Hope, and the writings of Peggy Symons
Hope, and the writings of Peggy Symons


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The following are published articles which have appeared in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

 

 

          GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT

SMOOTHS RIDE THROUGH LIFE - I DISCOVERED A SAFE HAVEN WHERE I COULD LEARN

THE  "HOW-TO'S" OF LIFE

 


  
Some of life's most important lessons are cumulative. In time, they are recognized as a thread that runs so true throughout life.

The most important lesson in my life was about generosity of spirit. It is an essentially human gift that we have to give to each other. It defines us, inspires us and gives us hope. My mentor and my friends gave it to me as a gift.

A quarter of a century is a long time to walk through life with a group of friends, led by a psychiatrist, Walter J. Muller, who believed in us. He has mentored us for 25 years. Although several of us now participate in other services, we came together as graduates of a pioneering local program for severely mentally ill teenagers and young adults. Most of us have biologically determined brain diseases called schizophrenia or variations of psychotic disorders.

The so-called past residents' group was the follow-up part of this unique project. It was created and run by Dr. Muller, who established the program in 1973.

For some of us, this unusual program was the last stop before the state institution. Some of my friends were taken there by despairing and almost-hopeless families. One of us was brought back to the house by the police, who picked her up while she was walking down Interstate 4 in the middle of the night, barefoot, in the pouring rain. A long time ago, our group put a raincoat and shoes on her and persuaded her to stay off the interstate. She is now living independently and is contributing to life through a volunteer commitment to a nursing home.

I came knocking on the door in 1975 after a stay in a local hospital. I had a
devastating illness, no anchors and very little hope left.

Like my friends, I was embraced by the program and taught important survival skills and the basics of how to live with the long-term illness of schizophrenia.

The past residents' group took up where the residential phase left off.

It was and is a basic remediation group on life. This is where we have
learned the difficult "how-to's'' of life that most people take for granted --
how to find and keep friends, how to connect with other people and how to
navigate through a world that often doesn't understand us and is sometimes
downright afraid of us.

These are the most frustrating and elusive "how to's'' that we have to master.

These are the deficits that sometimes leave mentally ill people with the haunting feeling of standing on the periphery of life, alone, looking through the invisible barrier of illness, forever a spectator of life. It is like watching a movie with characters and actors you do not know, with a vague plot that you don't quite understand. For some of us, after many years, a sliver of the intricate synchrony of life going on around us is just moving into view.

Through the years, we have learned to identify and appreciate our abilities and how daily to manage the potential destruction caused by molecular-level dysfunction encoded into our brains and our lives.

The long-term commitment and confidence of the doctor who has led us
have drawn all of us out of the shadows of mental illness into the light of
friendship and self-respect. He celebrates with us the victories of our slow,
uphill ascent against these chronic brain diseases. When someone has been able to silence the voices in his or her head or when one of us passes a year or another year with no visits to the hospital, Dr. Muller shares our successes
with us.

I have found that these 25 years of stumbling through life
together with this group has often been punctuated by laughter at our dumb
mistakes, birthday parties and spontaneous acts of friendship and alliance.

We put our failures into perspective, learn from them and let them go.
In the words of our leader, "We keep on keeping on.''

The most important lesson I have learned in my life is a continually evolving understanding that the gift of generosity of spirit -- freely given -- has the enduring power to heal and to free.

With it, nothing in life is insurmountable.

.
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
- Saturday, September 30, 2000
Peggy Symons , special to the sentinel

 

 

 

Dr.Walter J. Muller "The Hope Giver"

Bills would ensure patients get meds

The Orlando Sentinel,   Monday, April 6, 2015
Author: Peggy Symons

 

Florida legislators have the opportunity to address fail-first insurance protocols that prevent patients like me from receiving medication in a timely manner. I know firsthand what it's like to be denied necessary medications because patients are being treated like a number, rather than as an individual.

Fail-first, or step-therapy, protocols require a patient to try the least expensive treatment or medication to address a problem, despite what a patient's physician recommends. After failing first on the least-expensive option, a patient can then receive the medication and at the doses their physician originally prescribed. These protocols allow many patients' conditions to deteriorate.

I have suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for more than 40 years, and have dealt with a history of suicidal tendencies and emerging mental illness with improper medications. For many years, I have struggled to receive the proper medications that I need. I failed on more than 30 medications before finding two that work.

As a dual-eligible Medicaid patient, I was transferred to a Medicare Part D plan and was told that there would be no restrictions on my medications. Immediately after being transferred to Medicare Part D, I was faced with barriers and repeated denials.

This continued for more than 50 denials, despite the appeals made by my physician who noted the dangerous side effects from the cheaper dose levels suggested due to fail-first protocols. After months of fighting the battle alongside my doctors, I was finally approved for the proper doses of my medication.

