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  • 13 Jan 2015 3:06 PM | Anonymous

    Suicides all too common in Hawaii

    Everyone is rightly concerned about the recent pedestrian deaths, and action need to be taken to prevent them.

    In Hawaii, suicides are seven times more common than pedestrian deaths. In particular, Hawaii's middle and high school students have among the highest rates in the nation of planning and attempting suicide; the number of suicides among young people aged 15-24 years has doubled between 2007 and 2013, from 15 to 30.

    Suicide is an unfathomable tragedy for everyone undefined the person whose life has been cut short, and the grieving friends and family members who suffer endless agony. But perhaps the most tragic aspect of suicide is that it is preventable: 90 percent of people who die by suicide had a mental disorder when they died, but in all likelihood this had not been recognized or treated.

    We as a community need to take this issue on. We all must learn the warning signs, reach out to those who are troubled, and get them help.

    Marya Grambs
    Executive director, Mental Health America of Hawaii

  • 21 Jan 2014 2:40 PM | Anonymous
  • 07 Oct 2013 10:52 AM | Anonymous

    For Saturday, October 5, 2013

    By Star-Advertiser staff

    POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 05, 2013

    Teen earns interfaith alliance award

    A 13-year old girl who works with the disabled will receive The Interfaith Alliance Hawai‘i Flame of Hope award at the organization's 11th annual community awards dinner, set for Oct. 13 at Nuu­anu Congregational Church.

    The recipient, Ella Laca­ni­enta, is a Puna­hou School student who works with the John 17:21 Ministry, an interfaith effort that assists persons with disabilities in a monthly worship and fellowship program based at Wesley United Methodist Church. The teen is also part of the "Youth on the Move" ministry at Central Union Church.

    This year's event theme is "Compassionate Leadership for the 21st Century: The Next Generation."

    Other recipients of the alliance's 2013 community awards include:

    » Healing Role in Hawaii: Da Moms provides support for parents and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals. The group is led by Josephine Chang and Susan Roth.

    » Encouraging Non-Violent Civic Participation: Mental Health America of Hawaii focuses on prevention programs in schools and various organizations that address issues linked to youth suicide and bullying. Its director is Antonia Alvarez.

    » Facilitating Community Activism: Hawaii Youth Services Network, directed by Judith Clark, has developed collaborative programs that offer teen pregnancy prevention, suicide prevention and shelter for runaway and homeless youth.

    » Challenging Religious or Political Extremism: First Unitarian Church of Hono­lulu, under the Rev. Joni­pher Kwong, has led other faith groups to support a proposal for a marriage equality initiative in Hawaii.

    The Interfaith Alliance Hawai‘i's annual dinner begins at 5:30 p.m. The event is open to the public, but reservations are required by emailing fordhamh001@hawaii.rr. com or

  • 03 Sep 2013 2:40 PM | Anonymous

    Clubhouses offer a chance to rebuild lives

    The state program partners with businesses and offers support and training to help people with mental illness find employment

    By Susan Essoyan


    Jesse Sao is a member of Waipahu Aloha Clubhouse's rehabilitation program, which helped him find a job bundling waste­paper and cleaning up at Haga­done Printing Co.

    Robert Braganza used to be so shy that, as a little boy, he hid when his grandfather threw a party because he couldn't face all those people.

    In high school, his parents thought he was slacking off when he didn't do well, because he was clearly bright. As it turned out, he was grappling with depression. He wound up dropping out of college, and turned 25 having never held a job.

    Today, as the nation celebrates Labor Day, the 26-year-old is not only employed, he also deals directly with customers as a food server at Times Supermarkets. He recently got a 100 percent rating from the store's "secret shopper" for his attentive service.

    "I became more comfortable talking to people as time passed by," said Braganza, his heavy black-rimmed glasses low on his nose, looking like the philosophy student he hopes to become once he saves up enough money. "I think working at Times made it easier for me."

    The transformation came after he joined the Waipahu Aloha Clubhouse, one of 10 such facilities statewide that help members who have faced mental illness rebuild their lives and find jobs. Little by little, more employers are willing to give people with such backgrounds a chance and are finding that it can pay off, for both the companies and the employees.

    Times Supermarkets and T.J. Maxx are among the latest businesses to work with the clubhouse, joining longtime supporters such as Hagadone Printing Co., Mililani Agricultural Park and the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort & Beach Club.

    "Mental illness is not a life sentence," said Kim Golis, director of the Waipahu Clubhouse. "With good medication, support and some structure to your life, you can accomplish anything: You can go back to work, go back to school, have a family and friends."

    The state-funded facilities are welcoming places where people who have had serious mental illness come together voluntarily to get back on track, guided by a professional staff. They socialize, learn skills by volunteering at the center, and try out paid jobs at companies to get on the path to permanent employment. Clubhouse staff match individuals with positions and provide coaching and backup.

