Monday, June 6, 2016

Bruni in the City: Finding Mr. Right Now

Bruni in the City: Finding Mr. Right Now
By Christina Bruni
The Guy Showed Up On My Doorstep

Loyal readers, I ask you, is it so hard for any guy to say, "I'd like to take you on a date?" Most likely they fear being rejected. Yet, I don't have a crystal ball. If you like a girl, let her know. Trust me, a modern woman like myself doesn't automatically think "date" when a guy asks her "Do you want to...?"

Christina Bruni
Come right out and say, "I'd like to take you on a date." Old-fashioned, yet totally charming. Don't do it via text or e-mail either. Ask the woman when you see her in person.

At first, I didn't think a guy could like me simply because I had the greatest hard time reeling ‘em in on OKCupid and other dating websites. No guy took my bait, even though I had a gorgeous photo. Then a friend told me a guy liked me, so I decided to reciprocate and see how it would go. I had been blind early on. The more we talked, I got interested in him.

On the Internet, men and women specify a list of acceptable traits they're looking for. Focusing on a checklist, most people rule out potential partners. In the fall, I had decided that I would accept whatever package the guy came to me in. I had quit my involvement with Internet matchmakers at the time I published Left of the Dial.

The deciding factor was that I don't want kids. Online, 50-year old guys were clamoring for a brood—even though the older the father is, there's a greater risk his kids will develop autism, ADHD, or schizophrenia. I couldn't compete with the bevy of women who wanted to breed fast.

Ever since I was a young teen, I knew I did not want to marry or raise a family. My only dream was to live an artist's life in the City. At 50, I'm still a quirky creative gal who lives her life “left of the dial.”

You can imagine my joy and disbelief when the guy arrived in real life like a living breathing checklist. He listens to alternative music and likes to attend poetry readings and comedy clubs. He's a lefty like I am.

There's a fluidity to this right now. I won't force things. What I like most of all is that I met a guy with social graces—he can hold his own and interact with others with ease. The journey is what counts. This is how it is in the modern world—having fun most of all and being a caring companion to the one you're with. I respect that he's an independent spirit like myself.

By fall, I had decided I wanted to attract a guy into my life instead of hunting him down. What luck I had in actually meeting a person who is open-minded and respectful.

It hit me, too, that it's not about what I can get out of things—it's about making the other person feel good. Like Grace Slick sings about wanting and needing somebody to love in the song "Somebody to Love."

Wherever this leads is not the point. The point is that talking with him is better than taking a happy pill. For so long I had to deal with a parade of turkeys trotting through my life. A woman who gave me a psychic reading called the guys I would meet "turkeys." No kidding.

I'm just a girl in the city living her life. The point is that I'm 50 and I got here so I can give readers hope. It's never too late to find joy in living. Today is the greatest day of all. Trust me, you'll get what you want if you're a go-giver, not a go-getter. Focus on what you can give other people.