It's imperative that we ensure that patients aren't subjected to complicated processes to receive necessary medications. The current legislation -- House Bill 863 by Rep. Shawn Harrison and Senate Bill 784 by former Senate President Don Gaetz -- can help to address these problems with insurance companies. Our representatives need to capitalize on the opportunity this legislative session to protect Florida's patients and help to guarantee that patients have access to proper medication.

Patients need the right medicine at the right doses at the most appropriate time to ensure the best and most efficient course of treatment.


PeggySymons of DeLand is a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando.     

prejudice and discrimination

May 26, 2015
Orlando Sentinel
 
Prejudice Is Relentless
 
Darryl Owens’ column “It’s time to bury ‘thug’ term under Baltimore’s ashes” (Orlando Sentinel, May 11) on the violent unrest in our cities makes the point that in the travail over civil rights, no one’s life is less worthy than another’s, whether police officers, bystanders or protesters.
The column also identifies the damage done by rioters as a perfect cover to avoid timely focus on discrimination and to look away from the impact of prejudice ripping through the lives of our own people.
Prejudice remains a relentless adversary; it emboldens discrimination and justifies hate. Following the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager shot by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, the Department of Justice profiled a multitude of civil-rights abuses, including discrimination so deeply entrenched that city employees were bouncing racist emails back and forth with no thought they would turn and bring down the city. Clearly, prejudice has been undeterred by civil-rights laws. People living with mental illnesses are still being shot and killed by untrained police officers. Housing and employment discrimination continue to interfere with the civil rights of minorities and people with disabilities. Legitimate remedies are scarce and elusive. Whether discrimination hits with billy clubs or travels in shadows and veils, it takes a bite out of our humanity every time it targets another person. Until we illuminate the sweeping damage done by prejudice, we will never be free.
Peggy Symons
Deland, Fl.
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Civil-rights fight persists for mentally ill

Orlando Sentinel, Wednesday, December 24, 2014

 

Deadly encounters with police have ignited a fierce debate over the future of civil rights in America.

Intense focus on the rights of citizenship, including the right to be free of discrimination, cannot exclude the largest segregated group in the nation: one in four people who experience a mental illness.

These citizens, including our children, remain ruthlessly segregated at the bottom of state budget bills that eliminate critically necessary medical and psychiatric services. At 49th in the nation for per-capita spending on mental illnesses, Florida is among the worst offenders.

There are now five times as many people with these disorders of the brain in jails and prisons than hospitals; once arrested, they remain incarcerated much longer than others who commit the same offenses.

About a third of the homeless are mentally ill.

These are not idle facts; they are vital statistics and evidence of where we have segregated mental illnesses. They also expose civil-rights abuses so serious they spill into breach of human rights.

On June 23, 2012, guards at the Dade County Correctional Institution threw a mentally ill prisoner into a scalding shower for more than an hour; he burned to death. News coverage of the death revealed rampant discrimination and abuse of mentally-ill inmates in Florida's prison system.

This case, along with others, reveals the secrecy that riddles the prison system and exposes practices that treat people with mental illnesses with cruelty, abuse and neglect.

All citizens have constitutional rights to be treated equally under the law. But it is clear that prejudice and discrimination have swallowed the civil rights of a category of people who have the least ability to take them back.

The civil-rights era of the 1960s was a wrenching period of life-and-death struggles. People lost their lives, their homes and their jobs. Fifty years have passed since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, but for some, including those with mental illness, the battle endures.

The evidence is clear that prejudice and discrimination driven by their deep roots are not dead. Without constant vigilance and the reach of moral law, they will continue to cast a long shadow over the identity of our nation.


 Peggy J. Symons lives in DeLand, Fl


Column: MY WORD PEGGY SYMONS Copyright (c) 2014, Orlando Sentinel Communications. All rights reserved.

 

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Fund mental care before a
tragedy

 



