When tragedy struck Ken and Danielle Lambert six years ago, they grieved for a short while and then took action. They never wanted anyone to experience the type of heartbreak and suffering they had faced.
Their two children, Kaleigh, 5, and Shane, 4, and Danielle’s sister, Marci Thibault, died as the result of a horrifying psychotic incident. With the children in her car, Thibault pulled over to the side of Route 495 in Lowell, Mass., and then intentionally walked everyone into oncoming traffic.
In April of 2008, Ken and Danielle formed a non-profit organization called Kaleigh, Shane and Marci for Mental Health Awareness, also known as Keep Sound Minds (www.keepsoundminds.org).
“About a month-and-half after everything happened, Danielle thought of doing something positive and productive,” says Ken Lambert, a longtime resident of North Reading, Mass., who has lived in Brentwood, N.H, for the past nine years. “We also wanted to prevent something else like that from happening.”
As word spread about the Lamberts’ misfortune and their new organization, people came forward and volunteered. Virtually all of them had similar experiences.
Keep Sound Minds (KSM) consists of Director Ken Lambert and six board members. Assistant Director Lisa Garcia, LSW, is the organization’s only paid employee and there are about 20 volunteers. Only a handful have any type of clinical background. It’s an organization that has come together because the members share a common bond and purpose.
KSM, financed through donations and fundraising events, provides seminars, presentations and videos in an effort to educate the public about mental illness.
“People like Ken and his family tend to become experts in the mental health system because they’re forced to do so,” says Kristina Ragosta, an attorney for the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va., a national non-profit group that has worked with KSM to improve state mental health treatment laws. “The most knowledgeable people in the country on the issues related to mental illness and treatment laws are family members.”
KSM three main goals are: first, improve family communications: The organization encourages more effective communication between mental health providers and the patient’s family, including regular follow-ups. KSM is also in favor of more stringent discharge policies.
Second, increase awareness of mental health issues: KSM educates people about mental illness, psychiatric drugs and related issues. “If a loved one has a mental illness, sticking your head in the sand and hoping that things will get better on their own is a bad plan,” Lambert says.
Third to educate law enforcement: This effort is part of a growing movement to educate the police about warning signs of mental illness and how to seek appropriate help – before something serious happens. In many cases, police are not required to take action unless there is imminent danger.
Working with the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), KSM produced a police training video about recognizing and dealing with, mental health issues.
“Our goals are directly related to each of the things that happened [to us six years ago] and each of the issues that fell through the cracks,” says Lambert, who now has 2½-year-old twin boys.
“The state troopers in Massachusetts pulled Marci over on her way up to pick up our children,” he recalls. “She was acting very disturbed at the time but they let her go. They did not feel she exhibited enough to be pink-slipped. With better training of law enforcement, Marci would not have even made it up to our house that night.”
Four months prior to the tragedy, there was another warning sign. Thibault had a psychotic breakdown and was admitted to McLean Hospital. “We, the family, just didn’t know everything that we should have known,” Lambert admits. “We didn’t know how important it was for her to stay on the psych medication, for her to follow up with her counselors. We were hoping that it was a one-time thing.
“She looked fine. Obviously, that was a terrible mistake. Those are the types of things that fell through the cracks and could have prevented this.”
By Howard Newman