May 2009         
www.namiohio.org

Judge Richard Wallar

Judge Richard Wallar is a member of many clubs and organizations, ranging from the Ohio Association of Juvenile Court Judges to Kiwanis. Unfortunately, he and his family also belong to an unenviable club of those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Their son took his life at age 19, unable to see his way out of the deep, dark hole of depression.

Neil was a typical teenager who got good grades and stayed out of trouble. Judge Wallar and his wife, Sharon, saw something in him that wasn’t quite right, a parent’s intuition that something potentially serious was wrong with him. They repeatedly sought counseling and care for their son, but were told each time that Neil was just a typical teenager experiencing symptoms of growing up. Then, it was too late. While the judge and his wife do not blame the mental health professionals who worked with Neil, they do feel that parents must be vocal when they have concerns as professionals are overlooking or ignoring vital information when they fail to consider important insights, intuitions and observations that parents or caregivers have to share. They also believe that society must be better educated about mental illness, and the fact that it is a chronic and treatable disease.

We need school boards, educational institutions, businesses, courts, law enforcement, the faith community and policymakers to come together and recognize that mental health treatment is a critical issue to the future of Ohio.

 



No parent can ever adjust to losing a child to an early death; it is what they do after such a devastating loss that helps them cope and find purpose. One way to do this is to make sure that their child’s life had meaning. “My wife and I found that we need to carry the message that depression and other mental illnesses are chronic, no-fault diseases. If more people were sensitive to this fact, more of them would seek help,” said Judge Wallar. Judge and Mrs. Wallar participate in parent support groups and try to reach out to other parents who have lost a child to suicide, many times with mixed results. “You have to wait until someone is ready to talk,” advises Judge Wallar.

Recently, a boy who was involved in Judge Waller’s court took his own life. Judge Wallar took it upon himself to visit the family. Knowing what a terrible time this would be for them, Judge Wallar wanted to extend his condolences and offer his support. The father, understandably angry and feeling that the system had failed his son, ran the judge off his property. Several days later, the father visited the Judge and thanked him for his offer of support. While support and understanding are vital, sometimes the pain can be too fresh and too sharp to accept it.

As a juvenile court judge, Wallar sees a steady stream of young people who have mental health disorders. “Not all, but many of the kids who come through my court are battling mental illnesses, are victims of abuse and neglect, or have family and school issues that add to their basket of problems, ” Judge Wallar said. “More and more studies are providing evidence that treatment and positive support, not punishment, works with these kids. It is the courts’ responsibility to acknowledge that traditional methods of institutionalizing offenders with mental illness results in a revolving door of incarceration, release, arrest, and incarceration. We need to find ways to provide treatment and quit punishing people for something they cannot control.”

Judge Wallar believes that education is the key. His goal is to get people to understand that mental illness is a disease and that there have been remarkable strides in the treatment of mental health disorders. “We need school boards, educational institutions, businesses, courts, law enforcement, the faith community and policymakers to come together and recognize that mental health treatment is a critical issue to the future of Ohio.” Everyone will be touched by it at some point,” he said.

On May 19th, NAMI Ohio sent out an e-mail blast asking you, consumers, family members , providers and advocates, to share your stories about how you have been or could be impacted by cuts in the mental health system. By midnight the next day, our office received over 70 such e-mails! We want you to know that each of these e-mails was printed off and attached to Executive Director Jim Mauro’s testimony, which he delivered to the members of the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee on Thursday, May 21st. In his remarks, Jim urged the members of the Committee to spare the mental health system from any further cuts. Being able to reference the real life stories attached to his testimony really helped to drive the message home. While all of the stories were compelling, this one sums the situation up well:

I have bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD, and major depression. I have an 8 year old son who has ADHD and major depression. As mentally handicapped people, life without special services affects not only our lives, but the lives of all the people we are in touch with. While budget cuts are necessary, taking all the benefits away from those with mental illness is wrong. I could break it all down, but the bottom line is that if you take the services away, you have thousands of citizens barely functioning and often making wrong choices because their life lines are taken away.

 



Stigma Busting Challenge: Place flowers on grave markers at a local state psychiatric hospital cemetery.