    At Hagadone Printing's well-manicured headquarters near the airport, members of the Waipahu Aloha Clubhouse handle landscaping and recycling duties.

    "The place never looked better," said Hagadone CEO Clint Schroeder, noting the pride the employees take in their work. "You can see it every day, they are so happy to be there. I wish all my employees were like that," he added with a grin.

    GETTING A JOB can be crucial in restoring mental health. Usually the first question upon meeting someone is, "What do you do?" Not having an answer can be uncomfortable.

    "What we do for a living so defines us," said Schroeder, past president of the Rotary Club of Metropolitan Honolulu. "We need to eliminate the stigma so people treat mental health the same way they treat physical health."

    One in 5 adults in the United States had mental illness in the past year, with 1 in 20 adults seriously functionally impaired as a result, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In Hawaii, the Department of Health estimates that about 57,000 people have serious mental illness. Diagnoses include anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, among others.

    Even people with severe mental illness can be treated and lead productive lives. But they face high hurdles entering the workplace because many Americans wrongly equate mental illness with violence, in part due to portrayals in entertainment and mass media, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

    "Mental illness is so misunderstood and people have a lot of misperceptions, so they're afraid," said Marya Grambs, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawai‘i, who was hospitalized herself during her struggle with depression.

    "Very, very, very few people with mental illness are violent," she said. "Unfortunately, those are the ones that make the front pages."

    Wayne Ogasawara, owner-manager of Mililani Agricultural Park, said acquaintances question his decision to hire people who have had mental health disorders to work on his farm, which he has done frequently over the years.

    "They say, ‘Gee, aren't you afraid of them?' It's a very common concern among people," the plain-spoken farmer said. "I tell them, no, that's the least of my concerns. … I've never had a situation whereby I felt threatened or anything like that."

    He cited a prized employee who has worked on his farm for years, whose fastidiousness is part of his condition and perfectly suits his job trimming nursery plants and pulling weeds.

    "He does such a fantastic job," Ogasawara said. "Even the piles of weeds are laid out symmetrically. And he's happy as a lark."

    Ewa resident Flora Patton, 48, a once-melancholy mother of two, also found new friends and a new path to mental health at the Waipahu Clubhouse. After a couple of temporary positions, she landed a permanent job as a classroom cleaner that helps support her boys, ages 7 and 9.

    "Work makes me feel very good," Patton said. "I look forward to going to work every day. I will work there until I retire."

    Grambs called the Clubhouses "a bright light" in the state's mental health system. They are inexpensive and effective, she said, helping people who might otherwise spiral downward get services and earn paychecks and respect. But she emphasized that they need to be restored to full staffing after earlier budget cuts and also need more business partners.

    "Labor Day is a good time to remember that there are some people among us who need some extra help to enter the labor force," said Kathleen Rhoads Merriam, the Department of Health's Clubhouse coordinator. "Given a little bit of support, they too can have a reason to celebrate Labor Day."

  • 03 Sep 2013 2:15 PM | Anonymous

    Isle system needs housing services, advocates say

    The state intends to boost efforts to get the most vulnerable into stable housing

    By Allison Schaefers 

    POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 01, 2013

    Michelle Turner was already grappling with post-traumatic stress related to childhood abuse when a death in the family, the loss of her nursing job and an eviction nearly sent her over the edge.

    "You can be a strong person, but when three or four things combine, sometimes it's a little overwhelming. I became homeless about a year and a half after losing my job. I never had to go on the street; if I had, I would have lost my mind," said the 61-year-old Turner, who received medical care and housing assistance from the Waikiki Health Center.

    She said health center providers helped her transition from the Next Step Shelter to her own apartment, which since January has helped her healing.

    "When you are living in an open area, things get stolen, people fight, and there are just a lot of personalities in one spot. There were 200 people at the shelter, so I would guess that makes about 500 personalities and about five of them were mine," Turner joked.

    Turner is part of a population with highly specialized needs that saw much of their support cut over the past several years. Homeless service providers and advocates say coming health care improvements will help the state's homeless people who suffer from mental illness. But, they say, the community won't see real progress until stable housing is part of the mix.

    "Being homeless is one of the most destabilizing events anyone can experience," said state Homeless Coordinator Colin Kippen. "Placing a person or family into housing as soon as possible reduces costs and increases measures of health, well-being and economic stability. This is the conversation that we need to be having at every level."

    Kippen said he's stepping up Housing First, which seeks to house and provide care to the most vulnerable homeless, many of whom have mental health or substance abuse issues. Through June, the program had housed 71 Oahu residents.

    State legislators approved $1.5 million this year to expand the supportive-housing program to the neighbor islands.

    Next year, Kippen said he will ask legislators to permanently fund the program, which is expected to cost up to $1.5 million annually. By the end of 2015, Mayor Kirk Caldwell's Housing First pilot plan to help 100 of Oahu's chronically homeless should supplement state efforts.

