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February 27th, 2014

Dear Mr. Russell, Executive Director of NAMI Ohio:

In preparing my first book for publication, I’ve been reviewing my email archives as they relate to my mental-health legislative-advocacy work on Ohio Senate Bill 43 (SB43)—and have now noticed a pattern.  Namely, despite initiating direct communication with you on four separate occasions in the past four months—I’ve yet to receive from you, any response.  This reminds me of the point you made in your March 7th, 2013 testimony before the Health and Human Services Subcommittee (copy attached), explaining:

“Unfortunately, the symptoms of [mental] illnesses are not hidden.  They may include hallucinations, paranoia or delusions, withdrawal, or over anxiousness.  Some have difficulty interacting with friends and family and unfortunately there are a percentage who self-medicate with the use of alcohol and/or drugs.  People coming in contact with these individuals do not know how to react.  Thus, the person with the illness is shunned and many times neglected and ignored.”

I.  INTRODUCTION – NAMI OHIO’S STIGMATIC DISCRIMINATION AGAINST OUR MENTALLY-ILL POPULATION:

To note up front and for the record then—I am a person who has been labeled with the various judgments of mental “illness”, “paranoia”, “delusions” and “over anxiousness”.  In addition, I am a person who has self-medicated in the past, with the use of alcohol and/or drugs.  And interestingly enough—I too now, am a person who has caused you such discomfort Mr. Russell, that you have shunned me, ignored me and altogether neglected my SB43 thoughts and ideas.  Such severe consequences do we have—manifesting others’ inability to help me overcome my “serious mental illness.”

I would like to make clear that your conduct, Mr. Russell, is now unprecedented in our state-wide mental-health legislative-advocacy arena.  For, all other parties who were too involved in the SB43 process have since, become—ready, willing and able to collaborate with the mental-health consumer-voice, which I now represent.  In leading NAMI Ohio’s primary mission to provide “mutual support, education, and advocacy to improve the quality of life” and “ensure dignity and respect for persons with serious brain disorders” then—I’m sure you can understand my resulting confusion as to your choice of actions to-date.

Nevertheless, my confidence in your ability to comprehend lags—and consequently, I am writing you today to highlight the alarming nature of your mental-health “advocacy” leadership example.

II.  NAMI OHIO’S DECEITFUL MASKING OF ITS OWN CONFLICTING-INTERESTS:

Most notably—I am concerned with NAMI Ohio’s seemingly ancillary goal, as noted on its 2012 fiscal-year-end IRS Form 990—“to support their families,” or in other words, family members of the mentally-ill.  The issue here at stake, arises then—when the interests of mentally-ill persons come into conflict with the interests of their family members.  This was the case with SB43.  And under your leadership example, NAMI Ohio has now made very clear, which path it has chosen to take.

To help explain the dichotomy of conflicting-interests which currently plague our mental-health system, I quote “The Stigma Buster”, a NAMI Ohio publication—attached hereto and dated May 2010:

“When long time mental health advocate, Terry Russell, was 13 years old, he remembers riding the bus home from school one day.  When the bus arrived at his house, he saw a paddy wagon in the driveway and the police escorting his brother into the van to take him to the state psychiatric hospital.  He remembers the taunts from the kids on the bus, and his feelings of anger toward his brother for embarrassing him in front of his friends.  When he went into the house, he found his mother equally as distraught over what the neighbors and her friends at church were going to think.  ‘My father was nowhere to be seen.  He was at work.  He was always at work.  It was his way of coping with my brother’s mental illness…his way of escaping a home that was held hostage to this disease,’ Terry said” (emphasis added).

Now, rather than speculating as to the underlying motivations which support the non-profit organization that you lead—I will simply move on to the facts surrounding our SB43 case.

III.  TESTIMONY BEFORE THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S TASK FORCE ON MENTAL ILLNESS:

To begin, I would like to highlight some comments that you made in your November 7th, 2012 testimony before The Ohio Attorney General’s Task Force on Mental Illness and Criminal Justice (copy attached)—just after you finish noting NAMI Ohio’s “rich tradition of working with the Governor and members of the General Assembly” through your “education” and “advocacy” efforts:

“Not only does a lack of adequate mental health care hurt our economy, it exacts enormous human suffering on our families and destroys lives.”

“If used correctly, these changes will allow a judge to step in before someone with a serious mental illness who is unaware of his or her need for treatment becomes so ill that hospitalization or incarceration are the only options remaining.  Lack of awareness of illness – a neurological syndrome called anosognosia – is believed to be the single largest reason why individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not follow through with treatment.  In many cases, such individuals can be persuaded with a court order to follow their treatment plan.  This is commonly referred to as the ‘black robe effect’,” thereafter noting that mentally-ill persons “are often frequent users of Ohio’s jails and prisons” (emphasis added).

