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September 2010

Dr. Robert Hammond, Bureau Chief

Mental Health Services

Ohio Dept. of Rehabiliation and Correction

Bob Hammond
Bob Hammond

Bob Hammond personifies the thoughtful and calm professional, a trait that has served him well as a prison psychologist, and continues to serve him well as he deals daily with the challenges of providing mental health services to an ever-growing prison population.  What isn’t apparent is that Dr. Hammond has managed a substantial and persistent anxiety disorder since he was just 8 years old.  How he has managed his disorder has evolved over the years.

Following his grandfather’s death, Bob became obsessed with death and dying.  Although he hadn’t known his South American grandfather well, Bob recognizes that this event greatly contributed to his catastrophic thinking getting out of hand.  Looking back, Bob attributes much of his pervasive anxiety to his spiritual insecurity, “I was already struggling with spiritual issues.  When I asked tough questions of the church, I was made to feel like I was a heretic and not demonstrating faith.  I didn’t expect them to know all of the answers, but I was pretty put off that they didn’t want me to ask the tough questions about faith, and death, and meaning.  If someone


had just agreed to talk to me, to explore the subject with me, I think my anxiety would have been reduced.”  Instead he felt shut off and reacted by rejecting religion for most of his teen years.

Even before reaching this critical point, Bob felt different, like he was thinking different than others.  “I was socially awkward, but no one was really aware of the depth of my anxiety; you just don’t find too many kids that age you can relate to when you are thinking about life’s meaning, and death, and other ‘deep’ topics.  On the outside I may have looked calm, but it was a different story on the inside.  I was always full of apprehension.  I coped by watching others and also by setting up my own experiments to try and reduce the anxiety.  I learned that deep breathing helped.  I eventually learned that exercise helped.  Finally, in college, I began exploring various world religions and found complete peace when I became a Christian.  I believe it was a process I had to go through to come out on the other side as healthy as I am.”

I have learned that I don’t have to jump from A to Z; I can go from A to B to C, etc.  There was a time I really couldn’t see that it is natural to take one step at a time.

Another turning point in Bob’s life came in 2006 when he was deployed to Iraq for a little over a year.  His tour of duty was different for him than many as he explained, “Although I was there as a psychologist, most of my time was spent as an Operations Officer.  The dangerousness of that experience changed my perspective, making the things that caused my anxiety to become really small. Unlike many people who come back from that experience, I actually came home healthier.”  He went on to explain that the lasting effects of having served in Iraq and his deep faith give him the sense of calm that others see in him. “Today, there is not a whole lot that rattles me.  Anything good, bad, or different that happens in my life is not in my control but is part of God’s plan.”

Since returning and moving into his current role of overseeing all mental health services in prisons, Bob acknowledges his combined experiences has had a positive impact on his professional life, “My priorities at work have changed.  I am more focused on the prisoners and what I can do to make their situation better.  I’m trying new things in my life and I just don’t worry like I did—and I am starting to see positive changes in my personal and professional life.”  He also credits his lifelong struggle with anxiety as now serving him well, “I think I am more perceptive.  When I see someone who has isolated himself or herself, I’m often able to relate to that person because I understand how lonely that situation can be.”

Bob is happy to share with others what works for him to keep his anxiety under control, “I pray; I go for a run, finding that when my heart rate is up, I feel noticeably better. Sometimes talking makes me feel better, sometimes I just want to have time to think, to work things out on my own.”

Having lived so much of his young life dealing with his anxiety alone, Bob is anxious to share his suggestions with young people who are experiencing high levels of anxiety, “First, explore your spiritual side.  Anxiety can be a symptom of spiritual insecurity.  Second, tell people what you need and don’t assume that people know that there is something wrong.  If you are like me, you appear okay on the surface and people may not guess that something is wrong.  Finally, get off the couch, it’s the enemy.”

Bob sums up life with anxiety by offering, “Looking back, I know many of the things I worried about were never as bad as I imagined.  Today, even when the anxiety is there, I am able to take action to get through it.  I have learned that I don’t have to jump from A to Z; I can go from A to B to C, etc.  There was a time I really couldn’t see that it is natural to take one step at a time.  I hope sharing my experiences will help someone else fight through the fear.  If I hadn’t learned to take my fears one step at a time, I would still be on the couch!”

Question Candidates on Funding for Mental Illness

Over the next several weeks, many of you will have the opportunity to attend a candidate forum in your area to listen to those running for office share their positions on a number of issues.  Many of the candidates in the upcoming election have been reluctant to state their views on how to address Ohio’s $8 billion budget deficit.  This is your opportunity to ask candidates about their ideas to address this huge deficit, and more specifically, where they stand on support for funding services and supports for adults and children with serious mental illness. 

If the candidate tries to tell you that funds are scarce and Ohio cannot afford to pay any more for mental health services and supports, feel free to remind him or her of the following facts:

  • Those with untreated mental illness are four to six times more likely to be incarcerated.
  • 58% of children with severe emotional disturbance do not graduate from high school.
  • Suicides in Ohio are at a 10 year high.
  • 70 – 90% of people with severe mental illness have significantly reduced symptoms and improved quality of life with treatment and supports.

The fact of the matter is, if lawmakers are looking for places to save money, they should put money into the community mental health system.  Furthermore, they should direct local planning officials to use those dollars to help individuals with serious mental illness who otherwise will wind up in Ohio’s prison system, hospital emergency departments, on the street or in the morgue …all of which are far costlier than serving someone in the community. 


Stigma Busting Challenge: October 3 - 9 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Check for local activities and show your support by participating.

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