Since the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado 15 years ago, one mass murder after another has shaken the nation. The latest rampage was at the hands of a California man who had a long history of mental illness.
It is a grave error to look away from the high-profile tragedies seizing other states with the complacent illusion that somehow Florida is immune from the toll and consequences of untreated mental illnesses.
Keeping in mind that people living with serious mental illnesses are overwhelmingly nonviolent, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a small fraction of individuals who do become violent, almost always in the absence of treatment and modern medications.
Legitimate debate over how to prevent further loss of life is breaking out all over the nation, including Florida. Searching for answers to violence and mental illnesses must encompass the fact that the greatest loss of life to mental illness in Florida isn't to homicide; it is to suicide and early death accruing through decades of restricted access to timely and effective psychiatric services.
Suicide rates are rising; 2,922 people in Florida ended their lives in 2012. More than 90 percent of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness.
In addition, nearly two-thirds of those suffering with these diseases of the brain are not receiving treatment.
More than two dozen psychiatric hospitals have closed since 1995, leaving thousands of the most acutely ill people in the state nowhere to go.
These statistics are a sliver of Florida's fatally flawed policy of neglecting serious mental illnesses.
Prejudice and discrimination have put serious mental illnesses at the back of the bus for decades; yet lawmakers never seem to see the collision between failed public policy and preventable loss of life.
Predictably, the 2014 Legislature convened and adjourned leaving Florida stubbornly stuck at 49th in the nation for funding community-level psychiatric care.
Until the state of Florida is stunned into action by a sudden strike of violence, significant reform of one of the nation's most inadequate and underfunded mental-health systems will remain mired in low priorities and the hidden suffering of thousands of people, including children, who are shut out of any hope of recovery from serious mental illnesses.
There are warning bells tolling through every life lost to mental illnesses. We cannot turn away as if we do not hear; the bells are tolling for us.

 
Peggy Symons lives in DeLand.

Don't assume mentally ill are violent

The Orlando Sentinel
- Wednesday, May 16, 2012

 

The Orlando Sentinel's article Saturday on the men charged with murdering two teenage boys was graphic and frightening ("2 arrested in killing of 2 teens").

According to the article, one of these men has a lengthy history of
violence and schizophrenia.

Without counterbalancing information on schizophrenia, this heinous crime is casting a long shadow over mental illness and perpetuating the myth that those of us who suffer from it are categorically violent people.

It is important to know that violence is not inherent to
schizophrenia.

Research published in the August 2005 issue of the
Archives of General Psychiatry found that people living with serious mental
illnesses are victims of violent crime at "a rate of 11 times higher than the
general population."

In a further twist of the myth, the most underreported and under-treated aspect of this disorder in women is exposure to violence, trauma and abuse.

Schizophrenia is a devastating disorder of the brain; it strikes young, and it hits hard. The most common act of violence associated with this illness isn't murder; it's suicide.

In addition, poor health and lack of access to medical care take a heavy toll. This illness lops an average of 25 years off the lifespans of those who bear its burdens.

In 2012, there is promise ahead as research unravels the complex
biological codes and puzzles of serious mental illnesses.

But when the
words "murder" and "schizophrenic" intermingle in a front-page newspaper
article, the public portrait of this illness becomes framed in violence.
Stereotypes push the perception of mental illnesses back into the dark ages.

The story about this violent crime on Cady Way Trail in Winter Park is
an opportunity to shed the light of understanding on schizophrenia, to separate violence from mental illness and to topple the illusions that continue to drive stigma, discrimination and stereotypes.

Helen Keller tagged her target perfectly when she said, "The world is full of suffering; it is also full of the overcoming of it."

When violence haunts the headlines, don't be afraid
of people with schizophrenia; we are your friends, your neighbors and your loved ones.


 
Peggy J .Symons of DeLand is a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando.

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 Violence As Entertainment Blurs Boundaries

 
Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) - Friday, April 5, 2013
 
 The article on Adam Lanza, the young man who committed the
massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, was a chilling reminder of our own
brush with what could have been mass killings at the University of Central
Florida ("Police: Lanza had stash of weapons," Orlando Sentinel, March 29).
 
Details emerging from the UCF investigation destroy the illusion that
any community is immune from the violence that is rattling the nation.
 
The steady stream of high-profile killings and planned attacks has
generated a riptide of diverging opinions on what motivates murder and how to
prevent it.
 
Although mental illness has clearly taken its toll, people
living with these conditions rarely commit atrocities.

The causes of violence are complex and cannot be simplified by concluding that mental illness
is the monster that is driving reason, compassion or even conscience from our
midst.

There are many pieces to this troubling trend, including the
violence that brings profits for the entertainment industry. Businesses have
created a multibillion-dollar empire packaging and selling graphic violence in
movies, video games and TV shows.

Let the buyers beware: There is danger
in the steady drumbeat of death scripted into our lives as we channel surf from
one homicide to another or watch movies with action so brutal it overpowers plot
and dialogue.

Even our children are paying for every slaughter in video
games; there are no locks on the weapons we have so carelessly put in their
hands.

It is not possible to interact with virtual death without losing
regard for life itself; animated violence becomes tolerated violence.
 
Without boundaries, our passion for on-screen violence is diminishing
the horror of the daily parade of murder marching through our neighborhoods and
the evening news.
 
We are entertaining the weight of deadly force with no
thought of its gravity. So why are we surprised that we keep getting hit with
the scattershot of random violence?

