Dear Boston Globe, Part VI: Congratulations. Bad Things Happen.

Sera Davidow
26
1629

Dear Boston Globe,

Congratulations. Yet another Spotlight article has surfaced: A depleted state system fails many with mental illness. And, with it, you’ve really nailed the earth shattering concept that… bad things happen. What’s next? Fire keeps you warm, but it sure can burn? Water looks pretty, but you can also drown?

In this edition you detail several stories of lives gone awry, all of them involving people who were receiving Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) services at the time. Someone fatally wounded after being hit by a car. Another person seriously injured after jumping out the window of the program where they lived. Innocent bystanders occasionally caught up in the confusion.

Most of your other articles have been about how people are getting hurt because of lack of services. Yet now you’re saying that much of the same stuff happens when they get services, too. You continue to regurgitate the same idea that more is the answer. But I wonder why you believe that to be so. Your investigative team — so supposedly invested in ‘the facts’ — never really cite any clear information on that point.

Before we move forward, I’d like to take a brief retrospective journey with you: I’ve tried addressing this (and you) from several angles. In my first ‘Dear Boston Globe’ post, You are the Failure You Describe, I spoke to the problems with your overall approach (preying on everyone’s worst fears and emotions). In my follow-up, You Forgot the Facts, I went into detail about how you were misusing and misrepresenting statistics. In part three (We Came. We Protested. You Still Didn’t Listen.), I went point-by-point as to where the Globe’s perspective seems to differ with the movement of which I am a part. Next came A Taste of Your Own Medicine where I presented some dramatic stories about how the system you so support has often done more damage than good. And, in what should have been my last piece (Thanks for Nothing) I questioned the ‘solutions’ you offered up with both personal accounts and facts. Meanwhile, I also managed to publish and editorial in the Globe itself (How We’re Missing the Real Story) offering up some local ‘solutions’ that you’ve thus far ignored.

And I’m not the only one who has spoken up. It wouldn’t make sense to listen if it were only me. Countless people have offered alternative perspectives in letters to the editor, and on the Spotlight’s own Facebook group. The actual facts are also on our side. Has any of it even put a dent in your approach? It doesn’t seem so.

I feel like we should be old friends by now: Jenna Russell. Scott Helman. Maria Cramer. Todd Wallack. Michael Rezendes. Scott Allen. (Scott, I’ll forever remember our brief conversation about the ‘hogtied’ woman in your prior Spotlight article, and how you said it just never occurred to you that referring to a woman as hogtied after a suicide attempt was potentially problematic. That memory will always hold a special place in my heart.) Perhaps had we met under different circumstances… Then again, perhaps not.

Even a Broken Globe is Right At Least Once in a While

Truth be told, you’ve got one thing right: The system isn’t working very well. Check out this publicly available age demographic slide from the aforementioned DMH. It looks at ages of individuals in the local system’s ‘Community Based Flexible Support’ services (basically what serves as the state’s primary residential and outreach structure).

This slide tells an important story. Essentially, people are entering the system when they’re younger, getting stuck in that service (notice the pile up around 40), and then dying early (or transferring to nursing homes) as noted by the steep drop off that begins around about the late 50’s. (I promise you, they aren’t suddenly becoming ‘cured’ at that point.) Yes, they’re dying, but not typically in the manner you so salaciously describe in each and every blood-lusting Globe article that you write. Instead, they’re going quietly and unseen by the public eye. Written off to ‘natural causes’, even though we all know it shouldn’t be the ‘norm’ to die so young. But people the public is encouraged not to see as fully human going off and dying young in their sleep wouldn’t sell as many papers, now would it?

Now, to be clear, this story about those stuck in the Massachusetts system is not just about our lone state. It’s the story of the nation. It’s that pesky ‘we die an average of 25 years younger than other citizens’ fact rising up once again. And among the many reasons this is true are people like you who paternalistically believe you know what we ‘need’, and are willing to use scare tactics to shove it down our throats. At any cost.

This. This graphic. This is where your paternalistic approach has brought us so far. We deserve better.

A Globe Full of Broken Promises

I have to say I kind of feel like you Globe folks broke a promise. You were supposed to be done. Yet, not unlike that pesky cold so perpetually passed around my daughter’s preschool, you keep coming back. (In fairness, perhaps you regard me in much the same manner.)

Look, we get it. Subtlety is not your strong suit. The Globe’s Spotlight team is where nuance goes to die. You are dedicated Ezekiel Emanuel fans or something, all ‘bring back the asylum’ with maybe just a few quaint updates like Torrey-themed Pez dispensers full of Thorazine. DJ Jaffee and Susan Inman are your bestest friends. You want Involuntary Outpatient Commitment so bad you can taste it.  Except, ew. Risperdal doesn’t taste so good.

What I want to know, though, is what exactly will it take to get you to stop repeating the same old tired story in your relentless effort to prove the same old misguided point?

