Return to Transcripts main page


Overcoming PTS; Severe Depression; Outrage Continues over Teen's Death

Aired August 12, 2014 - 08:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, HOST, "THE WAR COMES HOME": This is a safe place to talk about these things. And that's a really good first step.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And in case you're thinking, well, these are just a few cases, I want to drop a staggering statistic that you say is actually low, 22 veterans commit suicide a day.

O'BRIEN: So that's 8,000 a year. And if you look at how they track those numbers, there are many states that actually don't track suicides. So only probably half those states even report at all. And then they don't track death by cop.

PEREIRA: Yes. Yes, yes.

O'BRIEN: You know, they don't track someone who overdoses. They don't track somebody who drives their car off of a bridge. So I think those statistics are low. I think it's a huge problem, especially when we consider all the veterans who are returning home. It's going to be a big problem. And the issues with the V.A. that you're seeing right now.

PEREIRA: Yes. Well, and that just compounds the problem.

You talk and meet with two returning vets, Delon (ph) - did I get his name right?

O'BRIEN: Yes, Delon Beckett (ph).

PEREIRA: In particularly struck me, the two of them are very compelling stories but he said, this program that you're referring to that we'll talk about in a sec, he was going to try it out. If it didn't work, he admitted to you that he was going to commit suicide.

O'BRIEN: He told his wife constantly, listen, if this program - it's called Save a Warrior. If this program does not work, I'm going to end it. And he was actually working out how he was going to do it. He had saved up these prescriptions, because he got them in bulk from the V.A., actually. And so --

PEREIRA: You're sitting there on the side as a documentarian --


PEREIRA: Listening to this.

O'BRIEN: But his spouse - I think the thing that we really realized in doing this documentary is how hard it is on the family members -


O'BRIEN: Who are watching this person who's changed and is struggling, and is going through it and they really can't find hope. So to go through a five and a half day program, which is not a cure at all, but I do think, with (INAUDIBLE) meditation, with ropes courses, with equine therapy, all these different modalities they call them, allows people at the end of five and a half days to see maybe another option.

PEREIRA: Guys going in and the guys coming out are different fellows, right?

O'BRIEN: Yes. Oh, completely. I think you'll see the two veterans that we profile, Delon Beckett and Garrett Colmes (ph), are really transformed. And the thing that works for them is sort of -- they'll talk about it in the documentary.

PEREIRA: What's really interesting too is that Jake Clark (ph), who is the founder of the program, I want you to listen to him as he speaks to the new recruits. A very powerful message he has for them.


JAKE CLARK: We deal with post-traumatic stress. And if you were to ask the average person what part of that warrior is messed up, where do you think they would point? You'd point to your head. This isn't broken. Is doing exactly what it's supposed to do, OK? This is broken. And that's why you're in that chair, I assert.


PEREIRA: So many of them go over there thinking they're going to make a difference, they're going to make a change. One of your young men admits that he felt that that -- it was his heart that broke when he realized he felt that he wasn't making a change in -- with his service.

O'BRIEN: They also lose, I think, that brotherhood and sisterhood that folks who are in theater have, that they come back and they're very isolated. I think that's a big deal. I think they feel free in a program like Save a Warrior to talk about their feelings that they can't necessarily do with civilians.


O'BRIEN: Garrett told me, when people come up to him and slap him on the back, hey buddy, you know, thanks for your service, he just feels like, you don't even know what I did. You have no clue.

PEREIRA: You don't even know.

O'BRIEN: And yet I'm going to smile back at you and say oh, hey, yes, thanks. So I think we need to figure out how to let our veterans -- through programs like. It's very inexpensive. $1,600 per guy. It's really, really inexpensive. PEREIRA: It's not big.

O'BRIEN: But they operate it on a shoestring and, you know, they only - they only hold these cohorts when they can raise the money to do it.

PEREIRA: We cannot help but shine a light on this. And especially when you bring it to our attention. Soledad, really great to have you here with us.

O'BRIEN: Thanks so much.

PEREIRA: Please do me a favor. Watch this one-hour special. It's entitled "The War Comes Home." It's really powerful. You will not walk away feeling unchanged. It's on tonight. Soledad O'Brien reports, 9:00 p.m. right here on CNN. Really a delight and thank you for this great work.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure. Thank you.

PEREIRA: We'll take a short break here on NEW DAY. Back to our story on Robin Williams' passing. He was really open about his struggle with sobriety. We're going to speak with Dr. Drew Pinsky about his devastating combination of depression and addiction.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone.

More now on the death of Robin Williams. Williams, he was so public with his battle against addiction. So the trip to rehab just last month, Williams' press representative noted the actor had recently been suffering from severe depression. We're joined now by Dr. Drew Pinsky to talk about this, host of HLN's "Dr. Drew On Call."

Dr. Drew, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S "DR. DREW ON CALL": It's our pleasure -- my pleasure.