    Institute for Human Services Executive Director Connie Mitchell said Housing First is most appropriate for homeless people who are severely impaired, mentally ill or have medical conditions. She said other programs such as transitional shelters, halfway homes, adult foster care and rent subsidies should also be bolstered to keep people who require less care from becoming homeless.

    While many people with mental illness eventually wind up homeless, living in that condition manifests symptoms, said Marya Grambs, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii.

    "We know there are an awful lot of sick people living on our streets," she said. "When you see homeless people and think they are mentally ill, it's probably true."

    IHS did a survey of the chronically homeless and found that 60 percent had mental illness and 45 percent had mental illness and substance abuse issues, Mitchell said.

    She said despite some restoration of state programs, the number of homeless with mental illness is growing.

    "In the last several months, we've had about a 50 percent increase in referrals from (the) Queen's (Medical Center's) inpatient psychiatric unit to our emergency shelter," she said.

    There's still some carryover from when Gov. Linda Lingle's administration cut back on community health services, said Louis Erteschick, executive director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center. He said the worst cuts eliminated the Assertive Community Treatment teams, reduced case management hours, and trimmed eligibility from about two pages of covered diagnoses to about two paragraphs.

    "Some of Hawaii's mentally ill homeless individuals became ineligible for case-management and housing services," he said. "If they had depression, PTSD or drug-induced problems, it wasn't covered. Only the most severely impaired got help."

    Scott Wall, vice president for the Community Alliance For Mental Health, said that's when Hawaii went from running one of the nation's best behavioral health systems to one of the worst.

    "Up until 2008, Hawaii had the best system that I'd seen, including California, New York, Connecticut and Florida," said Wall, who is bipolar, was homeless and has navigated five different state systems, including Hawaii's, over the past 45 years.

    After the cuts, Wall estimates that Hawaii's behavioral health services declined 45 percent.

    "It wasn't just penny-wise and pound-foolish; people died," he said "We also lost providers because with fewer clients they couldn't get as much funding."

  • 03 Sep 2013 2:10 PM | Anonymous


    Changes in state, city services aid mentally ill

    Among efforts is a new Community Care Services program being rolled out today to streamline and improve access to care

    By Allison Schaefers 

    POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 01, 2013

    An agitated homeless man barreled down Seaside Avenue in Waikiki on Thursday, hurling obscenities at passers-by.

    Lunch-goers in the busy visitor district quickly sidestepped his oncoming, overflowing cart.

    Scenes like this have become common for the many tourists, residents and workers in the area.

    "Everyone's complaining," said Waikiki Neighborhood Board member Walter Flood. "No matter what the city and state do, (the homeless) keep coming back. … Some of them are physically and mentally sick. We've seen them stay so long that they die on the streets. It's worse than ever."

    Data show an increase in the number of homeless people suffering from mental illness in Hawaii over the past several years, which has also seen a decrease in support services.

    According to the Honolulu Emergency Psychological Services and Jail Diversion Program, calls to police psychologists involving homeless adults have risen 300 percent since January 2010, averaging about 60 calls per month. The trend is especially true for Waikiki, which since 2007 has received 472 percent more calls for police psychologists than is expected for an area with its population size, according to the HPD program.

    Still, several state and city efforts to tackle the challenge in Waikiki and throughout the state are creating pockets of hope that Hawaii's mentally ill homeless people will get more help. It is also expected to bring relief for overburdened emergency rooms, courtrooms and jails.

    For starters, the state is rolling out its new Community Care Services program today. The program gives the state Department of Human Services oversight of behavioral health services for Medicaid beneficiaries with severe mental illness and serious persistent mental illness.

    Since some of the services were once split between DHS and the state Department of Health, both say the streamlining is expected to ease implementation of the Affordable Care Act, produce greater state efficiency, optimize federal funds, increase continuity for health care providers and beneficiaries, and broaden the range of mental illnesses that are eligible for services.

    The Assisted Community Treatment Law, which the state Legislature passed last session and takes effect in January, provides a legal way to encourage people to receive treatment if they are unable to consent because of their illness. The new law allows authorities to get a court order urging a mentally ill person to take their medication.

    The Health Department also expects to find out this month if it will get funding from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. One grant would provide $10 million over four years for screening and brief interventions in community health centers. The other would pay $700,000 a year for three years to provide housing with services for chronic homeless people with substance abuse.

    When combined with a commitment from the HPD Psychological Services and Jail Diversion Program to divert more mentally ill people from the criminal justice system into the mental health system, supporters say that these changes could vastly improve life for Hawaii's mentally ill homeless people.

    It could be welcome relief for a population who typically show high levels of arrest and poor access to health care. Consider:

    » The 2013 Point in Time Count, which measures the state's homeless population on a specific day, showed an 11.9 percent year-over-year rise in severely mentally ill homeless and a 126 percent increase in those with chronic substance abuse, which some consider a mental health concern.

