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NAMI Advocate e-newsletter, October 2006

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Dear Friend of NAMI,

In this issue of the NAMI Advocate e-newsletter we take a look at the role of psychiatric service dogs in recovery. We also have a first-person account of a family living with schizophrenia, a review of a new book on depression, and much more.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Most people know about seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired, but what about service dogs to help people with mental illnesses?

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) -- a relatively new phenomenon -- are dogs that are individually trained to work or perform tasks for individuals living with mental illnesses.

Although there is little research into the effectiveness of PSDs for people with mental illness, Aaron Katcher, M.D., emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, has examined the interaction between animals and people. He has found “much evidence that social support is a critical variable in the recovery from many serious biological disorders including psychiatric illnesses.”

NAMI New York’s Phil Kirschner took his own doctor’s suggestion that a dog might help provide needed structure to his life and help him with his depression. He states, “ I had never considered owning a dog before, and I admit to being somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of having to learn how to take care of a dog, train a dog, etc.”

Tasks PSDs can be trained to perform include:

* Remind handler to take medication on time

* Warm handler’s body during a panic attack

* Interrupt repetitive behaviors

* Attend to handler during emotional distress

* Accompany handler outside of the home

* Provide discernment against hallucination

* Mitigate paranoia with reality testing

Kirschner says he has experienced issues related to life with a service dog that he had not anticipated, including access challenges.  “Because mental illness is not usually a visible disability, many shopkeepers think I am trying to sneak my SDIT [Service Dog in Training] into their store.”

Kirschner says that the jury is still out as to whether or not his service dog and he are going to ultimately pass muster, but they are certainly giving it their best. His advice: “Do your homework.” 

“Researching Psychiatric Service Dogs on the Internet and joining a Service Dog listserv are two things you can do that cost nothing.  Try to talk to as many PSD owners as possible in order to evaluate whether this life choice is for you.”

To find out more about PSDs, visit The Psychiatric Service Dog Society Web site. PSDS provides information for persons living with severe mental illness who wish to train a service dog to assist with the management of symptoms.

In the First Person: Voices in His Head

Photo by Rich Beauchesne, Seacoast OnlineHerb Perry, a newspaper editor in Maine, decided to go public with the personal story of his life with schizophrenia in the hopes it will help him and others who live with mental illness.

One day in early September 1992, I was walking down a hallway in the Indiana University Student Union when I heard sounds echoing in my head as if I were in a long, deep tunnel. Then I heard a man talking to me, quietly at first, then louder as I walked. The man began to call me names. I looked around, but nobody was looking at me. I became agitated, angry, and confused. What the hell was going on? Read More...

NAMI Book ShelfThis Issue:
The Ghost in the House


The Ghost in the House

In The Ghost in the House, Tracy Thompson opens new perspectives on depression, exploring the dimensions in the book’s subtitle: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression.

Beyond post-partum depression, there is maternal depression. To some degree, perspectives in the book may even apply to fathers, but Thompson’s work is informed by her own experience as a mother who lives with depression. It also draws extensively from a survey of almost 400 mothers. Read more…

New Film on Mental Illness Premieres

CanvasYou read about it here first.

NAMI members who attended a private screening at the NAMI convention this summer also saw it first—the new movie Canvas, starring Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden, Emmy-winner Joe Pantaliano, and Devon Gearhart.

On October 21-22, Canvas will have its official world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival in New York, the first step toward theatrical release. Read More...

Election 2006: Five Reasons to Vote

Five Reasons to VoteElection Day is Tuesday, November 7

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the Unites States. It affects one out of every five Americans. It does not discriminate between Republicans, Democrats, or independents.

NAMI encourages people to find out the views of candidates concerning mental illness and the healthcare system. Information can be obtained from candidate Web sites, the news media, or by asking questions at candidate forums. Candidate profiles, positions, and contact information can be found in NAMIs new online Legislative Action Center. Visit

And then make sure to vote.

Here are five reasons to vote, representing six major areas of concern. They are relevant for all candidates—local, state, or federal.

  1. Millions of Americans and their families struggle because they cannot get access to treatment. What will a candidate do to improve access and support for recovery?

  2. A recent report of the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that as many a half of all inmates in jails and prisons have serious mental illnesses. What will a candidate do to reduce the number of such individuals being put in the criminal justice system?

  3. Medicaid is the single largest payer of mental health treatment. Millions of Americans with mental illnesses rely on it. What specific reforms does a candidate support for Medicaid. How will they affect people diagnosed with mental illness? Does a candidate support co-payments or limits on prescriptions?

  4. Families who struggle to fund treatment for children and teenagers with mental illnesses are in crisis. There are services that work, but they are often not available in local communities. What will a candidate do to address the problem?

  5. Building a healthcare system for the future requires attention to racial and ethnic disparities in care, and sensitivity to the cultures of different communities. What will a candidate do to eliminate disparities in mental health care and to provide better treatment and services to specific racial and ethnic communities?

In NAMIs Grading the States report earlier this year, which surveyed state mental healthcare systems, the national average was D. No state received an A. Only five states received Bs. Eight received Fs. Clearly, as a nation, and at the state and local level, we can do better. We need leaders who will give priority to addressing these vital areas of concern.


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