Most of us with aging parents and grandparents are fully aware of what it means to be given "power of attorney"- usually when a loved one can no longer make decisions for themselves, decisions are then handled by a relative or someone that he or she trusts. But how about for those with a history of mental illness in times of crisis when they aren't capable of making fit decisions for themselves? What are they to do in short or long term periods such as these? Dr. David Shern, CEO of Mental Health America and Dr. Delaney Ruston, advocate, physician and filmmaker joined me recently to explain just that and why it's crucial to have a psychiatric advance directive in order.
Candace: Dr. Shern, let's start with you- with next week being mental health awareness week (interview was taped) can you tell us about the new national campaign to help those suffering with mental illness?
Dr. David Shern: "Well, actually today we are launching a new website that Mental Health America, which is the nation's oldest and largest advocacy organization concerned with all aspects of mental health and illness in collaboration with Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation developed in order to educate people about psychiatric advance directives. Now these are documents/forms that people fill out, generally people with severe mental illnesses when they are feeling well; where they can express what they want to have happen to them in their care when they become ill and who they want to have involved, so that when a crisis occurs their wishes are heard and respected. And we're trying to raise awareness about that during mental health awareness week."
Candace: Dr. Ruston, as a mental health advocate, how do you feel psychiatric advance directives can help patients and their families?
Dr. Delaney Ruston: "Well, with my father whose schizophrenia meant that he did have mental health crisis, he would often experience severe delusions and so he would actually state things that he didn't want. When I learned about psychiatric advance directives that meant that we could work together, and he could identify and let me know the type of things that help him to recovery and he could put on the form that the wanted me involved in his care. And so I felt reassured knowing that the system knew that and I think that's so important. This is really a mechanism by which the whole family can feel more included and really connected."
Candace: What do you both feel are the benefits of having a psychiatric advance directive in place?
Dr. Ruston: "I think it's so important to talk much more about collaborative care that hasn't happened as much as people want to see, so not only do you get the person's wishes, which is crucial that people have a voice when they're in crisis and they can't speak for themselves; but you're creating a whole team approach of writing out the directives, they're letting people know what works/what doesn't and frankly also, how to prevent crisis- you can put that on the advanced directive. So there's so many stories that I was able to film on the My Plan, My Life website of people talking about how helpful these directives have been for them. I think it's really worthwhile for people to see those stories firsthand."
Candace: Can you tell us a little bit more about the website?
Dr. Shern: "Well, it's called MyPlanMyLife.com and it's intended to educate people about all of the important elements they need to understand in order to implement psychiatric advance directive for them. As Dr. Ruston has said, it's got great video clips that are actually very inspiring about people who have been dealing with relatively severe problems and found a path through and how psychiatric advance directives were an important part of them getting empowered; getting into their recovery plan, and really making it work."
Candace: Do you have any additional information you'd like to share?
Dr. Shern: "Well, during mental health awareness week it's important that we always underscore that mental health; mental illnesses are real conditions, that they're treatable conditions and that if you have any concerns about your mental health or a family member's mental health, talk to your doctor about it- ask him or her what they think. Get in action and if you have severe problems, it's really important that you visit the My Plan, My Life website and learn about these advance directives. The psychiatric advance directives are so important."