“Transformations: Seeking Clarity Through Art” at Maimonides Medical Center

“Transformations: Seeking Clarity Through Art” at Maimonides Medical Center
By Carl Blumenthal
Starts Rather than Stops the Show
“Transformations: Seeking Clarity Through Art” is an exhibit of works by 26 mental health consumers participating in art therapy at Maimonides Medical Center. It’s on display from June 2016 to May 2018 in the Marvin H. Lipkowitz Gallery on the second floor of the Community Mental Health Center, 920 48th Street in Brooklyn.
Creative arts or expressive therapies (art, writing, dance, music, drama, etc.) enable those of us living with mental illness to heal when talk therapy and medication aren’t enough. Research suggests creation and appreciation of the arts stimulate neural pathways essential to psychological well-being.
At the opening on May 12, the staff of the Psychiatry Department, and the Division of Therapeutic Activities, in particular, eloquently praised the artists, who returned the favor. However, the paintings speak as loud, if not louder, than the words in each artist’s statement.
Arts therapists once helped psychiatrists interpret patients’ illnesses. For this exhibit’s catalog the staff writes, “Within art therapy groups, clients demonstrate a willingness to take risks. They discover images that they find personally important and explore the art materials which they feel are best suited to express them….The artwork serves to “transform” personal process, and growth towards healing and recovery.” So the meaning of the product doesn’t count the way it used to.
As a former inpatient and current outpatient at Maimonides, I was surprised by the tranquility expressed in these works, as if the anguish of mental illness had been banished from portraits of people, animals, and flowers as well as urban and natural landscapes. Miriam Gilbert, a psychiatric nurse, explained, “The black [gloomy] paintings aren’t hung because they no longer are needed [for healing].” What better definition of transformations!
Muriel Fenner writes in the catalog of “Reflections”: “I chose to sketch this portrait because when I look at her I see self-worth, relaxation, and peace in her eyes. These are things that I strive for every day.” Three and a half years ago she had never painted anything. While she now takes classes at Kingsborough Community College and other schools, Muriel said, “I still cross my fingers every time [hoping] the painting will come out.”
Eugene Himmelstein’s “Sabbath Candles Over Jerusalem” resemble flowery spires reaching toward heaven. Although he’s never been to the Holy City, his imagining is representative of the dreams and memories showcased here. Eugene told me “art is a form of self-renewal” as is the weekly lighting of candles meant to welcome the Day of Rest.
More than the usual group show, this one demonstrates an unusual camaraderie among the participants that also evokes hope and joy in observers. Even the pieces which appear to be exceptions to this rule demonstrate their creators are dealing well with stress.
In “Slavery of the Human [mind],” Enriqueta Figeuroa attires a slave with fine jewelry and clothing. Rosa Herreria’s “The Oven is Fixed” shows what was once broken between family members is mending. Esther Kamhi’s “The Mountain Top” is an uneven but colorful climb. Steven Koenisberg enlivens drab buildings with graffiti in “New York the Abstract City.” The “Wolf” of Lilliya Sinchyugova looks more like a cartoon character than a predator. And Debra Tillman transforms “Five Tarts” (ladies of the night) into extraordinary musicians.
Assuming the artists were at least initially untrained, they have naturally discovered styles which suit their individual needs. That elements of impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, pop art, etc. appear in their paintings doesn’t mean that they are copying from a textbook. Yet clearly these folks inspire each other.
In “Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meaning of Madness,” Gail Hornstein describes Heidelberg University’s Prinzhorn collection of creative works by European asylum inmates from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Hornstein believes this “outsider” or spontaneous art told stories of unspeakable distress before expressive therapies became disciplines in the 1920s to 1940s. A seamstress, Agnes Richter stitched mesmerizing but indecipherable messages in her exquisite jacket, as if she desired but feared discovery. Hornstein declares such messages emblematic of the turmoil people felt within themselves and inside the mental hospitals where many were committed for life.
Why is this context important? Maimonides’ arts therapists now encourage and “celebrate the incredible strength, resilience and tenacity of all our artists…” Thus my peers are part of a long tradition from which they also depart in many ways.
Free to participate in art therapy when and how they please, their visual and verbal contributions are statements of continuing recovery, whereas the mentally ill more than a century ago were largely considered hopeless.
But today’s consumers share with earlier practitioners of “art brut” (raw art) a taste for complexity because neither mental illness nor the human condition is a simple matter. For someone like me who can barely draw a stick figure, their devotion to detail is more than realistic; it’s fabulous.
Therefore I highly recommend you witness these “Transformations.” “Seeking Clarity Through Art” is actually a mystery which, like Agnes’s jacket, is better seen than concealed.

