Category Archives: General

Feelings, Thoughts, Musings, and more on my life and experiences.

Day on the Hill with NAMI Tennessee

A few months ago, a friend told me about NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness). NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. They provide education and support to those affected by mental illness. They also do a lot of work to increase public awareness about mental health conditions. NAMI Tennessee recently sponsored a grassroots advocacy training event in Nashville, and I went!

In addition to receiving training on how to interact with my state legislators, I got to network with other people affected by mental illness. I also got to meet with my state representative and state senator.

This year, NAMI Tennessee is advocating for four things:

State Senator Richard Briggs, from Knoxville, joined us and provided some insights into mental health advocacy and the TN legislature.
State Senator Richard Briggs, from Knoxville, joined us and provided some insights into mental health advocacy and the TN legislature.
  1. We want a $250k budget amendment to expand local Crisis Intervention Teams.
    I’m really excited about the CIT initiative. As some of my readers know, my wife went to jail last summer when she had a mental health crisis and assaulted me. When I had the neighbors call 911, I had no clue that Lauren would be taken to jail. I begged the responding officers to take her to the hospital. They told me that their hands were tied.

    I don’t know if anything would have turned out differently last summer if the officers had been trained. But I do know that police who have CIT training are much more likely to take someone to a treatment facility than they are to make an arrest.

  2. We want stronger laws around insurance parity for mental health & substance use disorder services.
    The TN Department of Commerce and Insurance should report on how they review health plans and hold insurers accountable for providing these services without undue burdens.

  3. We want mental health insurance for those who cannot afford it.
    We want our state legislators to support a bill that would provide insurance for people who don’t qualify for TennCare or for federal health insurance.

  4. Finally, we want more funding for mental health programs.
    Tennessee, like many states, is in desperate need of money for all sorts of programs. We are asking for $34 million to help fund all of these initiatives. We are also asking for $250 million to go into a new Mental Health Trust Fund.

I learned and I networked.

I met with my state representative, Esther Helton.
I met with my state representative, Esther Helton.

Ever since my family’s experience last summer, I knew that I wanted to get involved in advocacy. I vowed to myself that I would go to Nashville sometime in 2020. So when my friend told me about NAMI, I knew this was the perfect opportunity.

This day-long event was a great learning experience for me. When I was in high-school, I participated in a “youth in government” event (in South Carolina), and got to go to South Carolina’s State House. So, in a way, I knew what to expect. But this was the real deal (and I can now say that I’m an experienced lobbyist. Cue the big bucks!)

I met 3 people, who are board members of NAMI Chattanooga, and I look forward to getting involved in this local chapter.

I also had great conversations with Representative Esther Helton, my state representative, as well as Senator Todd Gardenhire, my state senator.

This was definitely a valuable experience for me, and I will make an effort to get involved with more NAMI activities in the future. I will almost certainly be going to Nashville again.

Here’s how you can find help, give help, and get involved for the mental health community.

To learn more about NAMI, visit https://www.nami.org/.
NAMI Tennessee’s website is at https://namitn.org/.
And the Chattanooga Chapter for NAMI is http://www.namichattanooga.org/

A very practical thing that you can do is to call your state representatives and ask them to support increased funding for Crisis Intervention Teams. This is the initiative that I’m the most excited about, and would have impacted my family the most if one had responded to our 911 call last summer.

But you can also ask your legislators to support NAMI Tennessee’s other initiatives as well. If you are in Tennessee, find your representative’s and senator’s contact information at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/.

Thank you for your support!

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Should you use a VPN? And other resources

A good friend of mine recently emailed me with the following question:

I’ve been working out of coffee shops a good bit and I think it would be a good idea to use a VPN for a more secure connection. Can you point me to a good resource on how I can do that?

As I was responding to his email, I realized that this short, introductory information on VPNs (and why you SHOULD use one) could be helpful as a blog post. So without further ado, here is (an edited) version of the email I sent in response to the above question:

Short answer:
I would definitely and strongly recommend that you use a VPN.

Longer answer:
While you’re thinking about a VPN for your computer, you might also consider a VPN for your phone as well – that is, if you connect your phone to coffee shop WiFi.

Personally, I run my own VPN server because I don’t trust (nor am very familiar with) 3rd party VPN providers. There’s a ton of services out there that offer VPN for a small fee (usually, monthly). My VPN server sits here in my home office and routes my internet connection completely through my home internet when I use it. So, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, I connect to my VPN, the traffic between my computer and my house is encrypted and secure, and then from the perspective of the websites I visit, it “looks” like I’m sitting at my desk at home.

Obviously I don’t expect you or the average person to know how to setup your own VPN server. But if you’re going to choose to go with a VPN service, you need to make sure you go with a reputable source. Generally speaking, VPN technology can be very weak (if configured improperly), or very secure (if configured properly).

Lots of 3rd party providers don’t do a good job with security (hence the reason I distrust 3rd party providers by default). I use an open source technology called OpenVPN (https://openvpn.net/) for my software, and then as I mentioned earlier, the server itself is located at my house. So I have fully configured and secured my own server.

This looks like a really good place to start, in terms of searching for 3rd party providers. I generally trust CNET, and like most of the things they put out: https://www.cnet.com/best-vpn-services-directory/. Another resource that looks like a good introduction is:  https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2403388,00.asp

Based on the above resources, and (briefly) reviewing their websites, NordVPN or StrongVPN would probably be my recommendation. I don’t know anything about these guys, but this looks like a reasonable option, that is also based on the OpenVPN software: https://www.privatetunnel.com/pricing/

It looks to me like you’d be paying about $5/month for the above services.

Do you use a VPN? If so, is it self-hosted, or do you use a 3rd party VPN service? Who is your service through, and why do you use it? Let me know in the comments!

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