If we are ever to disarm violence,
we must drop the illusion that turning it into entertainment doesn't blur the
boundaries between life and death. There is no future in violence, except more
violence.
 
Memo: Peggy J.Symons lives in DeLand
 
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 We need reform now to save our children
 
 
The Orlando Sentinel,
Saturday, September 5, 2009
 
The Orlando Sentinel's editorial on doping children in foster
care with psychiatric drugs ("Doping up our children," Monday) is a red flag
flying over Florida's neediest and most vulnerable children.

True,
mental illnesses in children are complex, and there are no easy answers. But as
the Sentinel pointed out, the lack of treatment options for children in
behavioral distress is one of Florida's most forceful failures. Ninety percent
of the young people who commit suicide have diagnosable and treatable mental
illnesses.

In addition, thousands of these special-needs kids are
trapped in the holding tanks of the juvenile-justice system. These are
salvageable lives. Access to expert care is the safety net that can catch them
before the disastrous and expensive crash and burn of chronic illnesses,
incarceration and suicide.

Unfortunately, child psychiatrists, funding
for residential treatment and counseling services for children have disappeared
across the nation with Florida leading the way.

The Florida Legislature
is carving out budget priorities for 2010. We must take these children into the
offices of every state legislator and lobby for their rights to life.

Concerns over health care have vaulted to the top of the nation's
agenda. Now is the time to reach up and seize the reforms that will save our
children, for as Florida goes, so goes the nation.

Peggy J. Symons of DeLand
Copyright 2009 Sentinel Communications Co.
 
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A time for reaching out

 
 
The Orlando Sentinel
Monday, December 10, 2007
 
 
It is the time of year when the world picks up
its pace and can seem to move even more quickly than usual.

Shopping, lights and sales materialize after Thanksgiving and continue into the New Year.
 
For those of us who live with the disorders of the brain that cause mental illnesses, and for many who don't, this can be a lonely time when
memories of past holidays that were difficult or empty are remembered or relived.

It is the season that can stir up feelings that life has left us out or that we are standing on the outside of the holidays, looking in, as the world celebrates all that we have missed.

So we turn away from the holidays, feeling discouraged, disconnected or like we are not invited to this annual celebration.

But, wait!

There is a surprise waiting for
us if we make a mountain-moving effort to find something that all of us have butfew of us ever find.
 
That is the knowledge that we all have gifts and talents to bring to the holidays, and that no one's gift is diminished by a mental illness or loneliness or even by feeling forgotten.

Encouraging others, showing kindness and reaching out our hands to hands in need are among life's greatest gifts.
 
They can't be purchased or sold, only given and received. They don't break, fade or fall away.
These are the gifts that can change lives.
 

When the gifts and talents that all of us have are seen by and given to each other, that is when the doors to the holidays will be opened to us as the
world awaits the universal grace of the gifts we have to bring.


PEGGY SYMONS of Deland,Florida

Copyright 2007 Sentinel Communications
Co.

Shedding Light On Suicide

 

 

The Orlando Sentinel
- Saturday, February 16, 2008

 

The Orlando Sentinel's Feb. 8 article about suicide casts a striking light of truth into the broadly held belief that people living with mental illnesses are
categorically violent toward others.

When people die of these brain disorders, they don't usually go up in smoke and fire like the Virginia Tech student who killed 30 people before he shot himself. They die of suicide in the shadows of the night, and then fall into America's archives of the forgotten, where nothing ever moves or changes.

Most of us are impacted by mental illnesses in some way, either by circumstances or biology. Yet access to modern medications and expert psychiatry is crumbling across the nation. We have the ability and the responsibility to build a better system of care for those among us who are profoundly ill and forsaken.

The hope of their healing is in our hands.

PEGGYSYMONS
Deland, Florida

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Trained officers discern difference between crime and mental illness

The Orlando Sentinel
- Friday, April 25, 2008

Author: Peggy Symons

 

 

Crisis-intervention
team training is a 40-hour specialized course for law-enforcement officers about how to respond to crisis calls from people who have the disorders of the brain that cause mental illnesses.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando presents the actual experiences of people who live with these disorders of the brain and our families.

The officers come into our classes as "strangers in a strange land," to borrow the title of Robert Heinlein's science-fiction novel.

Forty hours later, they graduate, fully equipped with the keys and the compass of certified Crisis Intervention Team Officers.

Deep and drastic funding cuts have swept hospital beds,
medications and psychiatric services from the most seriously ill.

By default, law-enforcement agencies are now the first responders to severe mental illnesses.

Because trained officers know the difference between a mental
illness and a crime, they are turning the tumblers on the locks and shackles of the inappropriate criminalization of mental illnesses.

