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Other views: New N.D. mental health

Thank you to all in the Fargo community who sent letters to legislators in support of Senate Bill 2296. It made a big difference. On April 8 Gov. John Hoeven signed this bill, finally make it possible for people with severe mental illness to get ...

Thank you to all in the Fargo community who sent letters to legislators in support of Senate Bill 2296. It made a big difference. On April 8 Gov. John Hoeven signed this bill, finally make it possible for people with severe mental illness to get the treatment they deserve before they become dangerous to self or others, just like people with other illnesses do. To understand what a profound impact this can have on someone's life, read how my son described (in one of his clearer moments) the experience of having schizophrenia and not getting proper treatment:

"I realize now there is a heaven and a hell. And they are here on earth. Because what is constant pain and suffering? That's hell. That's where I'm at. And I can see heaven here, just as clearly as I can see you sitting there. And I watch other people living in it. But I can't get there."

I'd never set foot inside any Capitol building in my life and knew little of the legislative process six months ago. I've been told the odds were stacked against me. But like digging for buried treasure in the sand, I just kept digging until I found a few gems -- a few special people. And without them this bill would never have passed.

My thanks to U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., for responding to my letter and encouraging me to try. Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, prime sponsor, spent a great deal of time mentoring me through the process. Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, a co-sponsor, gave a powerful, persuasive speech when she carried the bill onto the senator floor, as did Rep. Larry Klemin, R-Bismarck, when he carried it to the House floor.

Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, followed through on his commitment to make his staff available to citizens when they come to Bismarck to testify. In addition, I'm deeply grateful for the counsel and support from the other sponsors: Reps. Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone, and Dan Ruby, R-Minot, and Sens. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo. And special thanks to Deb Mathern, R-Fargo.

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Special thanks also to Police Chief Chris Magnus, Sheriff Don Rudnick, States Attorney Birch Burdick, and BCI Director Jerry Kemmet for meeting with me and offering their valuable perspectives. And for sharing their expertise in the mental health field, thanks to Jeff Stenseth, SE Human Services Center, Director Karen Larson, Division of Mental Health, and Mike Kaspari of First Step Recovery.

And forever thanks to Allen Stenehjem, executive director, and Dr. Glenn Johnson, president of the Mental Health Association, and Janet Sabol, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

Ogren Spear, formerly of Fargo, lives in

Des Moines, Iowa.

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