    » New data from the HPD program show that arrests of homeless people tripled and arrests of homeless people with mental illness quadrupled between 2010 and 2012.

    » In 2012, 44 percent of everyone arrested on Oahu suffered from severe mental illness and/or severe substance abuse. In addition, 39 percent of everyone who was arrested was homeless, and 58 percent of this population suffered from severe mental illness and/or severe substance abuse.

    "I would bet the vast majority of people who are seriously mentally ill and homeless end up in jail," said Michael Christopher, a police psychologist who coordinates the HPD program. "It's much cheaper to divert them."

    It's also less costly to make sure that people get medical coverage for the care that they need, said Marya Grambs, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, the state's oldest mental health education and advocacy organization.

    After state cutbacks in 2009, the Hawaii Health Information Corp. noted that the emergency room charges for those with severe mental illness and substance abuse increased 46 percent in a three-year period to nearly $31.7 million. Likewise, inpatient charges for the same population during the same period rose nearly 22.6 percent to nearly $66.7 million.

    Grambs said another indicator of the results of the cutback of services is the dramatic increase in the census at Hawaii State Hospital, which accepts only court-ordered patients. Adult Mental Health Division Administrator Mark Fridovich said the state hospital houses about 240 patients, each costing about $250,000 annually and comprising a third of his total budget.

    "We want folks to get effective treatment before they get charged with a crime," Fridovich said.

    Patti Bazin, DHS' Health Care Services Branch administrator, said the state plans to expand Community Care Services to include peer specialists, money management services, housing support and job training. The department also hopes to expand behavior health eligibility for Medicaid recipients, she said.

    "We still don't have the funding for substance-induced psychosis and PTSD, but we are working on covering it by Oct. 10," she said. "We are waiting for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to approve it. Anyone who is a Medicaid beneficiary who has that diagnosis would be able to access those benefits through CCS, MedQuest or through (the Adult Mental Health Division)."

    The state's behavioral health transformation should make it easier for homeless people, especially those with mental illness, to secure the services they need and for providers to respond promptly, said Lori Tsuhako, DHS' Homeless Programs Office administrator.

    "There are a lot of folks on the street homeless with PTSD and many with substance abuse-induced psychosis and many with just substance abuse," she said. "Now, someone who is in need won't have to talk to 10 places; they can talk to one agency. That's good because it's hard to overcome challenges like when a person is paranoid and wants to know why you need their name or Social Security number. Also, when the person is ready to move into housing, we want to be in a position to strike while they say ‘yes,' before they have a bad day or change their mind."

    The state Adult Mental Health Division is bolstering its own support by considering expanding police psychologists to the neighbor islands. It's also trying to restore its coverage for PTSD, substance-induced psychosis and major depressive disorder without psychotic symptoms.

    The division's eligibility changes are pending an internal review, public hearing and a Hawaii Administrative Rule change; however, Fridovich said he's optimistic it could happen by the end of 2013.

    "Many more people will be covered than were covered or were coverable in 2009," said Fridovich, who estimates about 2,500 of the people in the system have conditions that would benefit from these eligibility changes.

    Still, some question whether Community Care Services truly will improve access to health care and delivery for beneficiaries, especially for the harder-to-reach homeless population.

    Chad Koyanagi, a community psychiatrist working at Castle Medical Center and the Institute for Human Services, said he's cautiously optimistic about CCS, but warns that it will need strong leadership from the Department of Human Services and collaboration with the Health Department and homeless outreach and housing providers.

    "The mentally ill population has been the throwaway of our health care system over the last 10 years. The system as it is doesn't focus on preventing people from ending up in that condition," Koyanagi said. "One of the main weaknesses is that once a client gets so impaired that they become homeless, a lot of agencies don't know what to do with them anymore so they fall out of care."

  • 05 Jun 2013 2:36 PM | Anonymous

    On May 15, 2013 Mental Health America of Hawai`i had it's 8th Annual Mental Health Mahalo Awards Luncheon. The luncheon celebrated passionate, tireless, and creative community leaders who strive to make Hawaii a better place for people with mental health challenges -  and, thereby, for all of us.

    Some are doing this work to, simply, save lives.  Others are motivated out of a sense of commitment to people who society has ignored, and want to see them treated fairly. 

    With some awardees, their drive stems out of painful personal experience - their own or a loved one’s.  One awardee expresses his support through sound and caring business decisions.  Each awardee has an inspiring and compelling story.   

    CONNIE MITCHELL, the Executive Director of I.H.S., believes that working with homeless and mentally ill people was her destiny.  It started, she says, when she was in the 7th grade and her girlfriend was assaulted.   Connie was 12 years old – she couldn’t do much, but she could be there for her friend and support her.  That’s when she realized how powerful it is to just be there for someone.

