Simpatico Serves as PBS 'Minds on the Edge' Panelist
Release Date: 10-03-2009
Each year more than 57 million American adults experience a mental health disorder — a medical condition that can adversely affect an individual's capacity to cope with the commonplace demands of life. Many members of this population come into contact with the legal system as a consequence of their illness. In fact, a 2006 U.S. Department of Justice report showed that 24 percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail prisoners have a recent history of a mental health disorder.
Mental health advocates nationally and in Vermont aim to better address the needs of this population by diverting them from the criminal justice system and connecting them to the treatment they require. In conjunction with Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 4-10, 2009), public television stations in 43 states across the country will air a national PBS Fred Friendly Seminars special titled "Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness." The one-hour program features discussion among a large panel of mental health clinicians, parents and judicial system representatives, including Thomas Simpatico, M.D., University of Vermont professor and director of public psychiatry, about the obstacles that prevent patients from getting help.
Simpatico, who also serves as president of the Vermont Psychiatric Association, is currently leading a statewide intergovernmental initiative, MHISSION-VT, designed to integrate clinical care for mentally ill individuals, divert people from incarceration and homelessness to care, and provide a clinical, administrative and financial decision support system. The MHISSION-VT project is a partnership between the Vermont Department of Mental Health and the University of Vermont College of Medicine and its Vermont Child Health Improvement Program, and Fletcher Allen Health Care. Second-year UVM medical student Michael McQuiggan has been working with Dr. Simpatico and other statewide leaders on this project as part of his 2009-2010 Schweitzer Fellowship project. Over the summer, McQuiggan developed a toolkit to increase awareness about mental illness and its interaction with the legal system.
In 2004, Simpatico came to Vermont to serve as medical director of the Vermont State Hospital. Prior to joining UVM, he served as associate professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University Medical School and Metro Chicago bureau chief for the Illinois State Mental Health Authority. In that role, he created and directed a number of programs that helped to significantly integrate mental health services in Illinois.
"Minds on the Edge" premiered on Vermont Public Television on October 6 and will air again on Sunday, Oct. 11 at 5 p.m. For more information about the program, visit Minds on the Edge.