NAMI North Carolina Executive Director, Deby Dihoff, recently wrote a letter to the editor about the death of Michael Kerr in September. Her letter to the editor was published in the News & Observer, as well the Chapel Hills News and the Durham News. Click here to read the letter.
RALEIGH, NC – When law enforcement officers are called to help with a person with mental illness, sometimes the results are tragic. The new WRAL Documentary “A Call for Help” examines one family’s story and why interactions between law enforcement and those with a mental illness are increasing in North Carolina. The documentary, hosted by WRAL News anchor Lynda Loveland, airs Thursday, October 23 at 7 p.m.
Reforms to North Carolina’s mental health system that began in the early 2000s were designed to move those with mental illnesses out of large institutions like Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Hospital, and into privately run, community-based facilities. Development of those private beds fell short leaving many people with a mental illness without care. As a result, calls to 911 for help are frequently answered by law enforcement officers who are trained to deal with criminals, not with people with a mental illness in a crisis.
On January 5, 2014, the parents of 18-year-old Keith Vidal of Boiling Spring Lakes, North Carolina called 911 for help because their son was having a schizophrenic episode. Law enforcement officers responded and one of the officers shot and killed the teen.
“A Call for Help” examines the Keith Vidal story, and looks at new training designed to help officers interact with individuals with a mental illness mentally distressed people, to help calm those interactions and avoid violence or arrest.
NAMI NC Executive Director, Deby Dihoff was interviewed for the documentary.
Statewide Broadcast Schedule
WRAL-TV/Raleigh – Thursday, October 23 at 7 p.m.
WILM-TV/Wilmington – Saturday, October 24 at 7 p.m.
WRAZ-TV/Durham – Saturday, November 1 at 4 p.m.
To watch a preview of the documentary, go to wral.com and search: WRAL doc.
The documentary is also available for on-demand viewing here: http://www.wral.com/wral-documentary-a-call-for-help/14095091/
On twitter, follow @WRALDoc and #ACallForHelp.
WRAL Documentary is one of the only dedicated documentary units in local TV. Its mission is to provide in-depth coverage of topics and issues relevant to North Carolinians.
WRAL News Documentary Producer Clay Johnson is available for radio interviews about this program. To schedule an interview or to get more information about this documentary contact him at (919) 469-2797.
The NAMI on Campus Club at Cape Fear Community College asked students on campus some questions about mental illness in order to raise awareness for Mental Illness Awareness Week. You may be surprised by some of these students’ answers!
We should all be outraged over the death of Mr. Michael Kerr, who had a serious mental illness and died of dehydration while in the care of our prison system. Mr. Kerr was in segregation for more than a month before his death. Here’s what happens when isolation is used with those with mental illness: suicides occur more often, symptoms become more pronounced, decompensation can occur requiring crisis care to hospitalization. It simply does not work with those with mental illnesses! What mental health care did he receive while in prison? Were the families concerns about their loved one taken into consideration? We need protections in prisons for those with disabilities, like limits on seclusion and isolation, treatment requirements, and monitoring and oversight. All this can be achieved through requiring accreditation. That has been discontinued in NC, and this is the result. Despite this truly awful story, there are some positives happening, like the prisons expansion of training for employees to help them understand that many of the behaviors are illness symptoms, not signs of needed disciplinary action. But these changes did not happen fast enough to help Mr. Kerr and his family. Let’s get these changes made now. It’s urgent.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) North Carolina
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into the death of a North Carolina inmate with mental illness who died of thirst after being held in solitary confinement for 35 days.
A federal grand jury in Raleigh issued two subpoenas Wednesday seeking records from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety concerning inmate Michael Anthony Kerr. The state agency released the subpoenas Thursday following a public records request from The Associated Press. Thomas G. Walker, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina whose office initiated the investigation, did not respond to a request seeking comment.
AP reported last week that an autopsy determined Kerr died of dehydration on March 12 and was receiving no treatment for his schizophrenia.
