New plans for old problems


Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill recently voiced his policies on rehabilitating drug addicts while visiting a University of Utah class.

Gill, originally born in India, came to Utah in 1971 and is a graduate of the University of Utah and Lewis and Clark College of Law in Portland, Oregon.

Gill said that his interest in law started back when he was living in India. He described seeing a man who cleaned the Gill home for living wrongfully accused of stealing jewelry.

Authorities took the man in front of a crowd and beat him for the alleged crime. “I still remember as a little boy, walking out to the courtyard,” Gill said, “And they were wailing on him, they were beating on him”

This experience set the tone for how the rest of his life would play out. Gill began his career as a public prosecutor and after 15 years, he was appointed as chief Salt Lake City prosecutor by former Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson.

Gill would go on to become the first Indian born district attorney in the history of the United States. Over the years Gill developed a passion for mental health issues and drug abuse, and the way that both tie together.

For Gill, mental health issues can lead to drug abuse, which then leads to prison for most. Unfortunately, instead of helping people with these problems while in prison and when they get out, he believes the system of continually sending them to prison becomes a habit.

“We as a result start locking up people that we dislike rather than locking up people that we are afraid of,” Gill said.

Numbers based on the people inside of the prisons is disproportionate to who is on the streets.

Two to five percent of people in society suffer from some kind of mental illness. Yet, 17 to 21 percent of people in prison suffer from some kind of mental illness.

How are these numbers so different and what different solutions are at society’s disposal?

Gill’s plan for the mentally ill who keep moving through the revolving door from the street, to prison and back again is for them to commit to a carefully supervised treatment plan.

Defendants who are ready to commit to a 12-36 month treatment plan will have support through Mental Health Court, administered by Third District Court in downtown Salt Lake City.

The treatment only excludes sex offenders, active DUI cases, excessively violent, and mentally incompetent people who cannot be treated with proper medication. This allows the program to reach a wide variety of people.

Gill believes, that if the people are ready to buckle down and commit to the treatment plan, then they are ready to be free of their addiction and able to treat their mental disease with some responsibility and determination.

Offering respect to those who struggle with mental illness pays off, Gill believes. “The worst thing you can do to a person is to make them insignificant, to disrespect them.”

So far, the program has been a success in several ways. The state has lowered the cost to treat the people in the program while increasing their care at the same time.

The average length of a prison stay for program participants has also decreased.

Chad Myers, a recovering drug addict who lives in Salt Lake City supports Gill’s view of restorative justice, including mental health court.

“I’ve been sober for four months now and I credit the majority of my sobriety to the programs put in place for me,” Myers said.

“My rehabilitation is going to be a battle that I face my entire life, but if I continue to be strong and work with the resources around me then I know that I will succeed in the end.”

Although Myers does not have any mental health, he still knows the depths of addiction.

“Every day is going to be a struggle because I was heavily addicted to cocaine, but I am confident in myself and what I am doing to know that I will not be going back.”

Mental health court offers a helping hand to those willing to accept


Are the court and prison systems really meant to seek out the morally right thing for communities, or are they too quick to target and punish those who are mentally unstable? Maybe there are more solutions to clean and sober living rather than simply locking people up.

Sitting hunched over in the front row of chairs at a chapel service at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake shelter with a bloody tissue from a generic nosebleed was 72-year-old Herbert Smith. Smith has been homeless for so long he no longer calls a single place home. “Being homeless is nothing pretty, it ruins you in ways you couldn’t even imagine,” said Smith. Drugs are most of the reasons why Smith has come into contact with prison cells. “It’s sad because most of the drugs are coming from different countries, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what a COCO leaf looks like, but I got it somehow,” said smith.

Historically the mentally ill (homeless) have been victims to the shackles of the law enforcement due to the addictions they may suffer from. People working in a field close to these people have to come up with some sort of better resource, and one person in this field in Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney. Gill recently laid out his foundation for the University of Utah about his plans on helping these people.

Gill, using his own resources looks at ways to help these unsettled human beings, by providing systems such as drug court and mental health court. These focus to help guide them in the right direction. They aid in providing new resources such as correct prescriptions, temporary housing and teaching them about self medicating.

“We can only help the people that want to be helped,“ Gill said. These systems are totally voluntary. They give people the choice, the chance, as well as the responsibility to turn their lives around. The ones who choose to participate will undergo weekly urine analysis to detect relapses. This process places them in a non-judgmental community, surrounding them with others who may suffer from the same problems.

Are the policies of the Law Enforcement making things better? Of course, they do a lot for communities to make civilians feel safer and protected, but the question that stems from this is; are they doing it in the right ways? According to Herbert Smith, “They track down the easiest prey they can find.”

Kreeck Mendez agrees with the systems that Gill has helped to put in place to help these people get back on their feet. “I find Sim a good supporter of these people,” said Kreeck Mendez. Although the systems are not perfect, she says they are the best resource she has seen in her 20 years of working with the courts.

Many criticize these people being temporarily housed in the parks, but no one is quick to help. “We tend to go after the people that make us uncomfortable not necessarily the ones we dislike or scared of,” said Deborah Kreeck Mendez, a legal defense attorney. The prisons have become temporary housing cells for mentally unstable people due to deinstitutionalization of mental health institutions. These people now have no place to go, except turning to the streets, where it makes them easier to target. “They are harder to work with, so why not get them away so my world is better,” said Kreeck Mendez.

Drug abuse is a serious problem for a lot of people in this country. The choices made ruins lives, families, careers, and many more things. Some say why not help the addicts, some say why help them its their problem. Deborah Kreeck Mendez says, “Drug problems should not be imprisoned, but helped.” What good does it do to lock them up and not give case management skills to help them get over their mistakes?

