Monday, July 21, 2008

Shine the spotlight on mental illness

A bench outside the Harvey-Mitchell Memorial Library in Epping, N.H., was dedicated last weekend in memory of Shane and Kaleigh Lambert. The Lambert children of Brentwood, N.H., died when their mentally ill aunt carried them into traffic last January, but now their parents have started a foundation to raise awareness about mental illness.

Pick up the newspaper on any given day and you'll probably read a tragic story involving someone suffering from mental illness. There was that distraught man who took off his clothes and then tried to open the emergency exit door on an American Airlines flight on Friday, but was stopped by members of the New England Revolution soccer team. We don't know what triggered this incident, but he was reportedly undergoing a mental health evaluation.
Then there was the camp counselor from Hampstead, N.H., who was naked and attacked a police officer in a wild scuffle when the officer tried to arrest him after he was caught inside a man's home. He had to be tasered several times before he was finally arrested. In court, he told a judge that he was hallucinating and needed help.

I've heard a lot about mental illness over the past few weeks and how much it's misunderstood. I interviewed the parents of little Shane and Kaleigh Lambert of Brentwood, N.H., two weeks ago and I haven't stopped thinking about the pain this family has endured since that night last January when the children, along with their aunt, were killed on I-495 in Lowell, Mass.

It was the first time that their parents, Ken and Danielle Lambert, had spoken publicly about the tragedy. Their strength is amazing.

Danielle's sister, Marci Thibault, had suffered from mental illness, but they thought she had overcome it and was doing better. That's why they let her pick up the children to take them to her home in Massachusetts for a sleepover. Little did the Lamberts know, Marci was still battling mental illness, and apparently she suffered an episode on the way home that night. She pulled the car over and carried the children into oncoming traffic, killing herself and the young niece and nephew whom she loved so much.

The interview was difficult. As I sat there listening to their story, I thought about my own children. They're almost the same ages as Shane and Kaleigh, and they're a boy and girl. I almost felt guilty that I had my children and these parents are now alone.

But as they deal with the tragic loss of their only children and Danielle's twin sister, the Lamberts are now trying to change the mental health care industry to prevent a similar tragedy. They should be commended for their efforts to turn their grief into something positive. They've started a foundation called Keep Sound Minds. Their Web address is I encourage you to visit their site and see what they're trying to do. They need all the support they can get as they try to raise awareness of the issues surrounding mental health.

Below is a link to the story about my interview with Ken and Danielle Lambert that appeared in the July 9 edition of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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