Records show the 54-year-old inmate was twice cited with violations by prison staff for flooding his cell in the weeks before his death. A written policy at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety allows prison staff to respond to the “misuse of plumbing facilities” by turning off the water to an inmate’s sink and toilet.
In a statement to AP issued earlier this week, state commissioner of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice David Guice said the water to Kerr’s cell “had not been turned off in the days immediately preceding his death.”
However, the agency’s leaders have refused to provide any dates on which the water to Kerr’s cell was cut off. Officials have also refused to answer detailed questions from AP, such as whether Kerr was chained in restraints while locked in his cell or if he was too weak to walk in the days before he died.
Kerr was found unresponsive in the back of a prison van after being driven three hours from Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville to a mental hospital at Central Prison in Raleigh.
For more than six months, North Carolina prison officials say they and agents from the State Bureau of Investigation have been working to get to the bottom of why Kerr died. There has been no indication of when, or if, any written report of that state investigation will be publicly released.
The subpoenas issued this week say that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now “conducting an investigation of suspected criminal activity.” They demand all documents and emails created by prison staff related to Kerr, including his medical and psychiatric records. The subpoenas also ask for any records related to disciplinary actions taken against Kerr, who was a habitual felon, and the resulting punishments.
North Carolina’s prison system has long faced scrutiny for its treatment of inmates with chronic mental illnesses. In 1997, a federal audit followed the death of inmate Glen Mabrey, a Vietnam veteran with mental illness who died from dehydration after being held in solitary confinement at Central Prison. Mabrey’s water had been cut off for four days after he’d intentionally flooded his cell.
The state prison system issued a statement Thursday outlining numerous changes to policies and procedures established after Kerr’s death. Personnel actions have been taken against 30 employees, including 11 people who either were fired or resigned. A new chief administrator has been assigned at Alexander, the prison where Kerr was held.
The agency has also created a task force to develop new statewide policies on how inmates with mental illness are treated and housed within the system. Numerous studies have shown that long-term isolation can have severe effects on the mental well-being of inmates, especially those already suffering from psychiatric disorders.
“The tragedy of Michael Kerr’s death and what we have learned from it cause us to reemphasize our commitment to the most professional and humane treatment of all those in our care and control,” said Frank L. Perry, the state secretary of Public Safety.
Source: Associated Press
Do You Know the Symptoms? Oct. 5-11 is Mental Illness Awareness Week; NAMI Calls for Public Education
Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) is Oct. 5-11. MIAW is a time for education about mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other medical conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feelings moods, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.
MIAW includes National Depression Screening Day (Oct. 9.) and World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10) During MIAW everyone should learn symptoms of mental illness and where to find help in case it is needed. It is also a time when community leaders should learn the facts about mental illness for public dialogue about mental health care, especially in an election year.
When an individual or family has a mental health concern, they should discuss it with their doctor, who may refer them to a mental health professional. Information is available from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at www.nami.org or its HelpLine at 1-800-950-6264. NAMI also provides free education classes and support groups.
NAMI’s website provides detailed information about the full range of mental illness diagnoses. Symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia specifically are listed below.
In many cases, the conditions have co-occurring substance abuse problems.
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in appetite. A person may experience a decrease in appetite and noticeable weight loss. Others may eat more, sometimes resulting in weight gain
- Poor concentration or ability to make decisions
- Loss of energy
- Lack of interest in usual activities.
- Low self-esteem; dwelling on losses or failures
- Feelings of hopelessness or guilt—including thoughts of suicide
Bipolar disorder involves alternating, recurring cycles of depression (lows) and mania (highs).During a low cycle, symptoms mirror depression (above). Symptoms of manias include:
- Difficulties with sleep
- High level of energy and activity
- Intense imagination
- Risk-taking; often with poor judgment
Schizophrenia involves a combination of symptoms falling into three categories: positive, negative and cognitive.