    Connie obtained her nursing degree, never intending to go into psychiatric nursing.  But life has a tendency to intervene – a close friend became ill with schizophrenia and died by suicide.  She and her husband adopted a 7 y/o girl whose birth mother had a severe mental health disorder.  She noticed that many of the patients in the internist’s office where she worked had mental health problems.  So she returned to school to get a Master’s degree in psychiatric nursing.    

    Connie began working at Hawaii State Hospital as a clinical nurse specialist, eventually becoming Director of Nursing and helping the Hospital come into compliance with the Department of Justice lawsuit.   She and her colleagues developed a new treatment model for the Hospital:  each patient, every day, would come off the unit and participate in active treatment.   

    Connie came to I.H.S. in 2006, and immediately noticed that it was essentially a mini-mental hospital. Many, if not most, homeless individuals have multiple, complex problems – but the common denominator, she notes, always comes back to mental illness – mental illness and cancer, mental illness and substance abuse, mental illness and a criminal history.    

    Connie’s passion is to rebuild lives, not just fix symptoms. I.H.S. has started a homeless outreach program with Dr. Chad Koyanagi, a member of our Board, and residents from JABSOM Dep’t of Psychiatry.   She’s working with others in the community to provide homeless mentally ill people with Housing First, and then after they’re housed, get them the treatment they need.  And she’s been the driving force behind a bill recently passed that will enable the Court to mandate community treatment for those most severely mentally ill people who spiral in and out of the streets, hospitals, and jail. 

    “Surround people with a supportive community, and they will recover,” says Connie, our Outstanding Community Mental Health Leader

    NANCY KERN, is a trailblazer.  Those who work with her talk about her ability to bring up issues that no one else had thought about or had the courage to address. Sometimes that has pertained to HIV/AIDS, sometimes to bullying and discrimination against LGBT youth in the schools, and now it is the prevention of suicide statewide.   Nancy has, time and time again, shown that she not only has the vision, but also has the ability to see how to get from here to there. 

    Nancy’s early work was in HIV/AIDS prevention in the schools and with the Department of Health.  As a voice for those who are not heard, she advocated for transgendered adults with the Department of Health at a time when that population was not on the radar screen. Nancy doesn’t seem to be held back by negativity -- instead of finding reasons why something can’t be done, she figures out how it can be done.

    As Bob Bidwell, her partner in crime for many decades, said, Nancy loves the righteous battle.  Over a period of several years, she was a leader in the passage of Chapter 19, which provides protection on the basis of religion, disability, gender, ethnicity, in the schools.  The sticking point was hers and others’ insistence on having sexual minority populations included –it took five years to get it passed. 

    Nancy was instrumental as a member of the Safe Schools Advisory Committee which developed THIRTY THREE recommendations to prevent bullying and was approved by the Board of Education in 2007.  Today, however, she is STILL working with colleagues, including us, to get these recommendations implemented and improve DOE’s response to bullying and suicide. 

    Today, Nancy has brought that passion to her position as Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Department of Health.  When she arrived at the job, she was confronted with sobering facts:  The number of young people killing themselves had doubled between 2007 and 2011.  Hawaii has among the highest rates in the nation of middle and high school students thinking about, planning, and attempting suicide.  Under her leadership, the Department has developed active suicide prevention task forces in each County throughout the State, and is in the process of developing a statewide youth suicide prevention campaign. 

    Visionary, transformational, optimistic, and unfaltering,   Nancy Kern is our Outstanding Mental Health Government Leader.

    SUSAN KING has told us that her life is an open book, and she is happy for you to know about experiences.  Her hallucinations started when she was 4.  She saw and heard people who were trying to scare her.  But she never mentioned it – she thought everyone had them. As an adult, she suffered from undiagnosed depression, drank heavily, and became a meth user.  Finally, after the death of her second husband, she was thrown into the blackest, bleakest depression.  She had talked about suicide for many years, and this time she tried.

    She ended up with three bouts in a psychiatric ward.  She was still doing meth but no one caught on. However, for the first time in her life a doctor asked her if she had any hallucinations, and she said yes. 

    So Susan was finally put on antipsychotic medication.  It took a long time to get the right combination.  She came back to Hawaii – Maui - 7 years ago.  She was better, but not quite:  she was still on meth. 

    But finally, when her granddaughter was born five years ago, she decided to take back her life.  She did so with gusto, and has now been in recovery, from both mental illness and substance abuse, for 4 years.

    She joined Hale o Lanakila clubhouse on Maui and got more and more involved with the mental illness recovery community.  She was trained as a speaker in the Speakers Bureau assembled by the Department of Health.  She realized that she loved making presentations, and found it cathartic to tell her story. She loved telling consumers – people with mental illness – that they don’t have to be, in her words, “a lump of Jello,” and that recovery is possible….. That even the most severely mentally ill person can have a better quality of life with good care and treatment.

