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Arizona Illustrated Episode 436

Arizona Illustrated Episode 436
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    - [Tom] This week on Arizona Illustrated.
    Epicenter, treating psychosis in a new way.
    - My hope is that I just keep recovering every day
    and improving.
    Even though we have mental illness
    it doesn't make us any less of a person.
    - [Tom] Sharing the same desert with rattle snakes.
    - There's a healthy respect for them.
    They're not my friends, I don't pick 'em up,
    I don't pet 'em.
    I respect what they do, I hope they leave me alone too.
    - [Tom] And Oliver's journey.
    A transgender teen.
    - [Oliver] Why can't you just be a girl
    that, like, has short hair and stuff like that.
    And I'm like, 'cause I'm not a girl with short hair.
    Like, that's just not what I am.
    - Welcome to Arizona Illustrated, I'm Tom McNamara.
    Athletes and celebrities like Kevin Love,
    Selena Gomez, DeMar DeRozan are helping to break
    the stigma that surrounds mental illness
    by being open about their own mental health challenges.
    Yet psychotic disorders like schizophrenia remain
    highly stigmatized and that hinders people from getting
    the help they need.
    Psychosis is a leading cause of mental disability
    worldwide, and it usually strikes the young
    during their teen years and early 20s.
    Now a new center aims to treat psychosis
    early on and prevent disability.
    It's based on an innovative program that started here
    in Southern Arizona and it's designed in part
    by the young people it will serve.
    - [Thomas] I kind of like Thomas a little bit
    because it's like,
    a little bit more of a name for somebody
    who's grown up.
    But I still get called Tommy a lot too, so.
    I remember I really liked playing baseball as a kid.
    When everything was going together
    and I didn't have an injury or something
    I just felt like
    sky was the limit.
    That was pretty much what my whole life was back then.
    It was around my freshman year.
    When I was driving I saw all these lightening
    that I kind of thought was striking right close to me.
    I could always hear my dad and my mom, like upset.
    I heard voices of them kind of telling me that
    I was doing bad and it was kind of hard to concentrate
    when there was so much going on inside.
    And that's where things just
    kind of spiraled downward from there.
    - This picture.
    This is my favorite picture because we went to this
    batting cage that was in a cow field.
    I said I'll give you a hundred bucks if you can hit
    the ball in the batting cage into the trash can.
    Five pitches later I had to pay 100 bucks.
    He was a good hitter.
    He followed me around the house one time
    and he was telling me I needed to be careful,
    I couldn't go to work.
    Something bad was gonna happen to me.
    It scared the hell out of me.
    - [Narrator] Within two years Thomas was diagnosed
    with schizophrenia.
    It's a psychotic disorder which means it affects
    a person's sense of reality.
    In the U.S. about 100,000 young people experience
    psychosis every year.
    According to the National Institute of Mental Health,
    most go at least a year and many go for several
    before getting the help they need.
    - [Don] They would release him,
    and other than guessing medications
    there really wasn't a significant treatment.
    - [Narrator] The longer someone goes without treatment
    the worse the outcomes.
    On average people living with psychotic disorders die
    25 years younger than the general population.
    Up to 10% die by suicide.
    - This is I think when we were moving him home.
    I'm a lawyer, I understand reading documents.
    I have no idea how someone with mental illness
    who didn't have resources, or didn't have someone
    else helping them specifically,
    how they would figure out anything to get in the system.
    Alright, ready?
    And even when you're in the system the type of help
    that you get, is lacking.
    Tommy gets benefits of $331 a month, which wouldn't
    even pay for a place to live.
    The tragedy of this whole thing is that if you
    don't have resources you're not gonna get help.
    - [Narrator] After seeking treatment in multiple
    facilities in Arizona and California,
    Thomas' family found out about a place called,
    IMHR Epicenter in downtown Phoenix.
    - [Stephanie] IMHR, this is Stephanie.
    How can I help you?
    - Okay, number one priority is that you feel better okay?
    And I will let them know, alright?
    - [Letitia] Hey Steph.
    Can I talk to you a second about coverage?
    - [Narrator] The Early Psychosis Intervention Center
    or Epicenter is based on a model first developed
    and still active at the University of Arizona.
    - [Letitia] Alright, thank you ma'am.
    - [Narrator] The model addresses all the facets
    of a person's life.
    From family relationships to job skills
    that are affected by psychosis.
