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SAMHSA’s Award-Winning Newsletter
March/April 2010, Volume 18, Number 2 

Logo for “Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness” television program

Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness

How do you convince legislators, legal professionals, health care providers, individuals, and communities that change is critically needed in the mental health care delivery system?

At PBS, the answer is to demonstrate the real challenges facing people with mental illnesses and their families every day. As part of the long-running series Fred Friendly Seminars, “Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness” is receiving wide acclaim. Using hypothetical scenarios, the program shows us where the system’s weak points are.

“Minds on the Edge” was recently presented at both SAMHSA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA is spreading the word about this important program as part of the Agency’s commitment to expand public awareness and support around mental illness and the mental health care system.

The Scenario

Expert panelists gather in a circle and are given two hypothetical situations: one that features Olivia, a college-age woman starting to display manic behavior, and another featuring James, a middle-aged man with schizophrenia who finds himself out of work and homeless.

Moderator Frank Sesno unfolds the stories and asks the program panelists to put themselves in the shoes of these hypothetical characters and talk about what they would do if faced with these situations.

The panel includes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Eric Kandel, attorneys, doctors, legislators, and other experts in the field. Several of the panelists have personal and professional experience in living with mental illness.

What unfolds on screen are real reactions—do “Olivia’s parents” lie to the emergency room nurse and say that their daughter threatened to kill them, in order to get Olivia admitted, if the alternative is no care at all? Why doesn’t the mayor in James’ town care about helping him, but only seems to want to keep him away from the downtown area, where he is making residents and shoppers “uncomfortable”?

The resulting scenario puts on display the many holes in the Nation’s mental health system and causes panel members—and viewers—to question what they previously believed. It illuminates challenging ethical issues as well as systemic flaws in program and policy design, service coordination, and resource allocation.

But “Minds on the Edge” also provides a glimpse of innovative solutions currently being implemented across the country. These innovations, many shaped by the guidance and expertise of people with mental illness, offer promising solutions and hopeful direction to transform the mental health system.

Impact of the Program

“Minds on the Edge” is igniting conversations across the country. Here are a few examples of hundreds of activities using the program that have been organized to rally support, combat negative attitudes, raise awareness of critical issues, and explore effective solutions.

Legislator Education: Vermont, Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi are leading the way in using “Minds on the Edge” to ensure that state legislators are informed about serious mental illness.

Community Engagement: From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Saint Lucie County, Florida, to Portland, Oregon, screening events are bringing citizens and key stakeholders together to discuss critical problems.

Judicial and Law Enforcement: In Anchorage, Chicago, and Albuquerque, bar associations, judges, and police officers are exploring alternatives to incarcerating people with mental illness.

Consumers and Families: Dozens of National Alliance on Mental Illness chapters have shared the program with consumers and families to encourage dialogue.

Training for Medical Professionals: From University of California, Berkeley to Erie Community College, educators are introducing students to the complex issues in “Minds on the Edge.”

Veterans: VA hospitals from Loma Linda, California to Gainesville, Florida, are training staff with “Minds on the Edge.”

Though the scenario on screen is hypothetical, everyday people are speaking out to relate how their real-life stories are similar. Check out the YouTube channel to hear what people are saying.

Watch “Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness” online. If you’d like to organize an event to screen the program, request a DVD.

  Cover Story & Related Articles  
Take Action in Your Community

Take Action in Your Community

Three new campaigns bring powerful prevention messages to communities.

  From the Administrator  
Pamela S. Hyde, J.D.

Considering Language in Our Field

Do you use certain terms to describe our field? See terms.

  More on Underage Drinking  
Sober Truth on Underage Drinking

Sober Truth on Underage Drinking

The STOP program is making a difference. Read about grantees in Ohio, Connecticut, and Wisconsin.

Town Hall Meetings Continue To Expand

Nearly 1,800 communities across the Nation recently met to discuss underage drinking.

State Estimates on Underage Drinking

State by state, the numbers differ on children and alcohol use.

  Women & Substance Abuse  
Treatment Improvement Protocol 51

Treatment Improvement Protocol 51

Gender makes a difference. TIP 51 can help providers offer women effective, up-to-date treatment.

Pregnant Teen Admissions

Pregnant Teen Admissions

Comparing data from 1992 and 2007 on admission rates.

  Treatment Updates  
Uninsured Workers: Recent Data

Uninsured Workers: Data

Who needs treatment for substance abuse?

Free Treatment Available

Some facilities offer substance abuse treatment at no charge or a sliding scale fee.

Opioid Treatment Programs: Two Reports

Opioid Treatment Programs: Two Reports

Methadone maintenance, buprenorphine maintenance. What are the similarities and differences among OTPs?

  Evidence-Based Practices  
Evidence-Based Practices KITs

Evidence-Based Practices KITs

The Knowledge Information Transformation (KIT) series offers new KITs.

Fiscal Year 2011 Budget

Fiscal Year 2011 Budget

The Agency outlines a budget request totaling $3.7 billion.

More on the Budget . . .

Established programs, new initiatives, and SAMHSA’s Budget Authority by Activity and the Agency’s Congressional Justification.

  Grants Updates  
Promoting Mental Health Recovery

Promoting Mental Health

Five behavioral health care provider associations recently received funding.

  Media & Messages  
Art & Children’s Mental Health

Art & Children’s Mental Health

Every day is Children’s Mental Health Day: “My Feelings Are a Work of Art.”

1-800-273-TALK Is the Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK Is the Lifeline

Share the Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Minds on the Edge

Minds on the Edge

Facing mental illness is the subject of a PBS program.

  Recovery Month  
Flyers Available

Flyers Available

For 2010 celebrations, the flyers are available in print and online.

Inhalant Use & Respiratory Conditions

Inhalant Use & Respiratory Conditions

Thousands of children age 12 to 17 with pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma used inhalants.


Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration – 1 Choke Cherry Road – Rockville, MD 20857
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