    Today, speaking of gusto, she’s President of the Board of Directors of United Self Help, she’s a member of the Board of Directors of the Community Alliance for Mental Health, and she’s a member of the Advisory Board for Mental Health America of Hawaii’s Maui Branch.  She is also a Certified Peer Specialist and runs consumer support classes and groups. 

    Now that she’s better she’s being told she’s way too tenacious! We are so glad! Our joyfully persistent Outstanding Adult Mental Health Consumer Advocate is Susan King.

    There never was a prouder college graduate this past Monday than CRYSTAL BROWN.  You would be, too, if you had been on the journey she has been on. When she was born, her mother was in jail for robbery.  She was raised by her grandparents, and she was bullied starting in kindergarten for having such “old” parents. Because she fought back whenever she was bullied, and because the bullying never stopped, she was constantly in trouble, suspended and finally expelled in the 6th grade.

    When she was 9 she met her mother for the first time. She had just found out – by accident - that her mother was in prison.  That was also when she had to go live with a neighbor for a year because her grandmother was terminally ill.   

    After her grandmother died, Crystal’s grandfather did not really know how to parent her; she was not taught how to dress, she came to school dirty, and she was neglected.  The bullying got worse.   She became more troubled.  

    Her grandfather put her in foster care when she was 13.  She ended up with a foster family on the Big Island.

    By this time she had started to study and get good grades.  But there was trouble in the foster family.  A male member of the family began raping her, almost on a daily basis, for two and a half years.

    She told her therapist and social worker, but no one believed her because the family was well known in the community.  One day – Crystal is 16 at this point -- his wife came into the room, saw him raping her, and ordered Crystal out of the house at 3 am with her belongings in trash bags.

    But after all this horror, life turned around.  Crystal was put in another foster home; the woman believed what Crystal told her, and knew it was mandated to report it, and did.  Crystal went to her final foster home, where she met the woman who became her Hanai mom. For the past three years, she says, she’s been genuinely happy for the first time in her life.  Her abuser was arrested, and he goes to jail on weekends.  Crystal went to college.

    Today she’s a Peer Support Specialist with Project Kealahou and Hawaii Families as Allies, helping other young people who have experienced trauma and are having trouble.  She believes that by giving back, sharing her story, and  inspiring others that they can survive and flourish -- this gives purpose to everything she went through. She can say to them, I’ve been through hell and back, and I can do anything.  

    Crystal Brown is our Outstanding Youth Consumer Advocate.

    CLINT SCHROEDER is ourOutstanding Mental Health Business Leader.                   

    It’s not as if Clint’s not a busy man. He runs one of the biggest commercial printing companies in Hawaii – they print Honolulu Magazine and Hawaii Business, and they won the 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility Award from Pacific Edge Magazine.    Their community commitments run to working to save a local elementary school from being closed, to supporting the Muscular Dystrophy Association, to using solar energy and providing a recycling location for telephone books and glossy magazines.  Clint was selected as one of the “40 under 40” in 2011 and this year has been President of the Rotary Club of Metropolitan Honolulu.

    Today we’re here to celebrate him because of his commitment to mental health.  Why this commitment? As he says, all of us are affected by someone with mental health challenges. He lost his 25 year old brother to suicide.   

    We are here to recognize him for having served as business chair for the NAMI Walk in 2011, for giving generously, and helping to raise $80,000 for that organization.

    And we’re here to thank him for hiring members of the Waipahu Aloha Clubhouse in landscaping, janitorial and warehouse work.   Their facility in Kalihi takes up half a block, so there’s a lot of landscaping to be done.

    He’s trained his team at Hagadone and they are very supportive of the Clubhouse members.

    He is full of praise, and makes the members feel proud.  Every morning he compliments the workers when he sees them watering plants, telling them how good the landscaping looks. He tells them, “The place never looked better” since they’ve started working there.  Plus -- he pays above minimum wage.  The Clubhouse members love to work there. 

    As Kim Golis, the director of the Waipahu Aloha Clubhouse says, “He has a heart for helping people.” 

    MIKE AND MARGIE DURANT, did not want to learn about mental illness the way they did.  Their son Jay’s adolescent years were turbulent.  But Mike and Margie attributed it to the nature of being a teenager – their older son had been a handful too. Or, they thought, it was their parenting skills.  But Jay’s behavioral problems mounted, he began having panic attacks and doing poorly in school, and he was finally expelled at the end of his junior year. 

    It turns out these were not just the ups and downs of adolescence.  Jay was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 18.  Mike and Margie were devastated, as you can imagine. 

    The next 17 years of their lives were filled with confusion, hope, fear, and frustration.  They felt so lost.  But they found NAMI  in 1994 and there they found a community of support.  And there they gave back. 

