Dear Commissioner Varney

August 19, 2014 by

I know that there are meetings being held around the state right now to discuss feedback on the mental health system and to look at possible changes and recommendations.

I have one I hope you will consider.

One of the most recurring themes I hear from all throughout the state in my conversations with people is the issue of how people with mental illness are treated by and interact with the correctional system: police officers, courts, jails, and prisons. I have been told a steady stream of stories by mental health consumers and family members of dealing with police officers that did not have the training or ability to deal effectively with crisis situations they were involved in and someone was needlessly hurt or a big problem got bigger. There have been disasters and close calls enough.

I know that you are familiar with CIT training. In some format it is taught in different areas of the state. There is no state wide mechanism to make it happen that I am familiar with. Whether or not officers receive training is largely a local matter. It depends on local finances and the degree to which local officials buy into the need. And in some communities because of some combination of these two factors CIT trained officers are sparse or not available at all.

What I am proposing is a state center of CIT training. Federal funding is available through the Byrne JAG grants I believe. I think there are a couple of other laws which also provide funding. The need for state funding might be minimal. I know you have the resources to investigate this and I hope you will.

The state center would be responsible for providing training to local departments and by making it clear that having CIT trained officers is a state mandate it would make it more likely more departments would comply.

Not only do police officers, but those who work in jails and prisons also need to be trained. Some states already have a program in place like this and I really hope that Tennessee can also develop a program.

Having a mental illness should not be dangerous. And for too many people it is. Commissioner I hope you will consider my suggestion.

Yours truly,

Larry Drain

Being dangerous is about much more than mental illness. It is about being a human being

August 18, 2014 by


From the archives

Originally posted on Hopeworks Community:

1. They think they are justified in hurting you. The less ambivalence the more danger.
2. They dont see themselves as having any other options they can live with. The less ambivalence the more danger.
3. They see the consequences for you as something you deserve and the conequences for them as positive or unlikely if negative or as something they can live with if likely. Hurting you is worth it.
4. They see themselves as having the ability to hurt you.

Basically to the degree someone believes:

— You deserve to be hurt.
— It makes sense to hurt you.
— It is worth the effort to hurt you.
–They have the ability to hurt you.

they are likely to hurt you. It is possible for someone with mental health issues to come to these conclusions. It is even more likely and more possible for someone without mental health…

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Core beliefs of recovery

August 16, 2014 by


From the archives

Originally posted on Hopeworks Community:

From the archives.

The following are, I believe, the core beliefs of recovery.  Each of them implies an opposite belief.  Where you fall on a continium between the two beliefs probably defines a lot about how you approach life.

1.  Life can get better…… You are stuck.  What you got is what you got.  Try to make the best of it.  The truth is that it is more likely to get worse than it is to get better.  Hope vs despair.

2. I can help make it better.  It is within my capability, my reach to do…… I can’t really make a difference.  My ability is limited in a basic way.  I have defiencies which will limit my ability to govern my life.  Empowerment vs. Helplessness.

3. I have the abilities and skills I need to make a difference or can learn the skills and abilities I need to make a difference.  I have competence and am…

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Suicide equations

August 14, 2014 by

How can anyone ever try to end their own lives??  It seems so incomprehensible to most of us.  Until the thought passes your mind…Or God forbid someone you know or care about tries.  One person every minute in this country.  It doesnt even seem human….but it is the most human of things.

I think it is the interplay of at least 3 things:

Perceived desperation:  What matters is your perception, your truth.  At its worst the problem is no longer the problem.  Life is.

Perceived isolation:  Again what matters is your perception.  Can you tell?  Will you be heard??  Will it matter??  I knew someone recently who died.  He laid down in front of a train.  No one even knew how alone he was.

Impulsiveness-  Do you have the ability to put the brakes on your impulses?  What takes away from your brakes?  What adds to them?  How likely are you to do what you feel like doing because you feel like doing it?? 

Decrease desperation….Decrease isolation….Decrease impulsiveness…

Save lives.  No one has to die.  We can do better.

The case for being right: explaining Robin Williams

August 14, 2014 by

The tragic death of Robin Williams has given every person who tends to make public pronouncements about such things ample evidence that what they believed explains things still explains things.   Everybody found confirmation of what they already “knew.”  Nobody discovered anything new.

For some it was evidence of the lethality of depression.  Still others saw it as evidence of the side effects of psychotropic medication.  Some saw it as disease. Some say it as choice.  Some thought he didnt try hard enough and had committed an act of cowardice towards his family.  Rep. Murphy saw it as  proof of the need for his bill to be passed.  And of course Rush Limbaugh thought he died of being a liberal.

