Executive Director, NAMI-Ohio

Author:Terry Russell
Position::The Guardian Initiative Of Northwest Ohio

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Reprinted with permission.

Executive Director, NAMI-Ohio.

This is the seventh article in a series about effective dealing with the mentally ill in the criminal justice system. Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Supreme Court of Ohio, has had a longtime interest in developing solutions to this problem and has formed the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mentally Ill in the Courts for that purpose. This article highlights the Guardianship Initiative of Northwest Ohio.

The Guardian Initiative of Northwest Ohio is a program of rescue and recovery for persons with mental illness who, at times, due to their illness, are not able to exercise good judgment and are not competent to make other decisions.

The Guardian Initiative educates the community on all aspects of the use of guardianships for the care of persons with severe mental illness who have become so impaired by their illness that they are unable to make appropriate decisions for their own care. The Initiative helps identify family members and others in the community who will act as guardians, and, in some cases, the Initiative employee steps forward to serve as guardian.

Under guardianship, a coherent and structured plan of treatment can be put into place for the ill person, providing stability that reduces institutionalization, both in the psychiatric system and the criminal justice system. Guardianship dramatically improves the quality of life for a person who is struggling with decision-making due to their mental illness.

Guardianship is not for everyone, but in the four-level model for recovery adopted by the Ohio Department of Mental Health the first level, Dependent/Unaware, best describes those persons for whom guardianship is most appropriate. At this level of recovery, there is a constellation of factors that hinder a person from moving forward with their recovery:

* Inability to identify personal needs;

* Non-acceptance of diagnosis;

* Unaware of effect illness has on decision-making;

* Resisting assistance and being angry;

* Not taking medications;

* Denial;

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* Being in crisis;

* Loss of contact with peers;

* Feeling withdrawn and avoiding contact with others;

* Unaware of relationship between employment and well-being; and

* Not educated about illness

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI Ohio) is well aware of the controversial nature of guardianship, because it involves limiting or taking away personal rights from a person...

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