ThriveNYC: A Mental Health Roadmap for All

ThriveNYC: A Mental Health Roadmap for All
A Summary by Kurt Sass
The City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray have published a 118-page book titled ThriveNYC: A Mental Health Roadmap for All. Reading it can be a daunting and overwhelming task. What I hope to accomplish in this article is to summarize the six Guiding Principles, as well as most of the 54 Targeted Initiatives, to make it just a little bit easier for someone who is seeking assistance for themselves or their loved ones.
Principle 1: Change the Culture
1. Mental Health First Aid Training: The city will facilitate this in-person training of 250,000 people over the next 5 years, beginning in the first two years with police officers, firefighters, emergency medical professionals, correction officers, community organizations, etc.
2. Roadmap Website and Mental Health Program Finder: A website has been launched for each of these (Note: the paragraphs do not state the actual websites addresses.)
3. Improve School Climate: A new Chancellor's Regulation has been designed to help de-escalate school behavior situations and reduce 911 calls.
4. Addressing the Trauma of Crime Victims: The city will place Victim Advocates at all 77 NYPD precincts and Bureau Police Service Areas.
5. Police Crisis Intervention Team program and Training: 5,000 officers will participate in the 4-day de-escalation training.
6. Public Health Drop-Off Centers: 2 centers will open where individuals have an option in lieu of hospitalization.
Principle 2: Act Early
1. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in Early Care and Education: The city will train 9,000 teachers, assistant teachers and school leaders to support SEL competencies in the next 3 years.
2. Mental Health Clinics in Additional High-Needs Schools: The city will assess the needs for mental health services at 52 schools with a disproportionate number of suspensions.
3. Create Network of Mental Health Consultants Serving All Schools: The City will hire 100 School Mental Health Consultants, all of whom will be Masters-level social workers or counselors. They will work with every school citywide.
4. Mental Health Training for School Staff: Train school staff in the following: 1) Youth Mental Health First Aid, 2) Youth Suicide Prevention, and 3) At-Risk Training
5. "Talk to Baby, Their Brain Depends On It Campaign": Concentrating on meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being from birth to age 3. Includes weekly text messages to parents and caregivers as well as 200,000 Baby Book Bundles.
6. Expansion of Newborn Home Visiting Program: Adding 1,600 mothers of newborns in shelters to clients served.
7. Mental Health Service Coordination in All Family Shelters: A Licensed Clinical Social Worker will be placed in every contracted shelter.
8. Attachment and Bio-Behavioral Catch-ups: Ten (10) weekly one hour in-home sessions for parents and primary caregivers.
9. Training on Intimate Partner and Ten Dating Violence for Community School Staff: Training for all staff, including how to connect people to NYC Family Justice Center and NYC Healthy Relationship Training Academy.
Principle 3: Close Treatment Gaps
1. Close Gaps on Maternal Depression: NYC Health and Hospitals and Maimonides Medical Center have committed to universal screening and treatment for maternal depression within two years.
2. NYC Support: 24/7 phone-based crisis center to be created by September of 2016.
3. Peer Specialist Training: The city will graduate 200 peer specialists beginning in fiscal year 2017.
4. Veterans Outreach Team and Holistic Treatment Fund: The city will invest $500,000 to expand the outreach team and $1 million dollars to create a veterans Holistic Treatment Fund.
5. Expand Access to Buprenorphine and Naloxone: Will train up to 1,500 new providers to provide Buprenorphine and provide trained laypeople with enough Naloxone to reach more than 7,000 New Yorkers.
6. Reduce Violence and Address Treatment in City Jails: Additional mental health training for 2,600 Officers. Reduction of officer to inmate ratio to 1:15 in adolescent units.
7. Cognitive Behavior Therapy Plus: To be introduced at 18 of 23 contracted foster care agencies.
8. Mental Health and Substance Use Programming for All Youth at Riker’s Island: Psychiatric assessments and after school therapeutic arts programs for all youth 21, and substance abuse programs for those age 16-21.
9. Mental health Services in All Family Justice Centers: The new program will accommodate 1,000 clients per year.
10. Geriatric Mental Health in Senior Centers: A Licensed Clinical Worker or professional with similar skills in up to 25 of the largest senior citizens centers, reaching a total of 3,750 people annually.
11. Integrated Brief Intervention for Substance Misuse: Introduction of substance abuse screening in all 8 of the city's sexually transmitted disease clinics.
12. Expand and Enhance Discharge Planning Services: Expand existing jail discharge service to serve an additional 8,100 people who leave jail through the Dept. of correction's I-CAN program and the Health and Hospital Corp.'s new substance-use discharge planning program.
Principle 4: Partner with Communities
1. NYC Mental Health Corps: To be created of approximately 400 physicians and recently graduated Masters and Doctoral-level clinicians to work in high-need communities, and provide approximately 400,000 additional hours of service.
2. "Friendly Visiting" to Combat Social Isolation Among Seniors: 12 Case Management Agencies will be funded to identify 1,200 homebound clients in need.
3. Mental Health Weekend for Faith-Based Communities: On a designated weekend, faith leaders across the City will be invited to preach on the topic of mental health.
Principle 5: Use Data Better
1. Mental Health Innovative Lab: Spurred by action including the 2010 Mental Health parity and Addiction Equity Act, the Lab will drive the use of evidence-based best practices throughout the field.
2. Evaluate Financial Sustainability of School-Based Mental Health Services: This will be used in the 200 DOE schools that currently have mental health clinics.
3. Evaluate Existing Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Teams: The current 44 teams will be evaluated.
4. Ensure the City Uses Jail and Diversion Programming Effectively: Strategies and goals include: expanded supervised release, universal screening for physical and mental health problems as well as reduced reliance on monetary bail.
5. Child Health Survey: The DOHMH took a survey of more than 3,000 families in 2015 to collect data on the health and emotional wellness of children under ages 12 and younger.
Principle 6:  Strengthen Government’s Ability to Lead
1. Launch NYC Mental Health Council: Comprised of more than 20 City agencies, developing new ways for City employees to play a role in the care pathway.
2. Continue Working Closely with the State on the Transition to Medicaid Managed Care: Develop service manuals, conduct on-site reviews and develop consumer education materials, among other efforts.
3. New Supportive Housing for Vulnerable New Yorkers: 15,000 apartments of supportive housing over the next 15 years.
4. Host the first Mayors Conference for Mental Health, which will take place in 2016.