A Globe Full of Misinformation

Hey, what’s the difference between the National Enquirer and the Boston Globe?  About two bucks (and a healthy dose of transparency about the foolishness with which it’s been imbued). I’d choose the former any day at this point.

It’s mysterious to me, my dear Globe not-friends, why it isn’t more obvious to you the bind you’ve created for yourselves. That bind has been weaving its twisty tendrils a little bit further around your narrative with each story you write, but your ‘depleted state system’ piece plants said tendrils all up in your business oh so intimately.

Your infernal suggestion that the only answer is more of the same is belied by this very article that points to ‘the same’ not being functional at all. You describe how Boyd was not helped by a hospitalization, as if this were proof he unquestionably needed more. You detail the sad outcome of Shaheid Ware’s story of living in a group home (after he jumped out his bedroom window and was not found until the next morning), leaving us only with the vague impression that he got hurt because the place wasn’t… what? ‘Group homey’ enough?

You say, “It only takes a moment — one unsupervised decision — to bring about life-altering consequences.” Boy oh boy is that Globe scare tactic writing at its best, but sure, I guess you’re right. However, are we talking about toddlers or adults here? What dystopian universe have you cooked up where even hospitalized grownups have not a single moment to themselves?

A Globe Full of Air

You throw around words and phrases as if we all know precisely what you mean. But we don’t. In Ware’s situation, would the answer have been to install bars on the windows or a 24-hour watch while he slept? Have you ever spoken with people who’ve tried to live under such conditions? What precisely constitutes “proper supervision,” and who decides? What does the responsibility to keep people “safe” entail? A promise that nothing will ever go wrong?

While you so fervently speak about these unanswered questions as if they’re all answered and obvious, the rest of us live in the real world with the gray that you willfully ignore. While you champion psychiatric drugs as some sort of cure-all that helps any who should comply, many of us shake and twitch from permanent, psychotropically induced brain damage as we mourn our less lucky friends who’ve been lost to the iatrogenic effects of the system and its ‘treatments’, as well as those who have succumbed to suicide not for lack of drugging but for lack of hope within a framework that seeks to control rather than support. This is the system for which you seem to froth at the mouth, but your own words contradict its potential.

Something needs to change, yes. More funds are needed, true. But I’d like to suggest (again) that the Globe and its Spotlight team — who have neither tried living inside the walls of a hospital or residential program drugged to the gills, nor done your due diligence to understand what that may even be like — are not the ones to lead the charge. In fact, you’d do best to get out of the way.

Dear Globe, I want to offer one last suggestion. In August of 2017, the World Hearing Voices Congress will land not only in the United States for the first time ever, but practically on your doorstep at Boston University. If you’re even a little bit genuinely invested in improving the landscape of the mental health system in Massachusetts, this seems like a ‘must attend’ sort of event for you. Check it out. Try listening to us for once. What could you possibly stand to lose? (Hint: A hell of a lot less than us.)

Globe World Hearing Voices Congress

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26 COMMENTS

  1. You clearly point out that the Spotlight team lives in a hopeless universe where the state has an endless obligation to control inherently defective people. I am sure such a pessimistic view increases the prejudice and discrimination they claim they want to aleviate. But, do they even care or do they just want to be a National Inquirer? What will it take for them to see the universe we live in, where we frequently take charge of our lives. In addition to to the Hearing Voices Conference, I hope they also come to the Alternatives Conference following it in Boston Aug 18-21.

  2. Sera, you did it again! I LOVE love love this. I wrote to the writers of the latest article and actually got a kinda lame response. Apparently they have indeed been getting “feedback.” I’d like to point out that other major papers are doing the same thing, writing hateful stereotypical stuff about so-called mental patients and about how dangerous and violent we are, or how we have terrible hygiene, or how we are slobs who are a nuisance to landlords, communities, and families. Looks like a joint and planned media effort, government and pharma backed to scare the poop out of the public.

    As for CBFS, count me as one of the dropouts. I didn’t die. I fired them. I fired them late in 2013. I did this realizing this was a voluntary “service” that I could choose to end. By all means they had not been a help to me. I didn’t want monitoring by these state people who didn’t care, didn’t show up most of the time, didn’t know what they were doing, and frankly, I found those visits an insult. They sent mostly people who knew nothing about eating disorders, so I had to educate them. We all did. One of them sat there playing with her cell phone so I had to tell her to stop. It was just plain insulting. Another never showed, and apparently had logged in her work log that she had, so finally I told the supervisor that she hadn’t been to see me nor had she contacted me for months. I didn’t like squealing like that. Apparently the state workers do stuff like that. It’s our word against theirs, after all, and who are we but a bunch of crazies?

    At one point, I wrote an email to the supervisor, saying if he didn’t shape up I’d report him to the DMH. Within a week or two he came over with my CBFS worker saying if I didn’t go to an ER he would “section” me. My poor CBFS worker was caught in the middle. There was no valid reason for the supervisor’s actions except retaliation. Then I’m sure he called the ER and saw to it that they had me put in no matter what. He got fired after that. A bunch of them did.

