Email List

To join our e-mail list, please enter your e-mail address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Shows

Sections

Classifieds

Directories

Contact

Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, whose struggle with mental illness was chronicled in Los Angeles Times columnist’s Steve Lopez’s book “The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and The Redemptive Power of Music,” plays before a sold-out crowd at the RAND forum “From Management to Recovery: Emerging Approaches to Serious Mental Illness,” in Santa Monica
Diane Baldwin, Rand Staff Photographer.
Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, whose struggle with mental illness was chronicled in Los Angeles Times columnist’s Steve Lopez’s book “The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and The Redemptive Power of Music,” plays before a sold-out crowd at the RAND forum “From Management to Recovery: Emerging Approaches to Serious Mental Illness,” in Santa Monica

News, Homelessness

Mental Illness Discussed at RAND Forum in Santa Monica

Subject of Film, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Performed

Posted Jan. 30, 2011, 2:55 am

Hannah Heineman / Mirror Contributor

Mental illness has been in the national news lately as accused perpetrator of the shootings in Arizona, Jared Loughner, is possibly mentally ill. RAND explored the issue of mental illness on Jan. 26 at a policy forum titled “From Management to Recovery: Emerging Approaches to Serious Mental Illness.”

The forum began with a performance by Nathaniel Anthony Ayers whose struggle with mental illness was chronicled in Los Angeles Times columnist’s Steve Lopez’s book “The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and The Redemptive Power of Music.” After the performance forum moderator Paul Koegel, an associate director of RAND Health, noted “1 in 17 Americans, about 16 percent of the overall population, have a diagnosis of serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or major depressive disorder.

Lopez, who was one of the panelists, said that his book about Ayers “is a story about somebody’s brother, son, an accomplished soul, a poet, a musician who had an unlucky break who is fighting every day to get back on track.” He then explained how at first the Los Angeles Times wasn’t that anxious to run his first column on Ayers because “we usually don’t see stories in the paper about someone who is dealing with a mental illness.” However, after it was run Lopez was struck by how much interest there was in his column so he continued to write more about Ayers. He also mentioned that mental health professionals also encouraged him to write to help destigmatize mental illness.

Koegel noted that not long ago treatments for serious mental illness “focused on treating symptoms and such people were expected to lead very constrained lives.” This has changed in the last 15 years and “recovery has emerged as the new signpost for a new way of approaching serious mental illness.”

Panelist and psychiatrist Alexander Young said there is more of a range of options these days including “better medications, a range of rehabilitation treatments such as supportive employment, … family intervention, and an increasing understanding of the biology of the illnesses.”

Lopez who has known Ayers for six years said that he was naïve at first in thinking “I would be able to figure out what was wrong with him and fix him.” The clinicians he consulted with had different ideas of what should be done. Lopez did not know what to do so for the last five and a half years “I’ve tried to just be his friend and be there for him.”

The panel also discussed the connection between mental illness and violence. Ron Schraiber who directs client-peer relations at the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health pointed out that studies show that people with “mental illness are no more dangerous than the general population” and more likely to be victims of a violent act than the general population.

The audience asked Lopez about whether he was really attacked by Ayers as portrayed in the movie. Lopez responded that Ayers did not hit him and that this violence was added when his book was made into the movie.

An audience member asked Lopez if the media was largely responsibly in perpetuating the stereotype of the mentally ill being violent. “The media is responsible for the very stigma you are talking about,” Lopez responded, “That’s why I’ve written about mental illness to help address the stigma and humanize mental illness.”

Also participating in the panel was Ted Sapp, the executive director of The Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation, which is developing Nathaniel’s Place – “to give artists that suffer with mental illness the opportunity to stay connected and share their gifts with the world through being able to interact with artists that are also mentors.”

Post a comment

Comments

Feb. 14, 2011, 10:06:00 am

Amy Karon said...

Thanks for this well-written story and the great photo. I'm a journalism student focusing on mental health, and I linked to this story on my blog (www.psychscoop.com - "Schizophrenia: media's distorted lens) as an example of positive news coverage of mental illness.

Jan. 30, 2011, 7:50:27 am

Harold A. Maio said...

An audience member asked Lopez if the media was largely responsibly in perpetuating the stereotype of "the" mentally ill being violent. If I may, No. The media, like the majority of us, generally respond to the stereotypes of the culture surrounding it, the media generally repeat them. "The" mentally ill is the stereotype, conclusions drawn from that are suspect. "The" Blacks is stereotype, conclusions drawn from that are suspect. "The" Jews is stereotpye, conclusions drawn from that are suspect. One can say of members of the media, since language is its profession, they are careless with language. But that is of course in response to the demands of the culture that surrounds it. Mr. Lopez is careless, and he is caring. The one does not necessarily exclude the other. Meaning well can include demeaning. “From Management to Recovery: Emerging Approaches to Serious Mental Illness...” ...is an example of carelessness, mental illnesses, the plural, is accurate, each requires a specific approach, as each physical illness does. We are accustomed to referencing "mental illness" as an "it," we do not do so with physical illnesses, we recognize their individuality. To this I roundly object: He also mentioned that mental health professionals also encouraged him to write to help destigmatize mental illness. It is the equivalent of stating: professionals also encouraged him to write to help destigmatize Jews, professionals also encouraged him to write to help destigmatize rape. We do not, as professionals, promote that term in those associations, I do not welcome the association you chose to promote to print. There are accurate terms, both women and Jews helped us to appreciate that. We seem not to have learned the lesson. You want to "destigmatize" me, undo a negative you impose, acceding to some in the culture around you, I want you to stop imposing the negative. It is presently amusing to do so, review history to see when the others were equally, even excessively, amusing. Or where they remain so today. Caring words are as necessary as caring. Harold A. Maio khmaio@earthlink.net

Jan. 30, 2011, 4:22:24 pm

Susan Hale said...

I respectfully agree that stereotypes are useless and offensive. However, as a member of the Public Health community, I assert that in medicine, grouping people with medical needs according to the nature of their disease and needs is necessary and non-prejudicial. Woman, by nature of their naturally fluctuating hormonal levels and ability to bear children, have essentially different medical needs then men. I do not know a single woman who objects to conferences on "The medical needs of women". In the same vein, people with chemical imbalances that affect their central nervous system, and thus the way they perceive and interact with the world, are Mentally Ill (no matter what the "flavor" of their particular ailment) and their needs are unique from any other group. Difficulty finding employment that can accommodate fluctuating abilities, keeping ties with family members who may be unwilling to keep in contact due to past negative experiences with the patient, medication issues with people who, in their worst moments, may reject the very medicine that will end that possibly hellish episode, all these are issues particular to this group, and it does not serve them to reject that grouping. I am very concerned that one topic that seems to go un-addressed is the gap in care that occurs when a mentally ill individual turns 18, and the law no longer allows family to intervene in their care. Too often, families are forced to choose between using the justice system to incarcerate their sick loved one, or accept that their ill family member may make reject the medicine that keeps them in touch with reality, and wander off onto the streets, becoming part of the homeless population and easy prey to violence.

Jan. 31, 2011, 9:07:51 pm

Lisa Cain said...

I regret that family took me out of town and I was unable to attend; however, I would have loved to see some representation from a speaker on Functional Medicine, Orthomolecular Medicine and it's positive biological impacts on treatment for the mentally diagnosed which has shown remarkable improvements.

SM Mirror TV