Modern life, it seems, may bring to us at times, more than our share of tragedies. A person who has suffered and endured what I consider the most painful such loss in recent memory, is Dr. Craige Deeds Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Virginia. He is also a Virginia state legislator who has dedicated himself more than ever, to the cause of reforming and improving mental health care delivery in Virginia. He lost his son in 2013 when his then schizophrenic son, committed suicide after trying to stab his father Dr. Deeds. Dr. Deeds had endeavored to hospitalize his son after that incident but somehow in the whole state, there were no beds for his sons, a circumstance I cast a very skeptical eye upon, with my own suspicions as to why none could be found at all. His son was treated for four days with medications in an ER and then had to be released when he had calmed and was no longer deemed dangerous. Four days later, he suicided.
Dr. Deeds faced this tragedy and turned his tragedy and sorrow into something positive which is about the only thing one can do. He redoubled his previous efforts in mental health legislation and singlehandedly almost has nudged the state of Virginia into enacting and putting into place several well thought out reforms, changes and additions to the state’s public mental health system. The first reform was a long needed statewide registry database of open psychiatric beds. This enabled mental health professionals and law enforcement officials and courts to place quickly acutely ill persons needing urgent inpatient psychiatric care, into hospital beds. One radical aspect of this law and change was that private psychiatric beds were mandated to be included. This prevented private psychiatric units from refusing involuntarily committed patients or unruly persons from being rejected out of hand for admission.
The reader is referred to a very recent article on the website of a CBS tv affiliate in middle southwestern Virginia, Bath County, “Lawmaker, nearly killed by son, works to improve mental health care in Virginia.”
Dr. (State Senator for his second title) Deeds has labored mightily to take one broad, large, unwieldy state-wide system issue in Virginia’s broken system of public mental health services delivery after another. It can be easily said that he has done what no one else has done, and accomplished as a result of these efforts, more than any other single person in this country. I regard him personally with utmost respect as our present modern day personification of the great reformer, Dorothea Dix. One of the things that Dr. Deeds has done, has been to cross the political aisles in his state. He has brought the two feuding political parties together in a common effort and fashioned a new alliance that has passed a set of legislative advances for over 3 years since his efforts began to take off in 2014.
I have heard him speak to his legislative colleagues, not in person of course, but through the wonders of the Internet. His speeches have been both moving and well crafted, appealing for productive consensus. He has worked consistently over time to put together working groups on these issues, educate the state’s voters and create a statewide climate of understanding that helps the legislators to ‘feel brave’ enough to go out on the limb of social support to put into place new long-lasting services that will of course cost money now and in the future.
This is no small task in this post-Reagan era of the ethos of cutting taxes no matter the social cost, and the negative, almost poisonous general regard that state-governmental services needs have been viewed for the last few decades as a drag on our economy that hurts the country. Only a few states have faced up to the task of rebuilding as large a system as state mental health, and, swallowing hard and putting governmental cash on the barrel head of new and continuing expensive services. One such state is Texas which, three years formed a legislative task force, issued a supremely through, accurate and mature assessment of the sad state of the state’s services and facilities, and, laid out a rigorous and tough plan for the reconstruction of the entire system. All that was accomplished in a year, and was a total surprise to the citizens as the legislature in that state had fought like alley cats for years, and defined legislative paralysis in general.
These are instances of individual and large state system-legislative efforts that have put differences aside, and worked together to produce incredible changes in their respective mental health systems. Indeed, they are likely being examined and followed closely as salutary examples for the rest of the country!
All this coming in my mind, from the example set by one person, Dr. Craige Deeds Ph.D. I personally think that he should be awarded the Medal of Freedom which is the civilian equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor for military heroes. His efforts have been that important.
We need more Craige Deeds, and we have a number of them, such as E. Fuller Torrey MD who has been crusading for decades in this field, D. J. Jaffe, MD. the long departed Karl Menninger MD of the Menninger Institute, Clarence Hincks, [see here], Ina Hogg of the Texas Hogg family and Hogg Foundation, Elizabeth Packard [Elizabeth Packard: Nineteenth-Century Crusader for the Rights of Mental Patients ], and of course, Mrs. Tipper Gore.