  3. I was amazed at the amount of bias displayed by these Globe reporters. This is not the kind of a story that should be appearing in a legitimate news source. You’re right to take them on, but I can’t imagine them, unfortunately, showing up for the World Hearing Voices Congress. I wish, but it’s kind of like, well, why would they praise the people they are disparaging? Of course, because they got it wrong.

    After talking about the police getting Edward Hennessey to put down the knife he was threatening suicide, maybe by cop, it’s unclear, with, you get this:

    “The outcome could have been much worse: More than 50 times statewide since 2005, the Spotlight Team found, police involved in similar confrontations have shot people who were suicidal or mentally ill.”

    Why aren’t they investigating the police for unnecessary violence and brutality? Even murder? Because they’re alright with the criminal justice system, despite police misconduct. They’re claiming the mental health system broken because of the presence of crazy people disturbing the sensibilities of presumed sane folks. Fix the system, and your crazies are swept under the rug, as before, in total institutions of segregation and neglect. (Out of sight, out of mind.) They’re blaming the system on these failures, but, surely, there are successes, too. It would be nice to hear from a few of those successes, of course, success, in this instance, means being outside of the system they would presume to fix.

    • Fix the system, and your crazies are swept under the rug, as before, in total institutions of segregation and neglect. (Out of sight, out of mind.)

      Damn straight! Let’s try to KEEP that system as broken as possible, until it crumbles!

      A well known Black revolutionary once compared police to toilet paper — that they’re what the system uses to wipe away the shit they don’t want to touch. The same can be said for institutional psychiatry.

      Inviting the corporate media into our events seems masochistic to me — if they report on the hearing voices conference I predict it will be with an obvious journalistic smirk, just like the Philadelphia paper did with the 2012 APA demonstration.

    • From what I recall of Massachusetts, the police existed to protect the relatively wealthy against the poor. If you were out of work or an immigrant, the cops were not there to serve you, but to protect the Citizens who Belonged there against you. So those of us who were seen as leeches didn’t dare call the cops. Ever. For any reason, not to report a crime, nor to call if we ourselves had a medical emergency.

      I recall one day in Public Housing we saw some kid doing vandalism across the street. We looked at each other. Not one of us dared call the cops on the kid. We knew if we did, the cops would come and insist WE had called because we ourselves were criminals. We’d get our apartment searched, or the cop would come and ask, “Is everything okay,” and we’d get a “wellness check.” Yes, it sucked bad. Forget reporting a rape, you had no credibility with them. You were called dangerous or a drug addict no matter what. If you were a foreigner, you were a criminal and a drug addict. i saw them refuse to take an old woman to the hospital because in a panic she was having trouble speaking in English. I happen to know you will forget all your other languages when you are frightened and those cops knew that, they just hated foreigners. I called them once because I passed out, and they threatened me repeatedly so I sent them away.

      I also had my apartment illegally searched, no warrant, and I wasn’t even informed. I have since spoken to the state legislature about that. They told me it was certainly illegal, cops or no cops, no matter what income level I was, and whether or not I was “psych” does not matter. Although you can’t exactly call the cops on the cops.

  4. Boston Globe its fake news. Fake news is not just a story claiming aliens just landed on the white house lawn, its real definition is the one sided propaganda put out by these so called journalists on so many subjects.

    Same fake news when they are selling the so called opiate epidemic, rarely a word about the war on pain patients or that most overdoses are the results of drug mixing, poly-drug poisoning from people mixing alcohol , benzos and opiates at the same time.

    Man drinks alcohol and takes Xanax then uses opiates and has an overdose, when fake news writes it up it suddenly becomes man takes opiates and ODs we got to do something “opiate epidemic” people are dying !!!

    If fake news cared that people wetr dying they would write stories on how most ODs are from drug mixing and the dangers of it.

    “In 2015, there were 1,574 confirmed accidental opioid deaths, a 20 percent increase over the previous year’s 1,383. As of September, the state’s opioid epidemic claimed another 1,005 people, with an additional estimated, or unconfirmed, 392 to 470 deaths.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2016/12/15/retreat-funding-for-opioid-epidemic/rL9avBMTeACQOxBSzySUsL/story.html

    No Boston Globe, the majority of those people died after mixing opiates with Alcohol and other drugs. People don’t usually waste their dope shooting for the sky, that’s not how it works.

    The vinegar fizzed up and made a big mess! Lets just conveniently leave out the part where we poured in baking soda, vinegar is the problem, its how you make fake news.

      • Your right, good point but don’t forget divide and conquer when that is convenient for them too. The people vs police brutality and government abuse was really heating up not long ago everyone had enough right left black and white so what did they do ? Race race race don’t think about how dirty abusive and corrupt we are instead go fight with each other.

    • I agree, Cat, the Boston Globe is “fake news,” like so much of the mainstream media, bought and paid for by the corporations. And their “divide and conquer” and “fear mongering” are absolutely obnoxious, too. Thanks for the blog, Sara, keep speaking the truth.