Your above-referenced statements and quite generally, the entirety of your testimony, are disturbing for many reasons—but most notably, for the stigmatic hatred and sociologically-justified abuse-of-power they promote against persons struggling with mental-illness.  Your conclusion as to “anonsognosia” is at best, a highly controversial belief.  I don’t see any research-backed notations in your paper, and would like to note that more so than anything, from the mental-health consumer perspective—it is the discriminatory judgment of persons like yourself in this society, that leads persons like me, who struggle with “serious mental illness”, to deny our very own organic human-conditions.  Your judgment leads us to question our own interpretation of reality, which you should know by now, is the result of chronic mental, emotional and psychological abuse.  For abused we are still, and for so very long abused we have been—by persons just like you Mr. Russell, seeking to promote this ridiculous “black robe effect.”

IV.  TESTIMONY REGARDING OHIO’S BEHAVIORAL HEALTHCARE SYSTEM:

Moving on, I would like to discuss some comments you made in your May 2nd, 2013 testimony—submitted to Ohio’s legislators in regard to our behavioral healthcare system (copy attached).  Urging support for Ohio’s medicaid expansion last year, this set of words seems somewhat more hopeful than the last—until of course, we begin to dig deep:

“Every day I deal with families who do not know where to get help or what to do.  This is not the fault of those working in the mental health system.  They do a tremendous job with the grossly underfunded resources they have available.”

“As I am speaking to you today, you do not know whether I have a heart condition or cancer.  You would know if I was severely mentally disabled.”

“2012 was a terrible year due to those with untreated mental illnesses who committed horrendous acts.  I emphasize untreated because I believe, I know that if these individuals had been identified and treatment had been available, these tragedies may not have happened.  We certainly cannot guarantee that horrible things will not happen again but with your help, we can certainly lessen the likelihood” (emphasis provided by you, of course, Mr. Russell).

Then, in wrapping up—after noting your own personal opportunity to attend Governor Kasich’s 2012 State of the State in Lima, Ohio—as well as the many other State of the State presentations over the years to which you were also, apparently, invited—you continue on:

“I remember when Bob Spada (R-North Royalton) called NAMI Ohio from his Senate Office asking for guidance when his son ‘came home’.  It can happen to anyone.”

Now, I’m not sure how this all sounded to you in your head Mr. Russell, before you delivered your idea out into written testimony for others to see—but, what I notice most glaringly from my mental-health consumer perspective here, is your dismissal of responsibility for everyone except my mentally-ill people.  More specifically, you dismiss the harm caused to our mentally-ill population by this society at-large, in refusing to fund even just an adequate mental-health medical-care support system; you dismiss the harm caused to our mentally-ill population by our current mental-health system, which is still so generally plagued with incompetencies; and then apparently, you also dismiss your own stigmatic interpretation of “mental-illness”, in presuming it the sole contributing factor to 2012’s “horrendous acts”.  Most frightening of all, however, is the lacking consciousness you display—in regard to your own stigmatic discrimination against our mentally-ill population.

In referring to Bob Spada, his son who “came home” and that “it” can “happen” to anyone—you really need to recognize the stigmatic hatred pouring forth from your own mouth.  I, in fact, am a person with a “serious mental illness” that “came home” to my parents’ house in September 2012, after I was forced against my will to remain locked up for 7-days in the psychiatric ward at Riverside 9West.  This, of course, was after I overdosed on the anti-anxiety medication my then-psychiatrist had prescribed to “ease” my emotional angst—which, of course, was just after my then-husband decided he owed no marital responsibility to me, when I began to seriously struggle with mental-illness after having endured 2-years of psychological abuse under the oppression of his hand.

To recap for you then, I have been discriminated against and psychologically abused within this American society since my very own youth, for being a person who is different from the “norm”.  If fact, I was, and am—so very different Mr. Russell, that “you would know” from my SB43 legislative-advocacy behavior alone, just how “severely mentally disabled” I actually am.  So very mentally-ill Mr. Russell, remember now—that you would go so far as to shun me, due to your own lacking capability to form any sort of meaningful and compassionate response.

Living under such heinously stigmatic sociological conditions for 3-decades—I can assure you Mr. Russell—caused me into a very vulnerable psychological state.  So vulnerable I was, in fact—that I would become “seriously mentally-ill” and suicidal upon adding 2-years of severe emotional abuse on top of the mix.  And of course, less we forget, all this harm against me—perpetrated by this very own trusted member of my “family”.  It’s true—that did make me so very mentally-ill.  And accordingly, I do hope Mr. Russell—that in sharing this knowledge with you today, you might begin to appreciate how organically disgusting your position on mental-health “advocacy” actually is.

Leaders accept responsibility.  Leaders protect those who are vulnerable within their society.  You are not a leader, of this type Mr. Russell.  And so please, do note—that perhaps if you had been an admirable mental-health advocate over these past 40-years within our society—then perhaps also, such horrendous acts would never have happened back in 2012.  Had you been a leader that protects those of us who are psychologically vulnerable—perhaps some lives could have been saved.  But, you were no such thing.

I would like to take this moment to personally let you know Mr. Russell, in my own voice and simply on my own behalf—that your leadership example disgusts me.  I cannot tell you how so very grateful I am, to our Ohio Senate leaders—who chose with SB43—to deviate from your deranged ideation on mental-illness, and your seriously deluded notion as to what mental-health “recovery” actually entails.  If you are interested at all Mr. Russell, in learning how to act ethically, morally and courageously—then I would have to recommend you go speak with the members of our Ohio Senate Civil Justice Committee.  They can show you what it means, to lead greatly—for unlike you, they lead with genuine, heartfelt vision.

