Update on Kofi Adu-Brempong case

via Independent Florida Alligator.  This is an update of the post about the University of Florida graduate student I wrote about last month.  Like many campuses, University of Florida strengthened its programs to help students in distress in the wake of the Virgina Tech shootings.  One of these measures included creating a Critical Response Team, or CRT, composed of safety and mental health professionals including professors, police officers, counselors and housing coordinators. The CRT  “determines if individuals pose threats to themselves or others and intervenes when necessary to maintain campus safety.”  According to the article:

“Kofi Adu-Brempong was afraid he was going to be kidnapped, taken to Africa and slain in a ritual killing.

In the days leading up to his shooting and arrest on March 2, the 35-year-old Ghanan graduate student sent e-mails to the faculty and staff in the UF geography department, accusing them of scheming to kill him, said Keith Yearwood, Adu-Brempong’s friend and fellow graduate student.”

These emails prompted the CRT into action:

“The day before Adu-Brempong was arrested and shot, a CRT counselor, along with a University Police Department officer and Adu-Brempong’s adviser, visited him at his apartment in Corry Village for two and a half hours, according to a police report.

The counselor, Laura Templeton, did not get a good chance to talk with Adu-Brempong and was unable to determine his overall mental state, Griffin said. No counselors came the night of the shooting because the situation had become too volatile and dangerous.

When Templeton met with Adu-Brempong the day before the incident, she determined Adu-Brempong did not meet the criteria for the Baker Act, according to the report.” [the Baker Act, aka the Florida Mental Health Act, allows for the involuntary commitment of someone found to be a harm to oneself and/or others]

“Had he been submitted under the Baker Act, Adu-Brempong would have been taken to one of two crisis units in Alachua County where he would have remained under observation for up to three days.”

Bruce Stevens, a professor in the UF College of Medicine and a member of the Florida chapter of NAMI , “is calling for an additional investigation to determine if the officers involved in the incident violated what they learned in the CIT course” that trains police how to handle emergencies involving persons with mental illness.

“’The implementation of what the officers learned in CIT training broke down,” Stevens said. “I don’t know what happened.’

Before the standoff and arrest, other breakdowns prevented Adu-Brempong from getting the mental care he needed, he said.”

Another article reports that “although several of the officers who were present in Adu-Brempong’s apartment at the time of the shooting had undergone CIT training, the shooter, Keith Smith had not been through the course, said Bruce Stevens, the co-president of Gainesville’s National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter.”  [Stevens has also spoken out on negative images of persons with mental illness in the media which prevents patients and families from seeking treatment and legislative funding for research and treatment. He also condemned air marshall’s shooting of a delusional passenger back in 2006 ].

So, what good is crisis response training if officers don’t take it?

Unfortunately Cornell is not the only “suicide school”

via University Diaries, who reports on Yale undergraduate’s  suicide-by-Empire State Building yesterday, and like me was upset by the irresponsible headline of an otherwise useful article about college mental health services in the Huffington Post.  The latter says:

“What more can be done to save student lives?

To answer this question we must first recognize that our population of at-risk college students is larger than in previous decades, but not because we, as a nation, have a growing number of depressed adolescents. The fact is that improvements in the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric disorders–coupled with more effective medications and new forms of psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)–have enabled high school students with successfully treated psychiatric disorders to apply for and attend American colleges.”

The article then goes on to observe that students hide their psychiatric history during the application process (who wouldn’t?) and continue to do so when they arrive on campus because they want to make a “fresh start.”  The best piece of advice from the article:

Mental health services and classroom accommodations are a right, not a privilege. Your child is entitled to care, no matter how simple or common his condition. The school is not doing you a favor: they are required to provide to students with psychiatric disorders the appropriate services and accommodations in the same way they’re required to provide a ramp for students in wheelchairs.”