My Experience Has a Name

My Experience Has a Name
By Donald Wayne
Doctor “P” Came Along to Name It
Help came in fits and starts over a lifetime of mental illness, which began in the 1960s while in my middle grades. It has been a journey marked by compassionate people and stunning luck. Understanding my illness came over decades of having to piece it all together. Looking back over the years, I can see the evolution of my life narrative.
I'm not sure what my age or grade in school was. The time period is hazy for me to determine. Perhaps it was sixth or seventh grade. I was having a terrible time at school and was miserable. When lunchtime came around I would be my own company, separating myself from the other children. I was anxious. People called it my “nerve problem.” I felt as if I were all alone. Indeed, nobody seemed to comprehend my situation. No one thought it was anything but nerves, at the very least an illness.
My mother was my first advocate. She came to wake me for school one morning and found me lying in bed, as stiff as a piece of lumber, with the sheet stretched taut between my teeth. Many years later, my mother told me she could slip her hand easily beneath the arch of my back.
Something was clearly wrong. She phoned my father at work. “There’s nothing wrong with Wayne,” Dad said. That wasn’t acceptable. Mother called our physician, Doctor “E,” who recommended a psychiatrist in a city fifty miles away.
My sessions went on for years with diminishing returns for the amount of time spent with Doctor “M,” my psychiatrist. Medicine was prescribed, but with no understanding of my condition. He had told my parents that I would have a family, but would never make it through college.
I started college in the late 1970s and did well. Away from the stress of parents and bullies in school, I thrived. I transferred to a university in the piney woods of Texas, a place which I loved, and still do. I had been taking courses in photography, which I later majored in. I remember that day well.
It was a slightly chilly but clear cobalt blue day as I arrived on campus. I was beside the white stone four-story library when a “thought” came, telling me terrible things about myself again and again. I could not make it stop. I lived with these voices and the increasing paranoia until one lucky break.
I was to go see Doctor “F” to have my medicine refilled, but for some reason he couldn’t make it to my appointment. That’s when Doctor “P” entered my life. Talking to this kind physician with his big eyes and tall frame who asked me leading questions, I had the courage to ask about the “thoughts” that were torturing me, which I did not understand.
Consequently, I learned Doctor “P” had once been an army doctor with special training in the area of schizophrenia, which he thought I had. I was not expecting help, and certainly not this. But I was relieved, if somewhat bewildered, at discovering my situation had a name.
Doctor “P” helped me deal with my schizophrenia for a decade. Tragically, for many people, this man who meant so much to so many of us, died in an accident. I then became the patient of  physician Doctor “R” for the next decade. In him, I would find a man, distinguished, knowledgeable and a friend.
Doctor “R” would spend plenty of time with me, allowing room to ask questions unhurriedly, a contrast from the several minutes people in my situation typically get. He once offered to take me to a good Dallas restaurant and buy me a steak if I lost weight. I didn’t, though I wished that I had, if just to spend time with Doctor “R,” for he would leave my town after a decade or so. I think he was in the military guard.
Receiving assistance from the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation was the last piece of the puzzle. I had lost my job and needed help. Since then, I have had several therapists, all very good. After six years, I am getting to the bottom of my severe anxiety.
Along with the concern and helpfulness of these medical professionals, it seems that there has been an element of luck with me throughout the years. My doctors and family all stepped in when they could help, combined with my own initiative, as well. I thank God for them all.

