Another day and another lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully blasting lawmakers for heartless and shortsighted  cuts to people in need:

“North Carolina’s Republican legislators leave no stone unturned when it comes to cutting the state budget to make possible tax cuts most benefiting the wealthy and businesses. Then, they roll that stone toward the disadvantaged and people of modest means.

The latest action will cut $110 million from the budgets for the state’s eight regional mental health centers. The GOP solution? They say the centers can just use their savings to fill the gap, rather than use the money saved to look for new treatments and innovations.

So, while those who are able to afford private care can have access to new treatments that might improve or even save their lives, those who depend on state-assisted care will be denied those treatments.”

But, as the editorial concludes, we shouldn’t be surprised:

“The shortsightedness, the lack of any kind of sympathy for constituents in need of mental health care, would be astonishing were it not part of a disturbing pattern designed by Republican lawmakers to pound the defenseless poor at any opportunity.

And without new treatments that might help, those who depend upon the state for mental health treatment will hold the line at best and perhaps suffer more severe problems should their difficulties persist.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.


Medicaid expansionThanks to a report from the American Mental Health Counselors Association, North Carolina along with other states that have not expanded Medicaid have yet another feather to place in their caps – denying access to mental health care for nearly 600,000 uninsured adults that would have sought care last year. Approximately 21,000 of those uninsured adults reside in NC. Even before the debate over Medicaid expansion began, there was the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which has produced a slow push to lessen the gap between how people access and utilize physical and mental health care. Even with mental health parity, over 50 percent of adults with a mental illness did not receive mental health care in NC between 2009-2013. Failing to extend health coverage to individuals with mental illness through expanding Medicaid only increases barriers to treatment, which in turn creates social, physical, and economic burdens to those with mental illness, their families and even their communities.

On the individual level, people living with mental illness are more likely to have other physical chronic conditions, have shorter life expectancies, are poor, and have difficulty finding employment. Students with mental illness, especially those who receive special education, experience school failure and drop out more frequently than other students including students in other disability groups . Without affordable mental health treatment, people with mental illness do not receive preventative treatment and thus rely on costly emergency room visits or even end up in jail.

The families of individuals with mental illness also face burdens as they become caregivers and help pay for expensive out-of-pocket mental health treatment. Unfortunately, the impact on communities resulting from traumatic events like Sandy Hook and Newtown have become too familiar that even the NRA supports policy to enhance the mental health system. On the broader economic level, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that the US loses $193.2 billion annually due to lost earnings associated with the sequelae of mental illness.

Treatment received from the public mental health system is especially important as people with mental illness live closer to the poverty line and have unstable employment status. For adults between ages 21 and 64 years that received mental health treatment from the public mental health system, 75 percent were unemployed. For all adults over age 18 that received treatment in the public mental health system, 76 percent reported improved functioning as a result of care. The statistics on employment and mental health may lead some to believe that expanding Medicaid will act as another “handout,” but most adults with mental illness want to work, but lack support to maintain employment. Further, some jobs obtained by adults with mental illness may not offer health care coverage or pay enough to cover out-of-pocket costs. Last year, in states that expanded Medicaid, there were nearly 350,000 fewer people that experienced Major Depression. Hopefully NC legislators will help decrease the burden of untreated mental illness by increasing mental health parity through Medicaid expansion.


As today’s Fitzsimon File explains in detail, not a whole lot of good things have happened on either the gun violence or mental health fronts in North Carolina during the two years since the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut:

“The National Alliance on Mental Illness released a report this week that finds reforms have stalled since Newtown with Congress again failing to pass comprehensive mental health legislation.

Efforts in the states are sputtering as well. The report examines the push to increase funding for mental health programs after the deep cuts made during the Great Recession.  It finds that many states increased mental health funding in 2013 and some managed to invest more in 2014 too, though not nearly as many.

Only six states in the country slashed mental health funding in both 2013 and 2014. North Carolina was one of them.”

Fortunately, there is something you can do about this absurd situation — right away, in fact. This Thursday evening, December 11 at 7:00 p.m., North Carolinians Against Gun Violence will hold a vigil to mark the second anniversary of Newtown and to organize against future tragedies of this kind. Here are the details:

According to recent statistics, there have been at least 91 school shootings, including fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides, and unintentional shootings, since the tragic assault in Newtown, CT. Since Newtown, there has been nearly one school shooting per week.

On December 11th at 7pm we will be having a candlelit vigil to remember these victims as well as the 60,000 American victims of gun violence since December 2012.

WHEN : December 11, 2014 at 7pm – 8pm

WHERE: Judea Reform Congregation, 1933 W Cornwallis Rd in Durham  – Google map and directions

QUESTIONS? Contact Becky Ceartas  at or 919-403-7665

Hope to see you there.


It’s tragically absurd that people have been forced to resort to this, but the family, friends and advocates helping Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti have launched a petition drive to help promote his effort to gain clemency.

The following description of Mr. Panetti’s situation comes from the good folks at the Texas Defender Service:

Scott Panetti was honorably discharged from the Navy at the age of 18. Eighteen months later, he was diagnosed with “early schizophrenia.”

Scott Panetti has suffered from severe mental illness for over 30 years. It first manifested itself at least a decade Scott Panettibefore the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas. His severe mental illness has infected every stage of his capital case and although Mr. Panetti continues to be severely mentally ill, Texas now plans to execute Mr. Panetti on December 3, 2014.

This is the enduring image of Mr. Panetti’s case: a paranoid schizophrenic wearing a TV-Western cowboy costume; on trial for his life, insisting on defending himself without counsel; attempting to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ; and raising an insanity defense. Mr. Panetti’s pro se performance was an abomination and his trial was a mockery of the criminal justice system. Read More


The Associated Press published this disturbing report this afternoon about the release of an autopsy of a mentally ill prison inmate who died of thirst.

Anthony Michael Kerr, 53, died when he was found unresponsive in March while being transported from a state prison in Taylorsville to Central Prison in Raleigh.

The article (by AP’s Michael Biesecker) also reported a state pathologist couldn’t determine if the death was of natural, accidental, or homicidal causes. The pathologist wasn’t given information by prison staff about when Kerr last ate or was given something to drink.
From the AP article.

In the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office report, pathologist Dr. Lauren Scott says a senior prison official allowed a “witnessed review” of an internal review into Kerr’s death, though the medical examiner’s office was not permitted to keep a copy. Scott wrote that the report left unanswered key details about the circumstances leading to Kerr’s death, including when the inmate last had access to food and water.

Because of the lack of information, the pathologist wrote that she was unable to make a determination about whether Kerr’s death should be classified as natural, accidental or homicide.

“Mr. Kerr’s psychiatric history was significant for schizoaffective disorder for which he was not receiving any treatment at the time of his death,” Scott wrote. “It was not possible to make any firm conclusions regarding the inmate’s nutrition and fluid intake, and whether or not his mental health and/or external factors played a role in the dehydration.”

Scott noted abrasions on Kerr’s forearms were “consistent with restraint devices.”

You can read the entire article here.