None of them knew.  None of them could know.  But that never really mattered.  Everyone analyzed.  Everyone tried to give his death a name.  Everyone tried to decide what category he fell into to.  And everyone found reason to put him into the categories nearest and dearest to them.  His death became proof of their mental health narrative.

It is a curious way we deal with tragedy.  We all find reasons to explain the worst of things by giving them a name and then find ourselves defending our name against the name others give.  The biggest thing I have seen so far is how angry people get at the people who dont  believe the same way they do.  It is almost like we believe if we are convincing enough the problem will be solved.  It wont.

I dont know what happened to Robin Williams.  I dont know anyone ever will.  I have known several people who attempted and lived and I have listened to what happened to them.

They talk about suicide as kind of a seduction.  That what was forbidden and unthinkable in time became all they thought about.  One person told me that it came to make good sense and she couldnt figure out a way to make anything else make sense.  She started off being scared of dying, then became ambivalent and then when she lost her ambivalence saw no reason not to die.  And as she lost more and more of her ambivalence she saw less and less to talk about with others. 

The decrease of ambivalence along with the increase in impulsiveness seemed to be the most lethal combination.  One friend put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger and lived.  He lost most of his face but he lived.  I asked him how it happened.  “I got drunk and what I had been thinking about made such perfect sense and there just didnt seem any reason to say no.”  Some people told me how they tried to take away the ability to say no:  becoming more isolated from others,  alcohol and drugs,  treating it as a heroic or romantic choice. 

One person was even more blunt.  “I stopped being scared of myself and it almost killed me.”  He told me “he played so often with the idea of death it stopped being play and just seemed to make sense.”

Another person told me, “I didnt want it to be true.  But in time it seemed the truest thing…”

I dont know the answer.  It has something to do with helping people to find a lie in their desperation.  It has something to do with not giving desperate people easy access to impulsive moments.  It has something to do with knowing it could be any of us.  It has something to do with making sure  no one lives in a solitary hole. 

Perhaps it is in knowing that life is not a test to be passed and death not a grade we are given. 


What does what you are advocating for have to do with….

August 13, 2014 by

*Making sure that people have access to the help they need…
*Making sure that the most effective services are offered….
*Respecting the dignity of those who seek help…
*Making sure that people have access to correct information to enable them to make decisions about their own lives.
*Supporting people in making those decisions
*Enabling people to acquire the skills and tools that really make a difference in their lives.
*Providing real support to people who struggle with significant life stress and pain.
*Addressing issues of homelessness, joblessness, and poverty that are so often part of what it means to  be labeled with a mental illness in this country.
*Addressing the dismal state of health care that so many people with mental health diagnosis receive.
*Addressing the very real issues of discrimination and prejudice that is a core element in the life of everyone who has a mental health diagnosis.
*Addressing the very real limitations and risks of some treatment particularly medication.
*Addressing the national disgrace of the treatment of those with mental health issues in the jails and prisons of this country.
*Addressing the national calamity of suicide. 
*Addressing the growing issue of trauma.  Moving mental health from a whats wrong system to a what happened system.
*Addressing the issue of cracks.  The issue of not the people who fall through the cracks in our society but those who seem destined to live there forever.

These are some of the issues that will define whether or not the mental health system really does get better.  I really dont have much faith in the one thing solves everything approach.  It is so much more important and so much more complicated and difficult than any agenda that any specific group, organization or viewpoint espouses.  One too much time is spent in people trying to establish their turf or territory.  Way too much time is spent on war and far too little time is spent in making a system that really works and changes the system for the best.  Mental health reform is not any one thing.  It is not a competition of gimmicks.  There are a lot of hard questions.  We just need more people asking them.

Do any of us know: a poem about suicide

August 13, 2014 by

Do any of us know
how much we mean to others
how much we give
and the hole left by our leaving
when life seems a problem
unsolvable, unbearable, and too heavy
and death an answer
and touch so far away
and so inconsequential
and thoughts come unbidden
and loud and scary
“it will be better if you are gone….
there is no other way…
people will be better off without you…
it will never get better….”
where do we turn
with whom do we share our terror
our sadness, our guilt
our desperation
the worst mistake
is to accept the verdict
without appeal
it is not done
it is not done
tell someone
always tell someone
terror and fear and
desperation deserve no secrecy
someone wants to know
so much has power within us
that has none shared
lift the veil and open the sun
you have courage untapped
And this too will pass
perhaps the war will never be won
is it for any of us
but it is no reason to concede  the battle
your life is  precious and needed
you are a treasure that cant be replaced
know that death
solves no problems
and let us help you find better life

Life in hard times

August 12, 2014 by

Know how things are going.  Too often we dont.  We are shocked when things go poorly.  It seems like it comes out of nowhere.  And we miss so many good things.  Sometimes I wonder where I was.

