Heart of an advocate

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Larry Hayes (05/2012)
Larry Hayes (05/2012)

For more than a quarter century, I wrote editorials and columns for The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. I commented on most all local, state and national issues you’d expect from a writer at a major daily. But I also was an advocate for change. I helped launch a successful lawsuit to fully integrate city schools.
I helped start an internationally recognized center for the rehabilitation of persons with mental illness. I helped launch the county’s suicide prevention council. I enlisted attorneys who won the transfer of a 14-year-old girl from a maximum adult prison to a juvenile treatment center and in doing so reformed how the state treats serious juvenile offenders. And I believe I brought greater understanding for those who are disabled and those who struggle with poverty. “Champion of the underdog,” the late sheriff and state Sen. Bud Meeks called me. Let that serve as the theme for this blog.

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Where gay kids hurt

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Let me be clear:  No gay or lesbian kid should be bullied, harassed or made to feel disrespected and rejected.   No gay or lesbian kid.  None, period.

Yet rejection is the very thing that seems to be the experience of gay and lesbian teenagers in the most politically conservative communities.  What other explanation can you offer for the finding of Columbia University researchers of the high incidence of suicide attempts in such Oregon counties?

The researchers surveyed about 32,000 high school students throughout that state.  Here’s what those kids told them.   In mostly Republican conservative counties, where few Democrats live, about 20 percent of gay and lesbian kids said they had attempted suicide at least once.

At the same time, only 4 percent of straight kids in these communities reported making a suicide attempt.    Which would be the story for gay and straight kids in mainly Democratic counties.

You can read all about it in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Thank goodness, my son, who is straight,  survived four suicide attempts as a teenager.   So our family has had some experience in the trauma of an attempt.   Such events cast a shadow over our family for years.  It’s hard to imagine what losing a child to suicide would do to one’s sense of personal security.  When would you stop grieving?

The Columbia researchers note that the suicide attempts for the gay and lesbian kids in the study occurred whether or not they were bullied or depressed.

In conservative communities, you’re not likely to find school programs that support gay and lesbian kids.  In more progressive communities, such programs are common.  Further, those kids will find support in the mainline churches.  Straight kids here will befriend them, take their side and be their advocate.

Our granddaughter, a university student, has one gay friend whose family lives in a conservative town north of our city.  He fears to tell his parents.  He believes that if he told them that he’s gay, they would be devastated. Maybe even reject him.

Where does such prejudice come from?  What does a rejection of anyone on the basis of sexual orientation have to do with politics? What does it have to do with religion?

Clearly, many young gay and lesbian people internalize the bigotry they hear voiced at the dinner table, from the pulpit and from the most conservative politicians.  Growing up amid the expression of such self-righteous and ignorant attitudes becomes a burden no child should have to bear.

How is it that you don’t find such bigotry directed toward adulterers or those who divorce? I point out that such things seem to be condemned in sacred texts.

Oddly enough, the same holy scriptures that are interpreted  to condemn deviations from the sexual norm also condemn those who would judge others.  Instead, these scriptures call upon us to love and accept everyone.

Homophobia seems to be a special, even unique form of bigotry.   And like most all prejudices, it can have terrible, tragic consequences.  The Columbia University study merely tells us where you’re most likely to find it.

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Deficit Delusions

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“I just can’t get my head around it.”

Dave was talking about the trillion dollar deficit.

He blames Obama.

Well, he wasn’t happy with Bush, either.

He was against invading Iraq. Yes, he was even against invading Afghanistan, although – he grants – the Taliban had been harboring Islamic terrorists. He knows that was all Bush’s doing.

For the moment, though, Dave is chiefly upset with Obama and all the money that’s been spent bailing out Wall Street and the auto industry.

In Dave’s defense, I should point out that he spent his career as a social worker. He remains a great champion of kids and has no patience with those who want to take kids who commit crimes, lock ’em up and throw away the key. He’s not indifferent to people who are suffering in this recession.

Besides, he’s an old friend from high school. We share the same birthday.

But his anger over the deficit echoes the Tea Party movement. I guess if there’s one issue that unites folk who identify with that group it’s the deficit spending. To be sure, they don’t like the health care reform law, either.

I recall that for most of the years I wrote editorials for The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne – nearly 30 – the federal government ran a deficit. During the Johnson years, the deficit financed the Great Society programs and the Vietnam War. Nixon ran up deficits. So did Ford. And Carter. Yes, Reagan and Bush I. It wasn’t until Clinton that the feds gave us a surplus. The second Bush quickly spent that, thanks in part to large tax cuts for higher income citizens.

Everybody hates deficit spending.

How often do you hear these days, “Why if I ran my household the way the president – you name him – runs the federal government, I’d be in the poorhouse”?

The truth is that most Americans, at one time or another, do run up deficits. Granted, not on the scale of the federal government. Car payments, credit card interest and mortgages – these aren’t tiddly-winks. Those represent deficit spending.

We go into debt to buy what we think we need and, under the normal rules of the game, we can show our creditors that we’ll be able to pay off the debt.

In the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the government would be incredibly irresponsible not to run up the deficit. Indeed, the huge amount of spending that Dave – and I suppose most of us – can’t get our heads around has helped prevent an even deeper recession. In fact, we seem to be emerging from the economic crisis. In some parts of the country, unemployment seems to be inching back down. Other signs show improvement.

According to the Treasure Department, the deficit in June 2010 dropped to $68.4 billion. That’s down from $94.3 billion last June.

That’s impressive. But it’s pretty simple math.