But what do you do if the student is reluctant to disclose the need for accommodation? We faculty were just sent a copy of a recent article by Allan L. Schackelford on the needs of student veterans with disabilities.  He writes that students with invisible disabilities — e.g. traumatic brain injury, hearing loss or impairment, and especially PTSD and other psychological issues, are often reluctant to self-identify these disabilities.  He observes that this failure to self-identify is “largely the result of the cultural norms” of the military, where “acknowledging, discussing, or reporting a personal problem or vulnerability would most likely prompt a negative reaction from superiors, as well as peers in their unit.”

I wouldn’t doubt that student veterans encounter the same negative response from some faculty who grumble about students taking advantage of a diagnosis.  It doesn’t help that the current dust-up over the DSM-5 has some folks outside psychiatry wondering about the scientific legitimacy of the field and even the mental health of its practitioners.

NAMI Stigmabusters Alert: The Crazies and Shutter Island

NAMI StigmaBuster Alert: February 25, 2010

Different Movies, Different Strategies

Last weekend, Shutter Island was released. This week it’s The Crazies. They are two very different movies. Different movies require different strategies. In a previous alert, we asked for ideas.

The Crazies

It’s a science fiction horror film and remake of a 1960s cult classic. It has nothing to do with mental illness in the real world, but links an extremely stigmatizing title to an extremely stigmatizing plot. A town’s water supply is infected by a mysterious toxin turning people “insane” and violent. Those who are unaffected have to fight their way out or die from “the plague or the military.”

Language + stereotype = stigma. The plot is so extreme and disgusting that many people won’t take it seriously. Protest may seem ridiculous or only help sell tickets by giving the film more publicity-except it is an example of the most outrageous kind of stigma.

What’s sad is that Chris Albrecht, president & CEO of Starz Entertainment, which owns Overture Films, the studio that produced the movie, is “a long time advocate” for homelessness and children’s health. He has raised funds for Los Angeles’ Shelter Partnership and co-chaired a $250 million fundraising campaign for Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

Send Them a Message

Please contact Mr. Albrecht to express disappointment that he is even remotely associated with a movie that undermines everything he stands for. Please send a copy to Los Angeles’ Children’s Hospital.

Mr. Chris Albrecht
President & CEO
Starz LLC
8900 Liberty Circle
Englewood, CO 80112
Feedback e-address

Gail L. Margolis, Esq.
Vice President, Government, Business & Community Relations
Los Angeles Children’s Hospital
4650 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Hospital feedback e-address

Tell Overture Films that the film’s title and linkage of violence to the buzzword “insanity” stigmatizes people with mental illness. The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that stigma and stereotypes, like the ones they have generated, are a barrier to people getting help when they need it. The company now needs to help set the record straight by funding public education on mental illness.

Mr. Chris McGurk, CEO
Overture Films
9242 Beverly Blvd, Suite 200
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(424) 204-4000
E-mail address for comments

Shutter Island

This one is a serious film with megastars, but its significance may be lost in too many dark or disturbing images. StigmaBusters have hated the promotional advertising, but those who have actually seen the film are split.

The story is about a 1950’s “asylum for the criminally insane” (authentic language from that era), a struggle for recovery and conflict between competing methods of psychiatry at a critical point in history- surgery, medication, and intense psychotherapy. The novel on which the movie is based credits Boston’s McLean Hospital and the book Mad in America, which NAMI NYC Metro once honored, for providing background.

Ask the Company for Help

Ask Phoenix Pictures, which produced the film, to help fight the stigma that surrounds mental illness in 2010 by donating some of the film’s profits to community mental health services in your community. Express disappointment that advertising around the film has been so extreme. If you have seen the film, offer your comments (pro and con).

Arnold Messer
President & CEO
Phoenix Pictures. Inc.
9415 Culver Boulevard
Culver, City, CA 90232
(424) 298-2788
E-mail address for comments

Use Them as a Teaching Moment

Use the publicity that has surrounded both movies to create a teaching moment in your community.