The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country, is it considered wrong when all we do is preach about LIBERTY and FREEDOM? “The law enforcement targets the people that are least able to help themselves,” said Kreeck Mendez. “White middle-class people get off with drug possession much easier than non-whites,” added Kreeck Mendez

We must look at the world in sections if this is the case. We are divided into pieces, leaving cracks separating us depending on our socioeconomic statuses as well as our race, ethnic backgrounds, and our conviction rates. Who’s to say every crack in this world may one day be filled!

Mental illness affects more than the diagnosed

Story and photo by EMILY A. SHOWGREN

Harmony's ex-husband was treated at UNI for his mental illness.

Harmony's ex-husband was treated at UNI for his mental illness.

About one in four adults and one in five children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Illness.

There are many reasons why a person develops a mental illness. There are also many examples of how the effects of a mental illness can affect relationships, especially marriage and family.

When Harmony met her future husband online, he told her he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it was under control. 

“He said he had been in counseling for PTSD for 20 years but he had it under control and things were fine,” said Harmony, who asked that only her first name be used for safety reasons. She later found out it was not under control and he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well.

Harmony moved from Australia to Utah and the couple decided to marry. She had two young daughters at the time. But her husband’s mental illnesses strained not only their relationship, but also the relationship with her and her daughters.

“There were times where I had to put my children second. He forced me to put him first and it pushed them away,” Harmony said.

Her daughters were so young they did not understand their stepfather had problems.

“After the divorce, they didn’t trust me for awhile. They were resentful,” she said.

Dr. Herman Peine, a licensed psychologist in Salt Lake City, said the most dangerous patients are the ones with narcissistic personalities, or people who think only of themselves. He said when he sees a narcissistic patient, he will sometimes bring in their spouse after their first meeting and tell them to “run, run, run.”

Harmony said her husband was dangerous. He abused her emotionally and psychologically most of their marriage.

“He had to be in control. He would control the money, degrade me in front of my kids and he would use his depression to control me,” Harmony said.

She said if he was not getting attention he would threaten to kill himself, overdose on pills, or cut himself. It was after a physical beating that Harmony left.

“The connections between domestic violence and mental illness are numerous and complicated,” said Dr. Melissa Galvin of the University of Alabama at Birmingham during a seminar in 2006. Galvin also said researchers at John Hopkins University found that “adolescents who see domestic violence between their parents are far more likely to suffer symptoms of clinical depression – including headaches, digestive problems, social isolation, insomnia, and thoughts of suicide.” This is an example of how mental illness affects the entire family.

A 2007 article by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Fort Wayne, Ind., said it is important to set boundaries in families with a person who has a mental illness.

“In a marriage where one partner is mentally ill, the well spouse must aggressively set and enforce boundaries if the family is to survive. Boundaries are absolutely vital to the survival of the family,” said Kathy Bayes, executive director of NAMI.

Something that Dr. Peine finds absolutely necessary is “to get a proper diagnosis.” Without that, the medications and other remedies are not going to work.

Sometimes if the patient feels like the medication they are on is not working, they will decide to discontinue it. Sometimes it takes family to get them back on track.

“A lot of times their family will bring them into the ER because they want the meds back,” said Dr. Dean Orton, who works in family practice and the ER in Lincoln City, Ore. “At that point [after quitting medication] they become fairly psychotic and are in the hypo-manic stage.” When it reaches that point, medication is necessary.

“Sometimes the patients who know or feel they want to hurt themselves come because they need to talk,” Orton said. “We help them get counseling — a support system. Medications are not administered immediately in that case.”

Another example in Harmony’s life dealt with medication and the abuse of it. Her husband was a drug seeker. She said he would hear about different disorders on commercials or read about them. He would go to different doctors and tell them he had symptoms related to disorders ranging from insomnia to restless legs syndrome in order to get medications. Anything he could get his hands on, he would use.

“One time I had a horrible toothache and he took me to the ER to get something for it. The doctor gave me hydrocodone. I used it a couple times but I didn’t like the way it made me feel,” Harmony said. Her husband finished it off.

Harmony said she had once filled up a garbage bag with all the medicine she found in the medicine cabinet.

“It is very common to see other drug abuse. Any mind-altering substance – illicit or legal,” Orton said.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, disorders like bipolar, PTSD and anti-social disorder are associated with chronic drug abuse. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that those who have anti-social disorder are at a 15.5 percent risk of drug abuse. On the other side of things, abusing drugs like ecstasy can also cause mental illness, like depression and anxiety.

However, this should not deter anyone from going on the correct medication. Peine said that getting kids diagnosed early and getting them on medication will actually lead them away from drug abuse later in life.

Children, especially those of a parent with a mental illness, are susceptible to developing a mental illness. “Young people growing up with parents dealing with emotional problems are at greater risk of having behavioral/emotional problems themselves due to genetic factors and harmful psychosocial experiences,” said Dr. Michelle D. Sherman in an article for Social Work Today. However, Sherman also said these children can develop valuable personal strengths like compassion, sensitivity, resourcefulness, strength and independence.

Sherman said making sure a child understands what his or her parent is going through is important. There are ways of helping children cope when a parent has a mental illness, like keeping a stable home environment, making sure the child knows it is not his or her fault and showing them they are loved.

Harmony, who is now divorced, is working full time and her daughters are doing well in school. “My life has been so much more peaceful since he’s been gone. My girls are more relaxed and even our dog is more relaxed and happy,” she said.

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