We watch their faces engage as we take them down the dark and difficult back roads of mental illnesses, where people lose their way and sometimes even lose their lives.

One of our greatest rewards is to see the light of recognition and
understanding flash across the faces in the room, and in that instant, know they have become our torchbearers and keepers of the light.

This is a unique light.

It rises through their ranks as the heroics of prevention.

The heroics of prevention are in the armed standoffs that don't happen
because the officers know how to reach across the psychotic abyss and disarm delusions before the first shots are fired.

They are the heroics in the headlines that don't rock our communities because specially trained officers know how to de-escalate the high-profile tragedies of mental illnesses before they happen.

The officers are the light that lives on in people who
don't fall to suicide because crisis-intervention teams know how to throw
lifelines to people in the most desperate moments of their lives.

I believe that all of us have a call on our lives to serve the common good.

Whether we walk toward that call, or walk away from it, we leave
indelible footprints on life.

The men and women of Central Florida's crisis intervention teams have honored a call on their lives.

They will also be walking with us, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando, on Saturday at Lake Lilly in Maitland. Come and join us, our officers, and jazz artist Joyce Cooling at 9 a.m.
We will be walking to the "Music of the Mind." 
 

 

PeggySymons lives in Deland,Florida

 

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A time for reaching out

 
 
The Orlando Sentinel
Monday, December 10, 2007
 
 
It is the time of year when the world picks up
its pace and can seem to move even more quickly than usual.

Shopping, lights and sales materialize after Thanksgiving and continue into the New Year.
 
For those of us who live with the disorders of the brain that cause mental illnesses, and for many who don't, this can be a lonely time when
memories of past holidays that were difficult or empty are remembered or relived.

It is the season that can stir up feelings that life has left us out or that we are standing on the outside of the holidays, looking in, as the world celebrates all that we have missed.

So we turn away from the holidays, feeling discouraged, disconnected or like we are not invited to this annual celebration.

But, wait!

There is a surprise waiting for
us if we make a mountain-moving effort to find something that all of us have butfew of us ever find.
 
That is the knowledge that we all have gifts and talents to bring to the holidays, and that no one's gift is diminished by a mental illness or loneliness or even by feeling forgotten.

Encouraging others, showing kindness and reaching out our hands to hands in need are among life's greatest gifts.
 
They can't be purchased or sold, only given and received. They don't break, fade or fall away.
These are the gifts that can change lives.
 

When the gifts and talents that all of us have are seen by and given to each other, that is when the doors to the holidays will be opened to us as the
world awaits the universal grace of the gifts we have to bring.


PEGGY SYMONS of Deland,Florida

Copyright 2007 Sentinel Communications
Co.
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MITIGATE THE UPSET . . .

 
The Orlando Sentinel 
Monday, June 20, 2005

Regarding the June 13 article "New limit on drugs may hurt ill poor": The state's Medicaid changes are sure to upend the lives of people with severe mental illness. The clock is ticking, yet in spite of Mark Hollis' article and repeated requests from advocates across the state, the state Agency for Health Care Administration has yet to provide a transitional plan to
mitigate the upset when hundreds of mental-health patients are unable to obtain
their medications.

Peggy Symons '
30-year struggle with schizophrenia is a perfect example of how the right
medication can make all the difference in the quality of a person's life.
Medical advancements in the last decade have given people with schizophrenia and
bipolar disorder the chance to work, have relationships and be active in their
communities.

If people who already are stabilized are forced to switch
to cheaper, possibly ineffective drugs, their lives will be disrupted,
hospitalizations will increase and many could even die. There needs to be a plan
to "grandfather" in people who are already stabilized. There is no good that can
come of this scenario if it stands as it is now, with no plan or regard for
those who will be affected the most. The clock is ticking people with mental
illnesses need answers now, and AHCA needs to provide them.

Larry J. Shertz
Chairman of the Board of Directors
Mental Health Association
of Central Florida, Inc.
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VEHICLE OF CHANGE

 
The Orlando Sentinel
Monday, November 1, 2004
 
  Left in a shambles by state and national neglect, America's
mental-health system is broken, fractured and failed.

Many people living with the disorders of the brain causing mental illnesses are losing all hope of
recovery and some are even losing their lives.

But America is rolling toward the election of 2004.

Now is the time that our votes have the deepest reach and greatest power to transform mental-health care in America.
Voting is the great equalizer; it is also the vehicle and engine of change.

If we seek out and elect those who will commit to fighting for fair
funding, we can transform mental-health care in America.

For those who are suffering with these treatable disorders of the brain, justice is not only a
moral principle; it is a standard of care. But justice is a light of far greater
reach; it has the power to become what it envisions.