As more people go back to work, they start paying taxes again. So the government collects more money and the deficit falls. Obviously, you want to see those big numbers whittled much further. That’s the challenge once we’re really out of the recession. For now, there’s plenty to debate about how federal dollars should be spent to prop up the economy. But the reality is, deficit spending probably has been our country’s salvation.

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I Can – With Your Help

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You’re Churchill.

The Lufwaffe has been raining down bombs on London for days. For most Londoners, a stiff upper lip is no match for such terror.

But you’re the Prime Minister. You stand before the House of Commons, shake your fist, and proclaim, “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”

No, you’re not Churchill. You don’t stand, either. You can’t.

You’ve been bound to a wheelchair since you were six and your dad hit a patch of ice on I-69.

And you don’t give up. Somedays, though, you can use a hand.

We’re all in this together, whether we have disabilities or not. That’s why it’s a great idea for any group that organizes a workshop or an exhibition to connect persons with disabilities with resources and inspiring stories.

April 10, my city, Fort Wayne, will host just such an event at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. It’s sponsored by Turnstone, which gives all manner of folk with a disability and their families a helping hand. The event will be a first here.

The brochure promises workshops and has more than 60 exhibitors signed up to hawk their wares or tell the story of their business or their agency.

To be sure, the primary audience will be those with physical disabilities. But agencies that serve persons with other kinds of disabilities, such as mental illness, are expected to be on hand.

That makes a lot of sense. Those who are blind, wheelchair-bound, hearing impaired and developmentally disabled often suffer from depression or other forms of mental illness.

I know the Carriage House, a rehabilitation center for those with mental illness, will have people at the expo to explain that highly effective program. NAMI, a family support group, should be there, too.

Indeed, such an event can help people make connections with all kinds of services in a community, services they may never have heard of.

You forget. You forget how many others or their families are in the same boat. Turnstone’s expo reminds you that you’re not alone. You don’t have to even think about giving up. Not when somebody offers to give you a hand.

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Metapsychology reviews Mental Illness and Your Town

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meta
Mental Illness and Your Town is a map showing the way, potentially, to mental illness help and healing.  The author, Larry Hayes, has a professional background encompassing extensive work as an editorial page editor (of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette).  Hayes is also an ardent advocate for the mentally ill.  And a cascade of ideas, associated possibly with mental health improvement, pours forth copiously from the lay reader friendly writing pen of Hayes.  Effectual ways, at the community level, to help and heal mentally ill persons are especially of interest to Hayes.  The impassioned advocacy efforts of Hayes may, indeed, kindle flames of community interest to actively engage  mental health issues.  The bluntly edifying writing of Hayes may contribute also to erasing any lingering societal stigma enshrouding mental illness.

As an advocate for the mentally ill, Hayes is thoughtful with regard to his criticisms, and practical oriented regarding his many suggestions for change.  Currents of thoughtful criticisms and practical suggestions flow dually and powerfully through the pages of the text.

The ideas put forth by Hayes are not supported by a bedrock of referenced research data.  The lack of referencing, linking particular ideas of Hayes (for mental illness help and healing) to specific research materials, may be displeasing to readers seeking academic style writing discipline.

In another vein, the book, substantively, is suffused with anecdotal information.  Some of these anecdotal data pertain specifically to Hayes, and to his family.  More generalized discourse is also mixed into the textual composition.

For some, the anecdotal nature of the book’s substance may be animating in a pleasing way.  For others, however, insistent on academic rigor, the suffusing of the book’s substance with anecdotal matter may be cause for critical concern.

The overarching substantive emphasis of the book is on the elucidation, by Hayes, of an expansive gamut of ways for communities to help and heal mentally ill persons.

The following are some of the textually described mechanisms which, in the view of Hayes, may be conducive to mental health betterment in communities:  the forming of local suicide prevention councils; suicide “hotlines”; community “clearinghouses” (established to assist mentally ill persons); the preparation of community directories, identifying comprehensively available mental health services; the creating of “self test” brochures (for example, for depression); news mediums (as a way to inform the public about mental health issues); the “clubhouse” model, for mental health rehabilitation; the “Memphis” model, for police response to a mental health crisis; and ombudspeople, for the mentally ill.

A “Recommended Reading” structural section, following the text, provides citations for some mental health associated research materials, together with pithily annotated comment.

There is a further structural appendage (“Internet Resources”) which gives an alphabetized listing of mental health associated websites, accompanied by brief annotation.

Critical readers may opine that Hayes presents his sundry ideas, for mental health improvement, by means of discourse which, in style, is quite informal; and, in substance, is generalized in nature and superficial in academic depth.

Some may question also the real life practicality of particular suggestions advanced by Hayes.  Ear to the financial ground readers may question, for instance, whether, in real life, there are sources of money sufficient to fund ideas, of Hayes, dependent on adequate funding.

But plainly, Hayes does a very good job, overall, of traversing the challenging path (towards mental health betterment) in doggedly determined pursuit of ways for communities to help and heal mentally ill persons.

The contents of this very fine book should be quite appealing to lay readers.  The considerable efforts of Hayes, to achieve mental help improvement, may, additionally, greatly pique the professional interest of a vast range of groups, including:  advocates for the mentally ill, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, psychotherapists, behavioral therapists, mental health rehabilitation specialists, family medicine doctors, emergency room doctors, pediatricians, local government officials, mayors, city council members, county council members, police officers, judges, juvenile justice professionals, school teachers, school superintendents, public health professionals, sociologists, clergy members, legislators, and health policy makers.

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