Think about momentum.  Going better…..Going worse.  Bad things are less likely in going better.  Good things are less likely in going worse.  Do things on purpose that impact the momentum of your life.  A thousand things too.  None of them by themselves tip the scale but the accumulated weight of them may tip the scales of your life.  Keep a pulse on the direction of life.  What can you do differently that makes a difference.

The more effectively you deal with getting worse the less often you will have to deal with worse.  Have a plan.  Make sure it is a plan you can do, want to do, that you can tell if it works, and that you can continue to make better as times go on.  One friend told me the secret to not getting run over by a car was to learn not to stand in front of them.  See the cars coming.

Dont do life alone.  Support and be supported.  Talking to yourself is okay but as the only thing on the menu it isnt much.  Life is best shared.  It is not a solo act.  Other people have a way of seeing when you cant see, hearing when you dont listen, caring when you dont care and cheering even when you think you dont deserve it.

Do things that matter.  Live life like it means something, like it about something.  We need something to complete us.  Without purpose we paddle furiously but never get anywhere.

Learn.  From everything.  Define events by what you take a way from them.  Learn things that matter and make a difference  Even the worst of times offers a chance to learn something. 

Wait.  When you cant do anything dont.  Just wait.  Make sure when you can you do.  Some things are just survival. 

Remember feelings are not facts.  They are just hypotheses that you must check out.  They are meant to be listened to but listening need not mean obeying.  Pay attention but know paying attention means listening to more than one thing.

Life is an infinite procession of invitations:  to be angry, to be sad, to be glad, to be scared, to be proud, to care, to not care.  An invitation means you decide.  What invitations do you decide to take???  What invitations do you normally miss?

Noise.  The noise around you does not have to be the song you sing.

Count.  You count.  Nothing takes away from that.  You can ignore it.  You can act like it is not true.  You can hope it is not true.  You can try to make it not true.  But it is true.  There is a difference between the package and those things that wrap it up.  You are more than ribbon.

Life sometimes must be hard.  Sometimes it must seem too much.  Sometimes it must seem pointless.  Otherwise how would we ever know when it is not?

Lessons from the Murphy Bill

August 12, 2014 by


from the archives. Maybe worth consider as we get closer to the new Murphy Bill. Maybe he wont make the same mistakes. Will we??

Originally posted on Hopeworks Community:

Some observations from the Murphy Bill experience:

  1. You cannot little tent major mental health reform.  An approach that dismisses those who disagree with you as lacking integrity,  good sense, and commitment will alienate more people than it connects with.  You may get the satisfaction of the people who agree with you anyway telling you how smart you are but little else.    Major initiatives are coalitions of people who coalesce around an interest or purpose but may maintain their differences on a whole host of other issues.
  2. Related to the above.  The most important predictor of success is not how many people passionately agree with you, but how many people passionately disagree with you.
  3. Respect the contributions of everyone you hope to connect with or you will not stay connected long.
  4. Trust is everything.  Value transparency.  I have had many people tell me that when they slipped AOT in the…

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On suicide

August 12, 2014 by

I have had 2 family members in the last years complete suicide.  Robin Williams death last night brought back things I had hoped had long ago passed.  One died as much from a system that made it worse as anything else.  In the end the system that would help her left her with no one in her corner, with no one who thought caring was enough.  In the other instance there was no system.  He had no insurance, no access.  One night he laid down in front of a train.

I think back to another friend who had made 13 attempts in a 2 year period.  I remember talking with her about her fear and desperation, what it meant to be her.  She talked about insanity.  She didnt talk about disease or trauma.  I doubt she really cared.  She talked about life as daily punishment and trying to hold on to the fragile hope that maybe it could be more.  She lived.  She has not made an attempt in 5 years.  But she remembers where she came from each and everyday.

I think back to a friend who shot himself in the head and survived.  I remember talking with him about his courage and not giving up the day I begged him to once more put the gun down.  He also lived.  Treatment made a difference.

30000 people or more die from suicide in this country each year.  If you live in a small town or rural area the rate of suicide in your town is probably twice that of a larger town.  There is more help there.