Justice for all is in our hands.

Peggy Symons of Deland,Florida
 
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MEDICAL CONCERNS
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL -
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
 
 
The state of Florida had given 27,000 severely ill
people enrolled in the Medically Needy program one month's notice that, as of
May 1, they would be required to live on $450 per month. The rest of their
incomes would go to offset the catastrophic costs of their medical care and
medicines.

After the outcry of public opinion protesting this calculated
act of inhumanity, both the House and Senate agreed to pass legislation
extending this program to July 1. This deadline is now caught in midair as the
power games between the House and Senate intensify.

May 1 is bearing down on these desperately ill people with the certainty of a law set in stone.
The immediate obligation of the Legislature is to pass this July 1 extension date.
These politicians have already used the Medically Needy program to
carve out a political football field on the backs of the severely ill and frail
elderly. People now caught between life and death are responsibilities. They
never should be used as footballs or looked at merely as inconveniences.
 
Peggy Symons of Deland, Florida
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WE NEED INROADS ON HELPING THOSE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

 
 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL - Thursday, July 24, 2003
Author: Peggy Symons
 
Nine months have passed since the plane crash that killed
Sen. Paul Wellstone.

In February, "The Paul Wellstone Mental Health
Equitable Treatment Act of 2003" was submitted to Congress.

This bill would require insurance companies to provide parity, which is coverage for
mental illnesses equitable to any other medical condition.

Wellstone was a champion of insurance parity and the rights of mentally ill people to
equal-treatment coverage.

His parity legislation, even with a congressional alliance, was defeated for years.

Left behind are Wellstone's constituents, the 20 percent of families in America struggling with
the brain disorders causing severe mental illness.

Insurance companies routinely pay out millions of dollars in unquestioned claims for preventable
diseases of lifestyle caused by smoking, drinking and dietary choices.

Yet they can limit or deny coverage for the no-choice, no-fault
breakdowns in the biochemistry of the brain that cause mental illnesses.
 
Advancing technologies in genetics and neuro-imaging are producing
striking new finds in the genetics and biology of these common and
life-shattering illnesses.

Despite the current and clearly established physical foundations of mental illnesses, old Freudian myths blaming families remain as ghosts of shame and guilt, so entrenched that policy-makers are still dog paddling in the backwaters of 19th century pseudo-psychiatry.

In 2003, to continue to single out mental illnesses for discriminatory barriers to
newer, cost-effective treatments is neither medically valid nor morally
sustainable.

The disheartening reality, as we have so clearly seen in
Tallahassee, is that politics can go one way; reason and conscience can go
another.

This is the divide where two roads have risen, choices were
made, and equitable-treatment legislation has been defeated for years, both in
Tallahassee and Washington.

Mental-health parity has repeatedly fallen
prey to the insurance lobby along the well-traveled roads paved with the glitter
and gold of endless campaign currency.

Equality laws are the roads less
traveled. For years, these bills have been voted down -- along with the hope for
healing and restored lives -- by politicians who enjoy mental-health parity
themselves as fully insured government employees.

Mental illnesses are terrible thieves of the night; untreated, they silence those whose lives they
steal.

They cause great suffering, much of it hidden by silence and
shame, most of it treatable.

Our responsibility is to speak out and to
act for those who can't. It is their only hope of being heard.

If we finish Wellstone's uphill press for insurance parity, we will widen these roads
less traveled so that all who need them can walk the open roads of hope and
healing with undiminished humanity.

When mentally ill people have equal
access to treatment, the roads to recovery will become the roads well traveled.
 
 Peggy Symons , an advocate for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Greater Orlando, lives in Deland,Florida.
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ZOMBIE NATION?
 
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL - Sunday, July 14, 2002
 
Maureen Dowd's July 4 column, "Aloft on Bozoloft, our designer
depressions," presented the array of antidepressants on the American market as
convenient designer drugs that we are collectively and willfully using to create
a "zombie nation".

According to Dowd's imaginary psychiatry, we are
using these drugs to selectively delete any human emotion we might consider
undesirable by manipulating the molecular biology of our own brains.

The true dark side of antidepressants is not the superficial and inaccurate world of
Dowd's wit. It is the unacceptable reality that these healing medications and
the medical expertise to use them appropriately and effectively are hopelessly
out of reach for millions of uninsured people.

At some point in our lives, as many as 25 percent of us will be hit with the biochemical imbalances of the brain that cause clinical depression. Antidepressant medicines, used
appropriately in the context of compassionate and expert care, can restore hope,
good health and the chance to live a full life free of the power and pain of
this common and highly treatable illness.