    - This model was founded on the fact
    that if you can get in early
    and you can provide this menu of services
    all at the same time and really support the person
    who is experiencing psychosis,
    you can actually manage those symptoms
    and reenter your everyday life much quicker.
    Well we can talk about it, alright thank you.
    Instead of reacting, let's be proactive
    and get somebody healthy as quickly as possible.
    - [Narrator] Everything about Phoenix's Epicenter
    is tailored toward engaging young people in treatment.
    Including how it looks.
    The clinic asked youths who are living with mental illness
    to help design the space.
    - [Letitia] And they literally said
    it needed to be bright colors
    and it needed to be young and youthful
    and have energy and look like a place that is alive.
    - [Thomas] Hey.
    - [Woman] Do you mind signing this really quick?
    - [Thomas] Sure.
    - [Woman] Did you see the date?
    - Yeah, yep, thank you.
    - Uh Mario Lopez, Ryan Gozling, George Clooney.
    - [Narrator] Along with counseling and medications
    clients can work with a vocational rehabilitation
    counselor to get back to work or school.
    Attend peer or family groups to find support
    during treatment, or meet with a peer support specialist
    who has firsthand experience living with mental illness.
    - [Letitia] So then it's just this whole holistic approach
    to health.
    We're addressing every part of this person's wellbeing.
    And I think that's what makes it different.
    - I think we did the simple choice auditory.
    - Yeah.
    - Is that the last one we did?
    Do you remember?
    - [Narrator] Epicenter combines that holistic approach
    with cognitive remediation.
    It's a computer based training that sharpens
    attention, memory and processing of things
    you see or hear.
    All of those abilities suffer when psychosis
    goes untreated.
    - [Woman] Good.
    - [Thomas] Yeah.
    - [Woman] Thoughts about that?
    - Um, there was one here, so.
    I could've done better on that one.
    I tried to guess.
    I expect better of myself I guess.
    - [Woman] I wonder if sometimes when you don't
    meet those expectations that you have for yourself
    you feel bad.
    That's how it happens?
    - Yeah, in some situations.
    - What would happen if I tell you that you did
    a great job even with that?
    - I would feel good.
    - Yeah, it's true, you did a great job.
    - Mm, yeah, thank you.
    - [Narrator] Data compiled over the past eight years
    show that Epicenter's approach works.
    Yet fewer than 100 clinics like Epicenter
    exist across the country.
    Health insurance coverage is one major hurdle.
    Many insurance companies won't pay for Epicenter services
    that go beyond conventional treatment.
    - Yeah, that works.
    - It really is taking behavior health
    and making it manageable, making it known,
    making it about relationships
    and not just this ginormous kind of conveyor belt
    of treatment.
    We have a new staff person today.
    The second week in a row we get to welcome a new person.
    And then all the kudos go up on our kudos board
    which is on the clinic side on the wall.
    Thank you for being such a team player and covering
    staff as needed.
    Thank you so much, good job Amy.
    - [Narrator] Amy Jackson was diagnosed
    with schizoaffective disorder when she was 22 years old.
    She knows the damage that conveyor belt treatment
    can do.
    - It was like, you're 22, your life's over.
    And then it was kind of like every door,
    all of 'em were just shut at once.
    Don't bother with going back to school,
    don't bother with having a family,
    don't bother with having a career
    and it's going to be 10 pills in the morning
    and 10 pills at night
    and that's what your future is.
    In June we're gonna work on my fullness and meditation
    kind of--
    - [Narrator] Now as Epicenter's peer support specialist
    she helps others find the hope she once couldn't.
    - We're there to actually tell them something different.
    We're there to say, no your life's not over.
    You're gonna have to work a little harder
    at some of these things.
    You're gonna have to learn some new skills
    that you might not have known,
    but you can still do whatever you want.
    We just have to find the path that works for you
    to get you to where you wanna be.
    - He was just accepted at ASU last month.
    We're very happy about that.
    That's a great accomplishment.
    He has a job, part time.
    He's just a normal 24 year old kid.
    - I'm really glad that I did find Epicenter
    because it reminds me to believe in people
    and then many they'll believe in you.
    Even though we have mental illness
    some of us, it doesn't make us any less of a person.
    I just kind of wanted to let people know that
    there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
    - As temperatures rise and summer surrounds us
    with blooming flowers, busy insets, young birds
    and lounging lizards
    it's also a time when rattle snakes are no longer
    in hibernation.
    They are active.
    That can make some of us anxious.
