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NAMI Bookshelf: May 2007

The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia

Kim T. Mueser, Ph.D. and Susan Gingerich, MSW

(Guilford Press, 2006)

At 450 pages, this is one of the best, most recent, comprehensive, and easily read books on how to help a loved one--and the rest of the family—cope with schizophrenia.

It provides “state of the art tools for mastering extraordinary challenges” notes NAMI Medical Director Ken Duckworth, based on the premise that families are natural, lifetime support systems. The book is divided into six parts.

  • An overview of schizophrenia
  • Special issues for family members
  • Preventing relapses
  • Creating a supportive environment
  • Coping with specific problems
  • Improving quality of life

Each part contains chapters offering a wealth of practical information. One chapter discusses “establishing household rules and sharing responsibilities,” while another addresses “anger and violence.” Other chapters discuss “work and school” and “independent living and self-care skills.” Sill another involves “planning for the future.”

The book provides a vision of recovery, while acknowledging that recovery is a lifelong journey. For families that are facing the onset of schizophrenia or who have been confronting it for years, it is an invaluable resource.

Use this link to purchase The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.




When Nothing Matters Anymore: A Survival Guide for Depressed Teens

Bev Cobain, R.N.C. (Free Spirit Press, revised and updated, 2007)

This is a book that deserves to be in every middle or high school library, used in every health class, and even given to every adolescent on their 13th birthday—to help them watch out for friends, as well as themselves. For that matter, parents may want a copy, too.

Bev Cobain wrote the original edition in 1998 after losing three family members to suicide, including her cousin, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the rock band Nirvana, who endures today as an icon for youth culture. The book provides straightforward information and advice, as well as first-person narratives from 12 teenagers who serve as role models for solving problems rooted in depression.

Kurt Cobain struggled with bipolar disorder, underlying alcohol and drug abuse, and what some called artistic “angst” and inability to cope with success. Ironically, Bev Cobain is a psychiatric nurse—but one who also has struggled with depression. She knows about what she writes.

Part One of the book explores how it feels to be depressed, the causes and types of depression, and connections to alcohol, drug abuse, and suicide. Part Two discusses how to stay healthy, and when to get help.

There are “You Can Say” suggestions to make it easier for teens to open up with adults whom they can trust, as well as common sense “Survival Tips” such as “Have Some Fun” and “Feed the Spirit.”  Laughter, the first one notes, increases breathing rate, heart rate, and muscular activity,” and helps reduce isolation. Feeding the spirit helps reduce feelings of emptiness through creativity or outward-focused activity. The book also includes answers to the Top 10 Questions that teens have asked the author.

Use this link to purchase When Nothing Matters Anymore now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.



No Momma’s Boy:  How I Let Go of My Past and Embraced the Future

Dominic Carter (iUniverse, 2007)

Dominic Carter grew from a childhood of poverty in the Bronx to become one of New York City’s best-known news anchors and political reporters, interviewing Nelson Mandela and President Clinton and sparring with former New York City mayor Rudy Guliani.

He also lived with a secret of physical and sexual abuse as a child. After his mother died in 2001, he collected 620 pages of medical records and learned for the first time of her life-long struggle with paranoid schizophrenia.   “I got hit with a double-barreled shotgun,” he said in recent newspaper interviews. “As a child, I didn’t know what was going on,”

His autobiography is therapeutic. “I’ve been running from the ghetto…I’ve been running from my mother, and I didn’t want to run anymore.”

In confronting the past, Carter comes to terms with his mother’s mental illness and his own emotions. “My mother was not a demon, but she saw demons,” Carter writes. “If a demon exists in this story, it is society’s collective mistreatment and misunderstanding of mental illness.”

“In spite of her tragic life, I celebrate my mother for this one thing,” Carter concludes. “She was a survivor...I am proud of my mother for not giving up…You become a real winner in life when the winds of fate knock you down and you manage to get back up. Many people, rich or poor, cannot get back up, but my mother did.”

“I am not ashamed to be called her son.”

The book is self-published and candid. To his credit, Carter resisted suggestions by mainstream publishers to sensationalize his story, because the basic facts and description of his childhood are upsetting enough. It is a memoir marked by pain, but also, an enduring love. It details Carter’s successful career, but the unifying theme throughout is one of family. 