Peggy Symons, of Deland, Florida
 
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CENTER STAGE FOR SCHIZOPHRENIA

 

THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
- Friday, March 22, 2002

Author:
Peggy Symons

 

 

As the date of the Academy Awards approaches, once again A Beautiful Mind is on the American mind.

The box-office draw of the story of the Nobel Prize
winner John Nash's journey through life with schizophrenia has pulled this
illness out of the dark and dusty basement of non-awareness right onto center
stage. It has created a bridge of shared experience as the story of Nash's life
unfolds with some striking parallels to my own experience of living with a
psychotic disorder.

The frightening intensity of Nash's delusional world
was so authentically presented that I, of all people, thought it was real.

In the three months since the release of A Beautiful Mind, the widely
held stereotypes that we are categorically violent people or "split
personalities" are yielding to the understanding of just how human we are. There is a new understanding that a person living with schizophrenia can have a beautiful mind. People are now asking who we are. They are beginning to
understand our humanity and that this is an illness of intense impact. It is no
one's fault, and it is never a choice.

Neuroscience is advancing on
schizophrenia, but it is a complex, chronic and challenging disorder. It will
give up its secrets slowly. The current focus on mental illness is an
opportunity of immediate relevance to present the needs of mentally ill people
as issues of substance. One in five families is struggling with the brain
disorders causing mental illnesses.

If anyone is looking for us, many of
us are behind the locked doors of prisons. Often we are arrested for our
symptoms rather than for true criminal intent. It is illegal to lie on park
benches or trespass on Dumpsters.

As funding for vital mental-health services dwindles, prisons have become the de facto psychiatric hospitals of the 21st century. Reduced to dollars and no sense, the costs of jailing us are more expensive than it would be to treat us. We exist behind the locked doors of "no access" to effective treatment. We live behind the walls of stigma and misunderstanding. This is where much of our humanity remains hidden.

It has been through the new lens of A Beautiful Mind that we have been given the vision to understand, to value and to respect the inner beauty of so many people like John Nash, walking through life with chronic, severe mental illnesses.
These are our neighbors and our loved ones. Who will see their inner beauty and who will know their names? How do we answer the age-old question of conscience and responsibility? Am I my brother's keeper?

If my brothers and sisters are the most profoundly ill and vulnerable among us, then, yes, the answer always comes back close to me:

I am my brother's keeper.

 

Memo: PeggySymons lives in Deland,Florida. She is a member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Mental
Health Association.

 

______________________________________________________
  .

 

 
 

FINANCING SHORTFALL

 
 
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL -
Tuesday, January 16, 2001
 
 The Jan. 11 article describing the serious shortfall in
financing for the mentally ill in Florida was a clear presentation of the
consequences of the large information gap about the biological nature of mental
illness. These brain diseases are no more a choice than are Parkinson's disease
or Muscular Dystrophy.

Forty percent of severely mentally ill people get no treatment at all. Imagine if 40 percent of those with equally catastrophic illnesses went without available or effective treatment.

Researchers are on the trail of cracking the complex biological codes of severe mental
illnesses. Meanwhile, consistent with the social stigma generated by
misunderstanding, many people with brain diseases go to jails, the streets and
to graves, untreated, in part because of a lack of financing.
 
Peggy Symons of Deland Florida
 
_______________________________________________________________
 
 

LEGISLATIVE TRIAGE

 
 
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL -
Thursday, October 25, 2001
 
 
The special session of the Legislature has
become the equivalent of the emergency room of the state.

Like effective triage in an emergency room, allocation of resources should be mandated in order
of the severity of impact on the lives of Floridians.

Thousands of low-income elderly and disabled people access prescription drugs through
Medicaid and the Medically Needy Catastrophic Costs program.
 
Cutting these drugs will result in massive new costs as severe illnesses erupt.

The heaviest costs will accrue in the certain relapse of thousands of people taking the new, expensive medications that effectively treat the severe and chronic brain dysfunctions causing schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.

The state of New Hampshire has provided the best medical triage lesson for emergency
management of funds.
 
For every dollar cut in psychiatric drugs, the state
hemorrhaged out $17 per person in rehospitalization costs.

Intelligent
triaging means preventing known casualties before they occur.

Peggy Symons of Deland,Florida
 
__________________________________

MENTAL-HEALTH MEDICATIONS

THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
- Tuesday, April 24, 2001

 

Senate bill 792, sponsored by Sen. Ron Silver of Miami, is rolling through the Florida Senate, having assumed a legislative legitimacy it does not deserve. This bill is an attempt to cut Medicaid drug costs by weakening or restricting access to medications that 40,000 Floridians rely on to treat the serious brain diseases
that cause mental illnesses.

These newer medicines are the most effective recent development in the neurobiological treatment of these complex and often life-disrupting illnesses.