    Arizona has more than a dozen species of rattle snakes
    and while many people aren't particularly excited
    about that,
    some naturalists are urging patience and cooperation
    with our reptilian neighbors.
    - [Narrator] Hummingbirds and other colorful birds
    or butterflies are often called beautiful,
    brilliant and even mystical.
    Big horn sheep and other well liked mammals
    are cute, energetic and cuddly.
    But when it comes to snakes, specifically rattlesnakes
    and other venomous creatures
    the descriptions can be very divergent.
    Aggressive, dangerous, slimy and scary usually
    come to mind.
    - The list of rattlesnake myths
    and just snake myths in general is endless.
    - [Narrator] For Jeff Smith and Melissa Amarillo
    myths perceptions and negative attitudes make up
    some of the biggest roadblocks they encounter
    in their quest to protect rattlesnakes
    and related reptiles.
    - It's a diamondback.
    - [Narrator] Amarillo and Smith are the founders of
    Advocates For Snake Preservation.
    A group that promotes conservation and coexistence
    with snakes.
    - We have a western diamondback rattlesnake
    that was moving across the trail.
    He was maybe five to 10 yards in front of me.
    And he gave me just a little warning rattle,
    a really slow kind of tail shake,
    and then continued to move up into the weeds here
    and just coiled up at the base of this tree.
    That's very typical behavior for a rattlesnake
    it doesn't want to be in the way.
    It gave me a warning that it was there
    and just got out of my way as quick as it could.
    Alright, I'd love to see a black tail.
    This is another western diamondback.
    So this is a female.
    - [Narrator] Amarillo believes snakes definitely
    need a break.
    They've been cast as villains or malicious animals
    for centuries.
    - A lot of us grew up with that story from the bible
    of Adam and Eve and all evil basically came from
    this one individual snake, or the devil,
    looking like a snake, but the snake
    very much embodies evil.
    Most people are scared of snakes.
    For a lot of people this turns into just
    an outright hatred,
    and that in many places has turned into persecuting snakes.
    - [Narrator] And this includes events such as rattlesnake
    roundups which attract tourists and their money
    to communities across the country.
    The reptiles are intentionally gathered
    and frequently exterminated.
    - We don't have large festivals where people collect
    thousands of tigers for instance
    and kill them for entertainment and profit.
    But that's something that happens every year
    in the U.S. with rattlesnakes.
    We want them to be give a fair shake, if you will
    for a rattlesnake.
    - [Narrator] Amarillo says rattlesnakes are not out
    to kill us because we are not their prey.
    They would never be able to eat a human being,
    although they can strike if you get too close.
    Step on them or try to handle them.
    Many animals will hunt rattlesnakes for food
    including eagles, roadrunners, bobcats and coyotes.
    And the snake tries to protect itself.
    - So right there is where a little cotton rat lives
    in here.
    And this is where the snakes will go, frequent these areas
    to try to get the creature.
    - Christopher Vincent and his partner Mary Ellen Landon
    are also supportive of respecting snakes.
    - [Vincent] So when people are worried
    about snakes by their home,
    as long as they don't create an environment for them
    they won't be right next to their house.
    - [Narrator] Vincent and Landon operate Wow Arizona,
    a nonprofit origination north of Tuscan that focuses
    on getting people outside to enjoy the environment.
    For them there is no good species, or bad species.
    Rattlesnakes are just a natural part of the local landscape.
    - I think that they all belong here.
    There's no deep religious or philosophical aspect,
    just watching how they all work together.
    One is prey for another is prey for another.
    Taking photos of little insects, then you blow them up
    and there's an insect parasitizing that.
    - [Narrator] Vincent and Landon have even named their
    resident rattlesnakes.
    - [Vincent] Pretty Brow Floyd.
    George, or Sazusa.
    Or Cartman's our biggest favorite.
    He's big and fat and healthy.
    - [Narrator] The reptiles are not pets however,
    and they are still treated as the wild animals
    that they are.
    Human paths are cleared for visibility
    and guests are reminded
    to stay alert and keep their distance.
    - [Vincent] There's a healthy respect for them.
    They're not my friends, I don't pick 'em up,
    I don't pet 'em.
    I respect what they do and I hope they leave me alone too.
    - [Narrator] By using science and education Amarillo
    also hones in on respect, awareness and being cautious
    around snakes.
    Don't approach them or harass them she says
    to captive audiences.
    - [Amarillo] I don't want to call it licking
    'cause it doesn't feel like it.
    He's sniffing is what he's doing.