Healing Voices Film Event

Healing Voices Film Event
By Lisa Roma, Reginald Coleman and Dan Frey
Informed Decisions to be Made by The Individual
Note: The film here reviewed deals in part with the subject of coming off of psychiatric medications. This is a controversial subject as, on the one hand, psych meds can do harm to the body. On the other, being without them can lead to poor judgment, psychological pain and dangerous situations. The staff and volunteers at City Voices strongly encourage you to do the research, talk to your doctors, your family and friends before deciding about whether to stay on meds. Do not attempt to get off meds on your own. This action requires a strong support system to buffer you in case of crisis. You have the human right to choose what goes into your body. However, we do not live in a supportive and understanding society. In the U.S. people who have shown signs of mental illness have been marginalized, feared, incarcerated and basic human rights have been taken away. If you do decide to ween off of medications, do it slowly under careful supervision even if it takes years. Maybe you will find that remaining on the medication is best, perhaps at a more comfortable dose.
On April 29, 2016 we viewed Healing Voices, a documentary about people who experience extreme states of consciousness usually labeled as “psychosis” or “mental illness” by the medical establishment and the effort to preserve their human rights and dignity.
For many people hearing voices is a part of their life experience. The film offers a fresh perspective, exploring how to accept and love people who experience extreme states, rather than stigmatize, label, and medicate them, which can do more harm than good. Hearing voices is a normal human experience, a “dangerous gift” that many of history's movers and shakers experienced. It is how people respond to the voices that brings them into contact with services and not the fact that they hear voices.
“Mad in America” author Robert Whitaker chronicled society's shifts in perspective of people diagnosed as mentally ill. Each shift led to a different type of treatment. In the colonial days of the late 1700s, the Age of Reason, those who lost their reason were seen as less than human, abused, and treated like animals. Then came reforms in treatment led by the Quakers who viewed the mentally ill as brethren and were compassionate with their care-giving. In the late 1800s there were eugenic attitudes, forced sterilization, marriage prevention and long-term hospital stays. In 1950, Thorazine was introduced, which was essentially a straight-jacket in pill form. Today, pharmaceutical drugs dominate treatment. Mr. Whitaker said, “What we are really treating is our own desire to be safe. Madness is a mystery. If you conceive of people as brethren, that's a great starting point.”
The film follows three subjects over a five-year period—Oryx, Jen and Dan—each of whom are learning to live with extreme states of consciousness, hearing voices, etc. without psychiatric medications. They all belong to loving families and have steadfast friends in their support systems. Oryx and Jen are both married with children and have been there for one another through times of crisis. Dan's mother and friends have been his constant support. Dan said he feels more alive and vibrant without psych meds.
In 2013, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Thomas Insel, M.D., concluded that people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses are a diverse group who need diverse approaches. Dr. Insel acknowledged in his Director's Blog, “For some people, remaining on medication long-term might impede a full return to wellness.”
Healing Voices declares that psychiatric survivors have the right to choose what is best for themselves in their own recovery, encourages people to share their stories and support one another. Judi Chamberlin, mental health advocate and activist, says, “People have a story to tell. Support each other by listening to these stories. Trauma exists. People should have a choice in their recovery.”
There are significant cultural factors that influence one's decision to stop taking psychiatric medications (and society's response to this decision) that are not adequately explored in the film. However, projects like Healing Voices are needed to push boundaries  and create opportunities for ongoing dialogues.
DVDs or streaming video can be purchased at Other online resources include,, and to find a hearing voices group:

