News and Notes
Obama Administration Lifts Ban on Condolence Letters
The Obama Administration announced in July it will reverse a long-standing, unwritten policy of not sending condolence letters to families of soldiers who have died by suicide in combat zones.
Mental Health America has long advocated for a reversal of the condolence letter policy. A resolution passed by the Board of Directors in January of 2010 called for the change, stating that "the lack of acknowledgment and condolence from the President can leave these families with an emotional vacuum and a feeling that somehow their sacrifices may not have been as great as others who died while in the military." An online petition was also started and has been signed by thousands of individuals.
"This is an important step that can help eliminate the stigma associated with suicide and provide valuable emotional support to families," said Dr. David Shern, president and CEO of Mental Health America.
But Dr. Shern urged that the policy be broadened to include troops who die while serving whether they are in a combat zone or not. Two-thirds of military suicides occur after troops leave the battlefield.
"It is equally important that these individuals are also recognized," he said.
The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths: A National Memorial of Recovered Dignity
The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths (in Washington, DC) is a national memorial to remember once forgotten psychiatric patients. In addition to remembrance, it will also be a place of recovery offering dignity and hope to anyone living with mental illness. Mental Health America is one of the national supporters of the Memorial.
On June 10, 2009, a dedication for the Memorial was celebrated at Saint Elizabeths, which was the first federally funded asylum. Designs for the Memorial were recently unveiled, which can be viewed at www.memorialofrecovereddignity.org.
Visitors to The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths will stroll through peaceful gardens with reflecting pools and a Weeping Wall. The Memorial will be woven into an existing 10-acre cemetery, resting place of some 4,500 psychiatric patients who died at Saint Elizabeths. Nearly half of the graves belong to veterans, beginning with the Civil War era. The rest are civilians from the District of Columbia who have no grave markers.
The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths will feature markers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, listing the state hospitals where patients are buried. It is the hope that every consumer can visit the Memorial and be inspired and empowered to work for a full life in the community for their peers.::