In May 2007, Carter served as Grand Marshal for the NAMI New York City walkathon. His book is an act of courage. NAMI is proud to call him a friend.

Use this link to purchase No Momma's Boy now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.



Crazy in America: The Hidden Tragedy of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill

Mary Beth Pfeiffer

(Carroll & Graf, 2007)

This is an upsetting book, which is as it should be. One feels restless, even impatient, trying to summarize it. Every chapter is keen in detail. Then, suddenly, the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song come to mind, to help capture its essence:

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?

Drawing from California, Florida, Iowa, New York and Texas, the book uses six case studies to expose the national scandal in which the mental healthcare system keeps failing and the criminal justice system takes over.

The six case studies—each of which constitutes a separate part of the book, with three chapters in each part—shows the scandal up-close and personal. They are not dry recitations of statistics or policy prescriptions.

One study involves the odyssey of a 39 year old woman with a history of 25 hospitalizations who tears out her eyes while in solitary confinement.

Another is about a man who is shot and killed, after a police officer seeks to scold him about urinating in public but doesn’t know how to deescalate his terrified response.

Still another involves an 18-year-old boy who hangs himself after being abandoned in a small cell for eight weeks.

“People with mental illnesses lack the basic tools for survival,” Pfeiffer notes. “They see things that others don’t, yell out to silent voices, think in chaotic patterns. They are often crippled by irrational fears or weighted down by profound feelings of sadness. Yet the hallmark of prison life is regimentation and control. Obedience is expected to be instantaneous and unquestioned.”

To be sure, statistics are seeded throughout the book.

Out of 2.2 million prison and jail inmates in America, approximately 330, 000 struggle with mental illnesses.

In Florida, so many people are killed by police that one 1998 study said that they account for 20 percent of the nation’s total.

Two of the persons profiled in the book were among 24 people in the Tampa Bay area  killed during police confrontations from 2004 to 2006. About three dozen police officers were involved. None were criticized for their actions—and the deaths were ruled “justifiable,” “appropriate,” or “excusable.”

In a legal sense, the rulings may have been correct—the officers involved were often traumatized by the experience.  But Pfeiffer points out that in 2000, the Tampa Police Department instituted Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). By 2003, three hundred officers took the course. But today, the number has dwindled to only ten to fifteen each year.

The Tampa officer who shot one of the men profiled in the book had not taken the CIT course. Only three hours of her initial police training covered mental illness. In more than 30 training courses taken by her in the fours years preceding the tragedy, not one had anything to do with mental illness. This in a state where one in four of the people arrested have a mental illness.

The decline in Tampa’s CIT program points to a key sickness: the lack of sustained leadership and commitment by those in authority and power to do what’s necessary and right, rather than simply look for “quick fixes.”

Pfeiffer offers a “Top 10 List” of reforms to keep people with mental illnesses out of the criminal justice system:

  1. Stop building prisons
  2. Invest in special prison units for those people with mental illnesses who do belong in prison
  3. Train prison  corrections officers to work with and respect people with mental illnesses
  4. Invest in prison rehabilitation programs to curb recidivism
  5. Stop putting people with mental illnesses into solitary confinement
  6. Roll back punitive drug laws; invest in drug treatment programs that allow people to fail and then keep trying
  7. Train police officers how to respond to people with mental illnesses in crisis.
  8. Invest in inpatient and outpatient mental healthcare services in the community
  9. Pass insurance parity and extend Medicaid coverage to include stays in state psychiatric hospitals
  10. Invest in housing—and eliminate rules that keep non-violent and reformed felons out of public housing.

None of these are quick fixes. But they will help focus discussion of steps needed to do what’s right.  It also may be the first list to frankly include stopping the construction of new prisons and repealing punitive drug laws, and instead forcing investment in community services at the front end.

The book may be disadvantaged by similarity in title and topic to Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, published last year, which was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, as well as NAMI’s 2007 Outstanding Media Award for Advocacy. But they are different book that complement each other. Both should be given to every governor, state legislator and Member of Congress as part of advocacy for reform.

One advantage of Crazy in America is that each case study stands alone. Along with the preface and afterword, only one case study, or any combination of them, need be read to get the point.

Yes, too many people have died.


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