Somebody tries every minute.  Every 16 minutes someone is successful.  Robin Williams death shows it knows no boundaries, no safe places, no untouchable people.  Families all over this country know what is like to wonder how their loved ones came to feel that death was a better answer to life than life.

We have a mental health system with many, many dedicated people that often doesnt work very well.  People dont fall between the cracks.  They live there.  In Tennessee we havent even been able to make the decision to make sure that everyone has access to services.  People in authority still talk about the question of should everyone have insurance like it is a real question. 
Our national government has been debating mental health reform for the first time in years.  But people who want really bad to win and who are determined to have their way have left that, at least for now, as no way.  One lady wrote she favored “no compromise”.  I think about all the people I have known who have known no compromise in their lives.  Those that survived it and those that didnt.

In the time I have been writing 2 more people have died.  They might not get the recognition that Robin Williams gets or the public mourning.  But find some time today to also say a prayer for them.

In 8 more minutes someone else will die.  Hug somebody hard today.  And give the message that help can help.  Tell those you love when life is at its worst that it can get better.

Robin Williams said, “The worst thing in life is not being alone but being with people who make you feel alone….”  No one has to be alone.


August 12, 2014 by

Suicide Project-“Why” by Rascal Flatts:

On the narrow edge of suicide

August 12, 2014 by


From the archives

Originally posted on Hopeworks Community:

From the archives.

I have a close friend who almost died.

She used to describe for me what a day was like when you were suicidal. She said it was like a prison, but she could never leave. Everywhere she went it came too. It was like a thousand voices telling you to do something you really didn’t want to do and when you looked to see who was talking to you all the voices were yours. She didn’t live just in depression or discouragement. She lived in terror.

She told me about how many times in a day she would think about slitting her throat or walking in front of a car. The desperation in her voice come through clear with every word. She felt like death was the best answer for her—but she didn’t want it to be. In the end I think the only thing stronger than…

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A prison of one

August 12, 2014 by


From the archives

Originally posted on Hopeworks Community:

from the archives

A woman came recently to one of our support groups for the first time. She had never been to one before.

More than anything she talked about isolation. In the midst of family and “friends” she had never- not once- opened up and talked about the issues she was struggling with. She talked about the fight to get out of bed. She talked about the pain of being alone in a crowd. She talked about the pool at her apartments and how she watched people go and wished she could go to. And she talked about how often she wanted to die.

She was alive because she thought her death might inconvenience other people. She talked about trying to find a month when no one had a birthday or there wasnt a holiday or a special event. She didnt want to make something good into something bad…

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The most terrible thing….

August 11, 2014 by

“The most terrible thing is not to be all alone but to be with people who make you feel all alone.”
Robin Williams

Robin Williams committed suicide today.  Some people seem larger than life and larger than unhappiness and larger than desperation.  He always seemed that way to me.  And you think if he wasnt safe who is.  But nothing in life makes you immune from life.  And pain, desperation, loneliness and a million other bad things are part of what it means to be alive.

But they are only part. 

The path to believing that life can only be solved by death is one of terror and fear.  It is fed by the slowly growing silence of those who see us every day.  The cure for suicide is ambivalence and the source of ambivalence is the million ways we say to each other each day in the worst of moments:  “This is not all there is….Better things are coming….You are not alone….. Depression lies…It lies… It lies…. Tomorrow really is another day.”  It is in knowing we are all vulnerable but that we can survive our vulnerability. 

I am reminded of the guy who told me he felt like he was in a hole getting deeper with no way out and then one day he decided that maybe he was the hole.  People arent holes.

Desperation is at its most dangerous at its most quiet.  Robin Williams lived in dangerous space  Many of us have and do.  Make sure someone knows they can call.  Make sure someone knows they can talk.  Make sure someone knows you will listen.  And make sure that they know in the worst of times when they can no longer sure they can hold hope or that it even exists that you are holding it for them,

Patrick Kennedy and the Alternatives Conference

August 11, 2014 by

Just listening to the hullabaloo about Patrick Kennedy speaking at the Alternatives Conference you would think it would be like Nami inviting Robert Whitaker to speak….Wait a minute they already did.

Maybe I am wrong but it seems that so many of the people who were so in favor of Robert Whitaker speaking to people many of whom fundamentally disagreed with him are the same people most outraged by someone speaking to them they feel like they fundamentally disagree with.  To me it seems at best inconsistent and at worst hypocritical, but I am frequently wrong and I hope wrong here.

There is a place that you can reasonably expect to hear only from people who share the same faith that you do.  It is called church.


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