    They have been what we can only describe as the godparents of NAMI Hawaii – in the best sense of the word.  Mike served as Board president for 7 years.  For the past dozen years he and Margie have facilitated a Family Support Group. 

    They were the Jay Walker Team Captains for the NAMI Walks, in tribute to their son.  They played a major role in NAMI annual benefits for 10 years.  Margie was the newsletter writer and editor. 

    Mike has spent the last six years as Oahu Service Area Board member, and is currently Chair of the Governor-appointed State Council on Mental Health.  They are beloved by a wide circle of friends who they have brought into the NAMI family as generous contributors. 

    Sometimes learning things years later can be heartbreaking. One day Margie found something that Jay had written in kindergarten.  He was asked to complete the sentence, “I feel safe when…” and he wrote “never.”

    Mike and Margie Durant are our Outstanding Family Mental Health Advocates.

    Thank you to all of those who joined us for a moving celebration of these extraordinary people who are helping some of the most invisible people in our community.   

  • 04 Feb 2013 12:59 PM | Anonymous
    See how MHA - Hawai`i responds to Newtown shootings.

  • 06 Dec 2012 10:09 PM | Anonymous
    Star Advertiser
    Marya GramsMarya Grambs
    The mental health agency executive works to help people escape from their dark inner spaces.
    by Vicki Viotti
    POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 07, 2012


    "Suicide is the most tragic public health problem we have in this community, in any community, in our society. Because it's so much more prevalent than anybody knows."--Marya Grambs / Executive director, Mental Health America of Hawaii

    There's a lot more bound up in the "Merry Christmas!" greeting we toss off than many people know, says Marya Grambs, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii.

    For some, she noted last week, it's a reminder of how little their own life resembles that Norman Rockwell kind of image of the holidays.

    "We idealize them," she said. "We all do, and then we think, ‘Oh, no, my family's kind of small … ' and it can never live up to those idealized expectations."

    Grambs knows that her agency's mission is tough year-round. A recent study showed how much: Nearly 18 percent of high school youths have at least made a plan for suicide.

    Her agency, formerly known as Mental Health Association in Hawaii, recently received a challenge grant from the Omidyar Ohana Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation aimed at helping it expand its outreach program to deter youth suicide and bullying.

    On an ongoing basis, she likes to keep putting the word out about the state's mental health Access Program hotline (832-3100, or toll-free for the neighbor islands at 1-800-753-6879).

    Grambs has run the agency for seven years, after many more years in previous positions working to prevent family violence. But at 66, Grambs is convinced that her own tough beginnings undefined more than her resume undefined gives her street cred with the clients the agency tries to help.

    Growing up in a household torn by domestic violence, with a father struggling with alcoholism and mental illness, formed the backdrop to her own acute depression and two suicide attempts: one at age 17, one later when she was newly divorced with a young son.

    People need to see that you can come out of such dark places, she said.

    "I think mental illness is the most stigmatized illness there is," Grambs said. "And that's why I think it's important for any of us who have any issues around mental illness to speak out, to say, ‘Here I am. I'm an ex-mental patient. And I'm doing OK, I survived. I still struggle, but I'm doing OK.’”

    QUESTION: What's your take on why the holidays are so hard on mental health? Or is that a myth?

    ANSWER: No, I don't think it's a myth.

    I think several things happen during the holidays. One is, images are all around us. Big, happy families; big groups of friends, laughing, having wonderful meals.

    And what if you're not like that? What if you're single? What if you have a tiny family? What if you've just moved and don't know anybody? What if your spouse or your sibling has died?

    So you can be surrounded by all this joyfulness and all these joyful images, and you're not experiencing it and you're feeling really isolated. It can really trigger a lot of sadness and a lot of depression.

    Q: So, the holidays are idealized?

    A: Yes ... because we idealize them; we all do ... I also think some of us may come from really dysfunctional families and in families like that, the holidays are really hard. There's alcoholism -- things get worse during the holidays. So for some of us, the holidays trigger those bad memories. ...

    Q: Can the holidays sometimes

    paper over family problems?

    A: Or they can't. They might cover everything up and tamp it down, or sometimes they can't and things just explode, because everybody gets so nervous and stressed.

    And the third thing is the darkness, the days are shorter and shorter, and that affects a lot of people's moods.

    Q: We don't have that problem here, right?

    A: We do. We have short days. At 6 o'clock in the morning, it's dark black, and it's not that way the rest of the year. ...

    Q: Moving to the issue of teen suicide: How would you characterize Hawaii's problem?

    A: It's teens who plan suicide or attempt suicide or think seriously of suicide. ... You take 18 percent, that's four in every classroom.

    Q: Has anyone tried to analyze why?

    A: There's no factual reason, but we have anecdotal. And one thing is that kids kind of feel there's no place to go, they can't escape, because we're an island, so they're really hemmed in.

