my treating providers, sign a community provider form that violated the American with disabilities Act, Meet with their counselors and more. When I refused I was told that I could not re-enter even after I sent the school a certified letter which complied with the re-entry process procedure on the schools website. I spent two months speaking with different deans, people in the disabilities office, financial aide office and other offices to try and have them under stand that what they were asking for violated my civil rights and the American with Disabilities Act. I explained to the Dean of Students that if we had not come to some sort of agreement that I felt comfortable with than I would have to file a complaint with the ADA. Eventually I did file that complaint and hired a lawyer to represent me. When I went for mediation with the Fordham lawyers I was told that a representative of New York Presbyterian Hospital had contacted them and told them that I had been involuntarily committed, forced to take medication and was going to be there for three weeks and that is why they were requesting that information. I quickly told them that I signed no HIPPA consent form for anyone at the hospital to be speaking with them. Now it is over a year later and I am waiting on a decision from the Office of Civil Rights.
Since last year I have filed complaints with the office of professional misconduct, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman and the Department of Justice. I have addressed the Westchester County Supreme Mental Health Court Pro Se requesting that all records be corrected. Although each time I included medical records and the official court hearing transcript as proof of my statements the complaints went unfounded or dismissed.
My concerns President Obama are that we have a broken Mental Health System that is not being fixed accordingly. You have a bill being proposed by Congressman Tim Murphy HR3717 The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act which violates the HIPPA Privacy Protections, Civil Rights of People with mental illness, Stigmatizes the disease more and bases everything off of the incident in Newtown Ct, where in the criminal investigation it was deemed that Adam Lanza mental health had nothing or little to do with the crime. If you look at the bill closer the very positions that are being created and the qualifications for those positions have direct conflict with Big Pharma and other industries, there is no transparency. Where are the checks and balances? Perhaps what happened to me would not have happened if there were an independent psychiatric exam with a psychiatrist not affiliated with the hospital. The judges in these mental health courts have no background in mental health and defer to the professionals, not thinking twice that maybe they could be wrong. Again there is no transparency or checks and balances!
Cases like mine are not uncommon, they occur all the time. I witnessed it happening to other patients while it was happening to me, but it was unfortunate for them that they could not advocate for themselves and now are in places like Manhattan State Hospital. If your administration is truly looking to “fix” and “reform” the mental health system you need to take a hard look at your own members of congress that your allowing to pass these laws violating our constitutional rights and why it’s happening, begin to put an end to the pharmaceutical industry doing direct business with psychiatry and have an impartial liaison do the communication, have checks and balances throughout the process of judiciary involuntary commitment which begins at the point where the doctor wants to get a court order and files the paper work and stop the media from stigmatizing the mentally ill as violent associated with guns when it’s not evidence based. This is only a short list of what the beginning would look like if your administration were serious about reform in the mental health system. There are thousands if not more than that of cases like mine and far worse. We are no different than the people who are diagnosed with cancer and should be treated as such. Our civil rights should not be encroached upon because of politics.
In closing, I ask that you really look at the house bills like HR3717 and answer this question for yourself, If I truly had all of the facts from an unbiased source in front of me, considering that there are millions of Americans that suffer from mental illness would it be fair to infringe upon the civil rights of all of them because of the few whose symptoms sometimes act up?
Thank you for your time and attention in this matter. I look forward to a response from you or your administration.