V.  TESTIMONY BEFORE THE OHIO SENATE CIVIL JUSTICE COMMITTEE:

In preparation for landing, I would like to address just a few additional remarks you proffered on June 18th, 2013, actually—to our Ohio Senate Civil Justice Committee:

“As we reviewed Ohio’s law and spoke with several experts we discovered that when it comes to court ordered treatment, there are differing interpretations.  And it doesn’t take an expert to understand why.  Even to a lay person, it is easy to see why judges may be confused.”

“It is important to note that no new programs or services would be required under this proposal.  It simply means that many individuals who are currently cycling in and out of emergency rooms, state hospitals, jails, and prisons would have access to existing community mental health treatment services that they now cannot access because the severity of their illness often precludes their awareness of and need for treatment.  This proposal would put an end to the revolving door and put individuals with severe and persistent mental illness on a path to recovery.”

“You may also hear opponents argue that S.B.43 has the potential to violate an individual’s rights.  S.B. 43 does nothing to change current law which ensures that all individuals are afforded full due process rights,” noting “[m]ost importantly, we believe S.B.43 will save lives.”

All very brave assumptions, Mr. Russell, to have made.

Unfortunately, it actually does take an “expert” to understand Ohio’s mental-health law—namely, an attorney, and most notably—one of the mental-health consumer type.  For as you know (or would do well to recognize at this point), the mental-health consumer is the only person in our mental-health legislative-advocacy arena who exists entirely free, from all conflicting interests.

Otherwise, the rest of your testimony here is really rather dismal—not only entirely unoriginal from prior submissions, but also quite generally inaccurate at best.  For instance, you assert that SB43 would require “no new programs or services” to support the mental-health consumer—which is simply nonsensical in light of your testimony just one month prior, wherein you’d already said “[t]his is not the fault of those working in the mental health system.  They do a tremendous job with the grossly underfunded resources they have available.”

In addition, your naive notion that forcing a human being into incompetent mental-health medical-care “treatment” is sufficient enough, to put such person on a path to recovery is tiring.  You have no idea what all is entailed in mental-health recovery, and I am frightened that you actually still think that you do.  All the more reason I suppose, that Ohio has now cast aside, your status-quo.

And of course, as it relates to SB43’s impact upon an individual’s civil rights—I gather you remain entirely clueless at this point, as to the fact that SB43 has not to do with civil procedure, but rather a substantive change to our law.  I’m not sure which experts you spoke with, but I would have to recommend that you refrain from accepting their legal advice in the future—at least in regard to any legislative-lobbying you may think twice about perpetrating again, as against my people.

I will, however, thank you—for the helpful laundry list you provided at the bottom of your written testimony here.  For now we know all of the other organizations within the state, which we should also distrust moving forward.  This help—I do appreciate.

VI.  FORMAL REQUEST FOR NAMI OHIO BOARD SCHEDULE AND CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST POLICY:

To be clear Mr. Russell, as a result of your very limited understanding, from your “family member” perspective on what being “mentally-ill” actually means—you have misled our entire state into thinking that being mentally-ill is a bad thing.  You have used your political leverage repeatedly to influence our legislators, our newspapers and other media outlets, urging others with all of your might—deceiving them into believing, that our mentally-ill population is comprised of only hopeless, helpless victims.  But, as you now well know—in regard to your judgment—I publicly and with all due respect, must disagree.

Accordingly, I now cause to be known my formal request to you in writing today, as NAMI Ohio’s leader—for your organization’s upcoming board meeting schedule, and the “conflict-of-interest” policy noted on NAMI Ohio’s 2012 FYE IRS Form 990 Schedule O.  I’m not sure what goes on within this non-profit organization that you lead—but I am certain from your SB43 behavior, that NAMI Ohio does not represent the best-interests of my people.

I would greatly appreciate if you would forward that information to me as soon as possible.  I previously requested it from your board members on February 24th, 2014—but have yet to receive a response.  In addition, please note that if I do not hear back shortly, I will have no other option but to take the matter up with Mr. DeWine—Attorney General of our great state here in Ohio.

VII.  CLOSING — NAMI OHIO’S LESSON ON THE POLICY OF TRUTH:

In closing Mr. Russell, please do note that the above-outlined factual analysis barely scratches the surface as to the poor mental-health “advocacy” example you have set; in fact, I’d daresay it would take an entire book to sufficiently explain.  I choose now, however, to terminate our communication at this juncture—so as to go take care of my own mental-health, and get some sleep.  For, it seems I’ve stayed up all night here once again, working to counteract the harm posed by your mental-health “advocacy” efforts.  But I can assure you Mr. Russell, that I now, will rest peacefully—in knowing my SB43 mental-health legislative-advocacy work is at long last, complete.

Very Truly Yours,

Marissa K. Varcho

Attorney at Law