Fond Memories of Marvin Spieler

Fond Memories of Marvin Spieler
Photos of Marvin Spieler courtesy of David Gonzalez
“I had heard of Marvin’s work with the Speakers Bureau long before he and I ever met face to face. When we did meet, I was taken with his gentle nature and genuine interest in helping others, including me. He was a natural listener and often gave me advice on both personal matters and systems advocacy. He was also a fierce advocate. Although we did not speak often, whenever we did, it felt like I was reuniting with an old friend. Thank you Marvin for all you did to help improve the quality of life for so many in the recovery community. You will be truly missed and always remembered.”--Carlton Whitmore, Director, Office of Consumer Affairs, NYC Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene

“I first met Marvin at a support group in the year 2000. I was in the beginning stages of recovery from a deep depression in which I literally lay in bed for almost a year with next to no human contact. Marvin suggested I try presenting my story at his Consumers Speakers bureau. Through his guidance and positive support I eventually tried (and loved) public speaking. But I am just one of many people that Marvin has mentored, guided and supported. Very few people on this planet can honestly say they have changed so many lives for the better than Marvin.”--Kurt Sass, Administrative Coordinator, Community Access, Inc.

“Marvin, was an unforgettable character. He was always advocating for a cause, usually mental health related. I knew marvin for about 20 years and rarely heard him complain even when his health was not the best. He devoted over 20 years to serving on the BSAEH, Inc. Board of Directors and along with Dan Frey was one of the driving forces behind City Voices. I always admired Marvin for his tenacity and his moral compass. He will be missed by many. May his memory be a Blessing.”--Isaac Brown, President/CEO, Baltic Street AEH, Inc.

“Marvin, you saved City Voices newspaper from the brink of disaster. For that, in addition to your friendship, I am grateful. It was cute seeing you and Sharon both ordering shrimp with lobster sauce. Who says all Jews have to keep kosher? God, probably. But you were an atheist, so who cares?! Rest in peace, Uncle Marvey.”--Dan Frey, Editor in Chief, City Voices: A Peer Journal for Mental Health

“Marvin was a staunch advocate who rarely minced words, but also one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known. It was my pleasure to attend Marvin’s wedding reception a few years ago. We spoke briefly during the reception and he shared how happy he was and assured me that it was never too late to find happiness and meaning in life. I was struggling with my own recovery at the time and needed to hear this! Marvin had a way of reminding you of what really mattered. I will miss his candor and kindness.”--Teena Brooks, LMSW, Assistant Director, Office of Consumer Affairs, NYC Dept. Health and Mental Hygiene

“Marvin was one of the very first employees here at MHA-NYC when I started almost 30 years ago. In his role as a consumer leader and spokesman his impact on mental wellness and recovery was immense. To me personally, Marvin was a cherished personal friend who helped my through my my daughter’s illness and gave me hope in my darkest days.”--Giselle Stolper, Executive Director, Mental Health Association of New York City

“I was saddened by Marvin's sudden passing, and will always remember his kindness and generosity and enthusiasm for the community he represented with such dignity. I remember how happy he was when he told me he had gotten married. He was like a young man again. He encouraged me always. He always tried to help and offer useful information, and he was a good person. He will be missed. I hope he is enjoying the spirit world. Peace now, angel Marvin. No pain and no meds needed in heaven.”--Lisa Roma Wacholder, Associate Editor, City Voices: A Peer Journal for Mental Health 

“Marvin was a great friend. He always worried about me being sick, and, here he was, sicker than I was. I thought that was very nice of him. Sometimes he would take me for ice cream or lunch. He wanted me to do the Speaker's Bureau, but I never got around to it. Now I wish I had because he could have helped me out of my depression. He will always be missed. At least he is not suffering anymore. May he rest in peace and be in a better place.”--Sandy Brower, Peer Advocate 