As Silver and Gov. Jeb Bush well know, restricting access to medicines that work results in the predictable, preventable, huge end costs of jails, hospitals, emergency rooms and immeasurable human suffering.

This senseless budget-cutting attempt is occurring at the same time as Bush presses to cut taxes benefiting the wealthiest among us. This is a crystal-clear presentation of the political charades that often accompany the unfairness of mental-health issues. There are 40,000 Floridians with brain diseases, most of them silenced by stigma, who will be affected by this bill, essentially without representation.


Peggy Symons lives in Deland, Florida 

 

______________________________________________

LEGISLATIVE TRIAGE

THE ORLANDO SENTINEL 
  Thursday, October 25, 2001

 

The special session of the Legislature has become the equivalent of the emergency room of the state.

Like effective triage in an emergency room,
allocation of resources should be mandated in order of the severity of impact on the lives of Floridians.

Thousands of low-income elderly and disabled
people access prescription drugs through Medicaid and the Medically Needy
Catastrophic Costs program. Cutting these drugs will result in massive new costs as severe illnesses erupt.

The heaviest costs will accrue in the certain
relapse of thousands of people taking the new, expensive medications that
effectively treat the severe and chronic brain dysfunctions causing
schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.

The state of New Hampshire has
provided the best medical triage lesson for emergency management of funds. For every dollar cut in psychiatric drugs, the state hemorrhaged out $17 per person in rehospitalization costs.

Intelligent triaging means preventing known casualties before they occur.

Peggy J. Symons    Deland Fl

 

______________________________________________________________



STEREOTYPES IN MOVIES STIGMATIZE THE MENTALLY ILL

THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
- Friday, August 3, 2001

Author:
Peggy J.Symons

 

 

It comes as little surprise to me that Psycho was No. 1 on the American Film
Institute's list of the top 100 thrillers. Psycho, of course, offers the
award-winning scene of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates slashing his victim in the shower of the Bates Motel.

Janet Leigh, though, is not Psycho's only victim. Also victimized all along have been the tedious, quiet heroics of mental-health advocates.

Movies such as Psycho and One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest have exploited people with neurobiological illnesses by creating images without conscience.

They have made millions of dollars to entertain us, yet people with brain disorders have paid the price in the erosion of our humanity and in the demeaning of the difficulties of our lives.


There is a persistent cultural undercurrent of fear and misunderstanding
that surrounds these complex and serious neurobiological disorders. The
entertainment industries are the most powerful image makers of our culture. They have expertly captured and marketed these lurking shadows, realizing the profit potential.

In reality, mentally ill people must travel some of the deepest currents and difficult roads that run throughout life, often having to draw on reservoirs of courage and tenacity that many people never know or see.


We walk the no-choice, no-fault roads laid in front of us by schizophrenia or severe mood disorders. Together, with our advocates, we have held each other's hands and shared our loads of grief and loss.

None of us could ever be mistaken as residents of the Bates Motel; neither do we fly over cuckoos' nests. If we have flown at all, it has been on the hard-won wings of self-respect and alliance.

The re-emergence of Psycho within weeks of
the July 11 annual meeting of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in
Washington, D.C., presented a focused opportunity for open words of
encouragement to the advocates who believe in us, the families who love us and the professionals who legitimize us.

It is my hope that these advocates will carry the gift of our encouragement with them always, along with the hope and promise of building a new day.

When you are tired, or it seems like breaking down the entrenched walls of stigma and unfairness are hopeless or so far away, take this gift out of your pockets and hold it up to the sun.

The light you will see is the light that will lead you past the barriers
of misunderstanding and past the shadows of stigma cast by those who do not know us. This is the light of hope and promise that you hold in your hands. This is the light of the sun.

Light the roads traveled by mentally ill people and you will bring the rest of the world along with us.

Memo:
Peggy J.
 Symons lives in Deland, Florida 



 

_____________________________________________________________

 

The Orlando Sentinel 
Thursday, February 23, 1995

 
 
 An Unhealthy Cut
 
 
The Florida Senate Ways and Means Committee's proposed $118 million cut from community mental health centers and state hospital funding is a compelling example of how vulnerable mentally ill people are.

They don't vote, they don't wine and dine legislators, nor
do they constitute anyone's constituency.

Therefore, it is safe for legislators to chop outpatient programs to pieces. True, government will save some money up front.
 
But in the long run, without effective community support,
many of these people will end up in hospitals to the tune of $1,500 a day.
 
Then state legislators will be forced to pull out their calculators to determine fully the extent of their mistake.

Saving money on the backs of thementally ill is not a cost-effective way to manage limited resources.
 
Peggy Symons  of Deland, Florida 
 
________________________________________

 

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