    Another thing, interestingly, is we have a lot of ohana, a lot of big families, and sometimes that means if kids tell an auntie something, it just goes everywhere. So there's not much confidentiality. So that can be hard.

    We also have military families, and these are kids moving around all the time, and they're also kids where parents may be gone, or may be coming back and having a hard time. ...

    You know, I just saw an interesting study and it hasn't been replicated. But it said, you know there's this happiness index? And it rates states on how happy they are, and Hawaii is No. 1, right? Well, what they showed is the states with the highest happiness rates also tend to have very high suicide rates. And the states with the lowest happiness rates have some of the lowest suicide rates.

    Q: What does that tell you?

    A: Well, the theory -- nobody knows -- is it's really hard to be unhappy in a really happy place, where everybody's supposed to be happy. It's kind of like that holiday thing. Isn't that something? Like, New York and New Jersey are the lowest-rated (on the) happiness scale, the most unhappy states, and they're very, very, very low, at the bottom of suicide rates, too.

    So it may be that being sad, to be unhappy, is more acceptable in a place where maybe there are more people who are unhappy.

    Q: So you feel more of a norm?

    A: More supported, maybe, yeah. Less isolated.

    And I think also here there may be cultural reasons that people don't talk about these things. There's a lot of "don't shame the family" we do to

    ourselves, and that can be why people don't talk about when they're feeling really bad. And if you don't talk about it, it tends to isolate you more.

    Q: What's this training program Mental Health America of Hawaii is doing as suicide prevention?

    A: We've trained 10,000 adults and youth in suicide and bullying prevention. ... There's a lot of risk factors.

    Risk factors are being in rural communities, being Native Hawaiian, being in a military family, being a foster kid, being an adjudicated kid, but also being LGBT -- being a gay kid. Higher rates of bullying, and higher rates of feeling suicidal. ...

    We train kids, we talk to them about if they see a friend of theirs, here are the signs and symptoms of suicide, and that they can learn to ask their friends, "Are you feeling suicidal?" That it's really important to ask the question.

    And we talk about bullying, the different definitions of bullying, whether it's physical or emotional or cyber, and what you can do, how you can handle it, can you intervene? And also raise awareness about lesbian and gay kids.

    And so we've been doing that to kids, and also to teachers, parents,

    foster parents, after-school programs, anybody who works with kids, small groups of 30 or 40 kids or adults.

    But now it seems that you can't be the only one who goes around the state doing that. So we're starting a "train the trainers" program. What we're going to do is train people so then they can become trainers. We're going to do it in different communities, so every community will have somebody who knows that community and can train the parents, train the teachers, train the kids, train the counselors, train the probation officers in their community. So it will just multiply.

    Q: Does this suggest that we have a shortage of people who can help with this problem?

    A: I think suicide is the most tragic public health problem we have in this community, in any community, in our society. Because it's so much more prevalent than anybody knows.

    We have 160 suicides a year in Hawaii. That means every other day, somebody kills themself. And that's three times more than die in car crashes, and it's eight times more often than homicides. Nobody knows that. ... You would never imagine that.

    And it's because it's not on the front pages. It's not on any page. There's two reasons for that. One is families don't want it to be in the newspaper; they don't want it public, they feel ashamed of it. And the other reason is, and it's a good reason it's not in there, is that there are such things as copycat suicides. ... But we have to do something about this, because we're in the midst of this horrendous cause of people dying, and nobody knows it. Nobody knows it.

    Q: Do you want to talk about your own episode? How long ago was that?

    A: Well, there were two. Once when I was 17. I had gone away to college and I had a breakdown. I came back and was hospitalized for a year, in a psychiatric hospital.

    Q: What was the diagnosis? Depression?

    A: Major depression. And I felt like a failure, because I couldn't be in college. I felt my life was over. I felt totally hopeless. Totally, excruciatingly hopeless. So the only answer was to die. So I tried to kill myself. And that was the days before there was medication. It took me a year to kind of climb out of that hole, and I had lots and lots of therapy, and lots of help.

    Then when I was in my early 30s, a relationship ended, and it plunged me into that same thing. But everybody's depression is different, and everybody's suicidal situation is different. What I can tell you about mine was that being alive, it became anguishing. I was just in mental agony. I couldn't stand to be alive another minute. ... I say it was like my brain torturing me. And I was filled with hopelessness, I felt like I would never be any different. I was sure that I would never be any different.

    Q: Obviously you got through school because you have a masters degree in clinical psychology. What happened?

    A: It took me a long time because I worked and I went to school and I worked and I went to school.

    Q: Why did you choose that field?

    A: I chose clinical psych because I wanted to understand people's psyche, and I wanted to help people.
  • 30 Nov 2012 10:09 PM | Anonymous
    EXCLUSIVE: State aims to restore mental health cuts
    Mental Health America of Hawaii Executive Director, Marya Grambs, speaks out on mental health cuts with Hawaii News Now.
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