“Marvin was warm; intelligent; and wise. He was instrumental to me, both at my last position as a peer specialist at a home for adults, when he supplied me with speakers recruited from his Speakers Bureau, to present at our popular Peer Led Socials; and when he arranged for me to go out and speak as well. I knew him for over five years. I was so happy when he confided in me about his marriage to Sharon. I wished him a hearty 'mazel tov' and I could see how great his relationship to her was and how much it helped him overcome his overwhelming medical struggles. Now the pain is completely gone, and I’m sure he is happy, looking down on us with his trademark compassion. As the poet Shelley put it, 'Hail to thee, blithe spirit!'”--Joel Simonds, Peer Specialist, South Beach Psychiatric Center

“Marvin spoke with a quiet presence that was as masterful as it was plain humble. Sometimes, there are those who just do what is needed, going about the business at hand.”--Jeffrey V. Perry, CPRP, Program Manager, Baltic Street AEH, Inc.

“I met Marvin Spieler many times at Baltic Street. I discussed many issues with him when he made the time to speak to me. I found I could relate to him regarding recovery, empowerment, and the basic fundamentals of wellness. We spoke mainly about the current events that were happening then. I wished him all the best when he married. We had moments of laughter and were saddened by events that were happening in the news. I deeply express my sympathy to his wife and family. I am so saddened, we will miss him dearly.”--Anthony Sgarlato, Program Manager, Baltic Street AEH, Inc

As I See it: My Friends are Dying Like Flies

As I See it: My Friends are Dying Like Flies
By Marvin Spieler, Editor at Large Columnist
Try to Stay Healthy
Note: This article is reprinted from the fall 2003 edition of City Voices. Marvin's sentiments here reflect how a lot of us feel about losing the friends we have made in the mental health community; people who have touched our lives as the late Marvin Spieler had.
What does the title mean? It means very dear loved ones, friends, mental health advocates and acquaintances are dying like flies. Obviously they weren't flies. Not by any means would I ever think that. However, they are dying so regularly. So many are now gone I can't imagine who will be next. They are dying so often, in a sense they are dying like flies. My memory of who died and when is beginning to be a continuous blur of images. Dead acquaintances bother me a great deal. I knew them or admired their work as advocates and I miss them dearly.
I'm mourning the memory of my wife who passed more than three years ago. I knew Reta since 1975 and was married for a dozen years. All I can feel now is pain. Six months later, Ken Steele, a close friend, contemporary and mental health advocate of incredible achievement thanks to the right medication after thirty years lost in hospitals, also died. My mother left earth that year too. She is still in every one of my bones. The avalanche of deaths started with the great advocate Howie the Harp. The Peer Advocacy Center in Harlem, busy training consumers to become peer advocates, now functions in his memory and in his name.
Quincy Boykin, New York City's Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene's citywide consumer advocate's death scared the hell out of me. He had a stroke, which he survived. Months to a year later he died. Whether it was another stroke or a rumor he had a heart attack doesn't matter. He meant a lot to me, fought for us all, gained the respect of providers for all of us and empowered many consumers.
Dr. Aquila of St. Lukes/Roosevelt Hospital stated at a June 27, 2003 conference sponsored by the Manhattan Mental Health Council that consumers die ten years younger than the greater population. It was pointed out that suicide factored in.
The body doesn't age faster because of mental illness does it? If not, why the disparity? Two ideas immediately occur: we generally are overweight due to the psychiatric medicines and those who smoke or have smoked for many years are at risk.
I would ask, are we getting the quality healthcare we need?
Our diets are generally poor due to lack of knowledge and low incomes as well. A poor man's diet makes you overweight.
All this comes to mind yesterday with a phone call. I learned a friend had a clot in his lung. He was lucky to get to a hospital in time.
What can you do? 1) Stop smoking; 2) exercise on a regular basis; 3) improve your diet; and 4) consult your psychiatrist about your medicines.
I personally have stopped smoking recently. It's a big start. Believe me, it isn't easy. I crave a cigarette whenever I see a person with one, but resist smoking. It's a step in the right direction.
It's a start for me. However, how far has my body deteriorated? How much at risk am I? The younger you are the greater chance for changing old habits. Time is on your side. Use it wisely.