  • Call news editors and feature editors of local newspapers and news directors of local television stations
  • Shutter Island is about 1952. Local newspapers and television have run advertising about the movies. They should also run a story-or a series-about treatment and recovery in 2010.
  • Offer to help arrange interviews with individuals and families affected by mental illness.
  • Write letters to the editor, offer comments on local newspaper and television station Web sites and share short messages through social media like Facebook. Recommend NAMI’s Web site for up- to-date information about mental illness.
  • Remind them that the Surgeon General has reported that most people living with mental illness are not violent. Instead, they are 10 times more likely to be victims of violence.
  • The Crazies is pure stigma. Forget poison water supplies, insanity and violence. Movies like it create a real public health hazard-stigma-that the Surgeon General has warned against.

Out of the Inbox

Because of the large number of StigmaBuster messages received, they cannot all be answered individually; however, we appreciate every e-mail and do review every stigma report and prioritize them for action.

We also appreciate receiving copies of responses. They are important in helping to coordinate strategy and pursue genuine dialogue. You are our eyes and ears! Your help makes a difference!

Please send reports of stigma to the StigmaBusters E-mail address.

Prof. Hacker Playlist

Last month, the blog Prof Hacker asked readers to compile a playlist of their favorite posts.  I started to follow this blog partly because one of my colleagues is an editor, but also as a quick way to keep up with new technologies for the next time I teach my graduate level Digital History course.  However, I’ve found the posts related to creativity, productivity, and quality of life (aka how to keep one’s sanity in academia) to be the most useful.    So, here are my top ten posts:

1.  The secret link between refinishing furniture and academic research.  Knitting Clio really does knit!

2.  Challenging the Presentation Paradigm, a post on Pecha Kucha.  This technique sets tight constraints on Powerpoint presentations: 20 slides, set to auto-advance every 20 seconds.  I will definitely use these criteria for student presentations.

3.  Review of organizing for the creative person:  another excuse to set aside time for creative activity every day.

4.  Don’t let productivity stress you out.    This post came very early in the life of Prof Hacker and helped me use the blog more strategically.

5.  Are you spending time on what matters to you? Answer at that time:  no.  Answer now — getting better at it.

6.  The Now Habit.   This helped me get back on track with my writing.

7.  Stop comparing yourself to other people.    This goes double for tech wannabes

8.  Does it matter if your calendar’s online? What a relief to  know others aren’t using digital gadgets to stay productive!

9.  A paperless classroom is a disease-free classroom.  It’s also a green one.

10.  What’s for lunch.   Started as a post on healthy eating, is now a series.

Book Club: A Short History of Women

shorthistorywomenThe book club selection for September was the National Book Award finalist,  A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert. The book centers around the descendants of a British suffragette, Dorothy Trevor Townsend, who starved herself to death for the cause because there was nothing else she could do – a perfect example of what Joan Jacobs Brumberg calls “the appetite as voice.”

The choices made by her descendants also demonstrate the constraints placed on women throughout the twentieth century.  The suffragette’s daughter, Evelyn, moves to America to attend Barnard College, eventually becoming a respected professor of chemistry.  Like other women scientists (or other academics) of her generation, she must give up family and children for her career.  The suffragette’s grand niece, also named Dorothy, goes in the opposite direction, choosing the standard female script of marriage and motherhood, only to find herself at a consciousness raising group in the early 1970s among other women suffering from the feminine mystique. Dorothy’s daughter, on the other hand, is part of the “opt out” generation, confronting boredom and isolation broken only by the occasional carefully orchestrated playdate.

In my opinion, this book fully deserves all the positive press it’s received.  As with her earlier books, Walbert’s writing is beautiful and compelling. Yes, the book’s structure is difficult to follow at times, but for me that contributed to its charm.  If you don’t like nonlinear narratives, then it’s best to avoid this book, or at least be very patient.  If you love Virginia Woolf or similar authors, then this book is for you.