    - [Narrator] She's equipped with a group of non-venomous
    gentle snakes that don't mind handling
    and rattlesnakes that remain in their enclosure.
    Those are for looking, not for touching.
    - A good rule of thumb,
    even though, you know snakes are nice,
    I want you guys to like snakes, I want you to
    appreciate snakes, but because we do live someplace
    where we do have snakes that can potentially hurt you
    and it's really painful and really expensive
    if it happens, if you don't know 100% sure
    what it is and your parents aren't there to also
    tell you it's okay, don't pick them up.
    - My take on snakes, if they hold 'em it's good.
    I don't know that I wanna hold 'em.
    It's okay with me.
    They don't bother me, I don't want one in my house
    but I think it's very educational.
    I think it's really good for us to learn all about 'em.
    Learn everything we can about 'em.
    The way she was holding him, it opened my eyes
    a little bit.
    - [Narrator] Advocates for snake preservation admit
    it isn't always an easy sell.
    They cannot rely on a fluffy black and white panda
    as a mascot for example
    or a bold vermilion fly catcher which appears
    so pleasant to a lot of people.
    Still the advocates take their message wherever possible
    because if snakes can thrive in healthy habitats
    they say, other creatures, including humans
    will also do well.
    - I have loved snakes since I was a little kid,
    but for awhile I worked with birds.
    I worked with peregrine falcons,
    I worked with California condors
    and I came back to snakes because I thought
    they really needed someone.
    You know, even among scientist snakes are not as popular
    to study, but you know, snakes don't have an advocate.
    I know I'm not gonna turn everyone into snake obsessed
    crazies like me, but I think we can all respect them
    and appreciate them and just, you know,
    let 'em do their thing like every other animal that's here.
    - Transgender is a term used to describe someone
    who's gender identity, their personal sense of being
    male of female is different from the one written down
    on their birth certificate.
    Early last year, producer Gisela Telis
    spent some time with, Oliver.
    A transgendered teen who shared his experience
    being a trans kid.
    Oliver's journey reveals the challenges you can face
    for just being who you are.
    - I feel like a lot of trans kids.
    Especially the younger trans kids, like they always knew.
    Like trans boys who always wanted their hair cut
    and always wanted to wear baggy shorts and tee shirts.
    They're like, I was never a girl.
    But like, it's weird 'cause I felt like,
    a long time growing up
    I didn't anything, like about it.
    - Right before high school started he came to us
    in the summer and he told us that he wanted
    to be called by a different name,
    and we were confused, like why?
    And he said that he just wanted, like a more
    gender neutral name.
    It was probably in February two years ago
    that he told us, I'm a boy.
    Like, that was it, I'm a boy and you know,
    I want my name to be Oliver, so.
    That was it.
    We were pretty freaked out.
    - They love me, supported me.
    There was never a moment of like, we like you less for this.
    But there was a lot of like, just not understanding it
    and me and my mom would like sit down
    and have talks about this and it would so frustrate me.
    She was like, why can't you just be a girl, that like,
    has short hair, and stuff like that.
    I'm like, 'cause I'm not a girl with short hair.
    Like, that's just not what I am.
    - [Narrator] By the time he came out to his parents
    as a transgender male, Oliver Wagner had been thinking
    about his gender identity for awhile.
    But he had also been battling depression and anxiety
    since as early as sixth grade.
    - It's like getting out of bed is like the worst thing.
    Like you just don't wanna do anything.
    I get like that.
    I just sort of hide myself away and like don't feel
    any motivation to do anything.
    I would just feel awful and just like
    really wound up I guess is the word.
    Like it was just like a lot all at once.
    It would just get overwhelming for me.
    - I felt he was having a hard time when we started
    arguing a lot more, and it was like he, I don't know,
    he just seemed different.
    - We didn't grasp what was going on
    as far as his mental health was concerned
    it was just like, why are you being like this, you know?
    Why does everything have to be so dramatic, you know?
    I just wanted peace.
    We just didn't get it at all.
    And even though I work in the mental health field
    it's 100% different when it's your own kid.
    - [Narrator] In his junior year in high school
    Oliver attempted suicide.
    According to health researcher, Russell Toomey
    who specializes in minority populations
    the odds were stacked against Oliver
    and other individuals who identify as transgender, gay,
    lesbian, bisexual or queer, or LGBTQ.