Positive Symptoms, also known as “psychotic symptoms,” involve a loss of contact with reality. Negative systems “take away” a person’s usual ways of interacting with other people. Cognitive symptoms affect thinking, reasoning, memory and perception.
- Delusions—a person believes ideas that are clearly false (e.g. people are reading their thoughts)
- Hallucinations—images or voices that others cannot see or hear
- Emotional flatness
- Inability to start or follow through with activities
- Lack of content in speech
- Inability to experience pleasure
- Difficulty in organizing thoughts
- Difficulty in remembering
- Inability to recognize their illness (anosognosia)
The 2015 Legislative Breakfast on Mental Illness will be held from 8:30 till 11:30, Saturday, January 24, 2015, at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The topic this year will be violence and mental illness.
More information about this event will be posted soon…
NAMI North Carolina is pleased to announce the launch of our first Spanish psycho-education course here in North Carolina! The first De Familia a Familia (Family-to-Family) class in Spanish starts on Oct 14, and runs on Tues and Thurs from 6:30-9:00pm until Nov 20; Camino Community Center, 201 Stetson Drive, Charlotte, NC.
For more information about the De Familia a Familia class, please click here (en español).
NAMI de Carolina del Norte se complace en anunciar el lanzamiento de nuestro primer curso de psicoeducación español aquí en Carolina del Norte! El primero De Familia a Familia en clase comienza español el 14 de Octubre, y se ejecuta en martes y jueves de 6:30-9:00 hasta el 20 de Noviembre; Camino Community Center, 201 Stetson Drive, Charlotte, Carolina del Norte.
Para obtener más información acerca de la De Familia a Familia de clase, por favor haga clic aquí (en español).
Unthinkable. Inhumane. How could this have happened? There should be no shortage of outrage over the revelation that a mentally ill prisoner in Alexander County died of thirst while in custody. The incident happened in March, but the autopsy was just released on Thursday. A much more thorough public accounting is in order.
Most of the custodians responsible for his care were fired or resigned, but the Department of Public Safety refused to provide the medical examiner with pertinent details such as when the man last had access to food and water and other information that could help determine whether his mental and physical disabilities contributed to his death.
That also leaves open the question of whether criminal charges may be warranted.
Michael Anthony Kerr was another tragic victim in what has become a familiar story. Our police forces, jails and prisons by default become the primary points of contact for people failed by an inadequate mental health system. These institutions are ill-equipped to provide the kind of care needed, and in many cases the crimes for which these people are incarcerated are the result of untreated mental conditions.
Kerr, 54, was serving a 31-year sentence as a habitual felon after a 2011 conviction of illegally possessing and discharging a firearm, according to The Associated Press. His record included a string of larceny convictions. His sister said she’d been pleading with prison officials to help her brother, who for unspecified disciplinary reasons was in solitary confinement in a room the inmates referred to as “The Hole.”
He had “significant” mental and physical disabilities, according to correspondence between state agencies this past spring. Kerr was found dead in a van in March on the way to Central Prison’s psychiatric unit.
Mentally ill inmates pose a danger to themselves and to others, and if they are housed in our prisons they must be monitored closely. It is inconceivable that no one noticed whether Kerr was getting food and water, or whether he was showing signs of dehydration. Did they just forget about him?
Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry promised a thorough investigation, yet has released no information. Even the state medical examiner wasn’t given enough information to help her determine whether Kerr’s death should be classified as an accident, natural causes or homicide. Gov. Pat McCrory should demand that the details be released.
While this death may be an extreme example of negligence, to say the least, our jails and prisons house many people who should be cared for by trained mental health professionals in a setting that emphasizes treatment rather than punishment. Locally we have seen many examples of what happens when community mental health services are lacking or unavailable; often law enforcement and our penal institutions end up charged with a job they are not equipped to do.
But it is unconscionable that any inmate in the state’s care be allowed to die for a lack of water, a basic need.
Published: Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 11:34 p.m.
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