    - We know from about 30 years of research now
    that lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals
    are at heightened risk or experience more depression,
    suicide, ideation, more suicide attempts, more anxiety,
    more substance use compared to people who identify
    as straight, or heterosexual.
    So that risk is about two to six times the rate
    that we see among heterosexuals.
    We know directly from research that experiences
    of victimization, discrimination, bullying,
    related to ones identity is associated with more depression,
    more anxiety and that these factors then contribute to
    things like suicide ideation or suicide attempts.
    - [Narrator] After his suicide attempt,
    Oliver was hospitalized and that's when everything changed.
    - That was what set off like, mom I need to have therapy
    and you need to make me go and like we need
    to start doing this
    because I don't wanna have to do this again.
    Like, I don't wanna go through that again
    'cause it sucked.
    - [Narrator] The Wagners tried multiple therapists
    but no one clicked for Oliver.
    - You have to like, play this guessing game
    of like, is this person educated about this
    or am I gonna have to be educating this grown person
    with like a PhD?
    Which is horrible, it's the worst.
    I felt like I knew I needed therapy and I needed that
    sort of place and I never got it.
    - [Narrator] Then the Wagners found, Living Outloud.
    A health and wellness center specifically geared
    for the LGBTQ community.
    It's the first and only center of its kind in Arizona
    and it aims to offer counseling,
    mental health and primary care,
    help with job placement and housing, support groups
    and even social events.
    All without judgment.
    - When we first opened some of the members that came in
    referred to this place as home.
    And when they said home they really meant
    the ideal home, of being accepted and very simple things
    like offering them water, or offering them some snacks.
    Very simple things made it seem like you matter.
    You're welcome here, you belong here, this is yours.
    - We do know that when that support does exist
    that LGBT youth have much better health outcomes.
    So there's a great study out of the University of Washington
    that looks at children who are transgender identified
    and they compare them to the sample of
    non-transgender identified kids in Seattle.
    And the transgender youth in the sample are supported
    by their families.
    And when they compare those two populations
    on mental health outcomes, there's no difference.
    - [Narrator] For Oliver and his family
    finding supportive and knowledgeable care
    at Living Outloud was transformative.
    - It was like okay, this worked.
    This is finally what I've been waiting for,
    something that's gonna help him.
    - [Jen] It's just really nice to go in somewhere
    and not think like, you know, the person
    who checks you in is like judging you or your kid, you know?
    They're not doing that there.
    They're just amazing.
    - You know to go to a therapist that like, gets it
    and gets how hard it is being trans and being gay
    and all these separate things, like is just great.
    It makes it easier if even just a little bit.
    - [Narrator] Helping Oliver heal and continue his
    transition helped his family heal too
    in ways they never expected.
    - You feel like you're grieving the loss of one child
    even though you're gaining a different child.
    It's just, it's a change.
    That's not the kid you thought you had,
    but I mean, it's still a great kid,
    it's just a different one, so.
    It was hard at first but it ended up ultimately being
    probably one of the greatest things that happened
    in our family, honestly.
    - Definitely it's opened my eyes to more experiences,
    to meet people, to just be more open minded.
    That's a, really I love that, that has happened
    because of this.
    To just be more accepting of people, you know?
    Not because they're gay or they're trans or they're
    whatever, they're just people.
    Just gives me more of a sense of purpose
    to help make the world a little better place, you know?
    - [Narrator] Now Oliver is finishing his senior year,
    and looking forward to college.
    He's hopeful, even though he knows
    there will be challenges ahead too.
    - You're in a such more vulnerable position
    being LGBTQ, you're more likely to be bullied,
    and you're more likely to be victims of abuse.
    It's harder to get jobs, it's harder...
    Like, it's harder to do everything because people are so
    bigoted about it.
    They're like, well that's disgusting so I'm not gonna...
    Like, no.
    So like, no wonder you're so more likely to be suicidal
    or depressed or mentally ill because like,
    you have the weight of the world on your shoulders
    because you can't get like your basic necessities met,
    because people don't think
    you deserve those basic necessities.
    And then knowing that makes you feel, like, so much worse.
    You're like, great.
    I'm a useless human being, no one cares about me
    because that's what people are telling you.
    I'm really like lucky to be in the position I'm in.
    My parents are awesome.
    I just wanna be able to get a job, and get married,
    and have like a dog and just live a more stable
    and normal life I guess.
    And be in a place where I feel
    okay enough to that, you know?
    - Thank you for joining us here in Arizona Illustrated.
    I'm tom McNamara, see you next week.
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