BERMAN: There's something so striking about this. We've heard clips all morning of Robin Williams talking about his battles with alcoholism, very publicly going to rehab a few months ago. How can you be so aware of a problem like this, yet so powerless against it?

PINSKY: Well, it's a reminder to me as a caretaker, in fact, this tragic case, how powerless so many of us are against these conditions, both depression, all the brain diseases, depression and addiction. But, you know, the fact is, it's a brain disease like any other organ disease. And in spite of best efforts, there can be a fatal outcome. And that is what this is such a tragic reminder that the fact is this man had cardiac disease that was treated like any other medical disorder, it was treated concretely, emergently, systematically, and yet because he had a brain disease, somehow that becomes something different. And that is the disease, the disorder of his brain is what actually took his life. It's just a tragic reminder that the stigmatization, the treating brain disorders as something other or special should not go on.

My fear is, I don't know this, I imagine the story will be told one day, is that stigma contributed here. That somehow he felt worthless, ashamed and caused him to isolate as his depression got worse, rather than reach out, which is what's necessary to often save people's lives.

BERMAN: It is interesting, yet he did talk about it. You know, you use the word - you say the word Robin Williams, you don't think depression, you think laughter. He made millions and millions of people laugh.

PINSKY: Right.

BERMAN: Yet we heard from his friend Bob Zemuda (ph) earlier who said, there's nothing more sad than a comedian alone in a room. Do you think there's something to that, that they need this outlet?

PINSKY: Oh, well, sure. I mean I think - I have - I actually have published data on this that the very fact of seeking celebrity -- and I'm sure in the case of people that perform and need to make people laugh, all of that is a bid to deal with things like trauma and depression. It's an attempt on the part of the individual to make all that better. And it kind of does make it better in the moment. Unfortunately, it really doesn't do anything to heal the underlying process. That's something that's got to be done with professionals.

And once again, people shrink away from reaching out and admitting that they have these kinds of problems. They're also fearful of the treatments. But understand, under professional supervision, treatment can even mean taking long walks or listening to music or just cultivating a closeness with another human being. All these things can contribute to the improvement of depression and addiction both, which are obviously very deeply intertwined disorder. And when people have both of them, a reminder, these are potentially fatal illnesses that, in combination, are often fatal.

There are tens of millions of people in this country with this disorder. Tens of thousands at least will die as a result of these conditions this year. And for every completed suicide, there are between 10 and 20 attempts. These are common conditions.

And how many times, John, do we have to get up here in the morning and talk about people who are taken from us prematurely? Here's a man that brought joy to millions, his family loses him, we lose him. He has lost his life and many wonderful years ahead because of a common disorder that has a treatment, and it's a brain disorder rather than other conditions.

And also one other reminder, which is the interplay that Robin has provided us with. A reminder of the conditions -- medical conditions that contribute to depression -- cardiac disorders, heart disease and particularly cardiac surgery can put people at tremendous risk for depression. Obviously addiction is a risk for depression. And in his case, any genetic history of bipolar or unipolar depression puts people at risk for this sort of thing. He had at least three reasons to have severe difficulty with depression.

BERMAN: You talk about the heart surgery. He said it literally opens you up and makes you more vulnerable.

But, Drew, you said something interesting too. You said the need to reach out and connect with people when you're in these conditions. You know, Robin Williams himself was asked about this. He was doing a sit- down with "Reddit" and he was asked, you know, how do you get through the bad times? And his answer was, "reach out to friends. They're out there. And know that you are loved."


BERMAN: Again, what I'm so struck by is his awareness of the situation, yet it still was too much.

PINSKY: That's right, but that awareness speaks to his -- literally decades of success in managing his chronic brain disorders, which are depression and addiction. These are chronic disorders. These are not like a cold or pneumonia or something that get better after you've had treatment. These are things that have to be managed on a daily basis. And they can have exacerbation.

Just the way emotions flood over us, they wash over us at times, severe mood disturbances and even suicide ideology can wash over us and they pass. The problem is, when you're in those moments, you can't imagine they're going to pass. You feel worthless, you isolate, your thinking becomes part of the problem. You begin imagining that your family, your friends would be better off without you, that you're a burden to other people. You start isolating and that's exactly what these disorders want you to do.

As it pertains to what he said with his chest surgery, yes, it feels vulnerable, and it probably actually changes the biology of the brain, and the body. You know, the piece that Soledad just played about the warriors and depression, PTSD, really illustrative. He said, you're broken in here. The heart and the brain are connected. They are part of the same system. And, yes, we have to learn that closeness with other humans, reaching out, does help heal those things.

BERMAN: Drew Pinsky, we really appreciate you being with us. A reminder, these are disorders, they need treatment by professionals like you, and by friends like everyone around the world. Appreciate it.

PINSKY: You bet.

BERMAN: Next up on NEW DAY, a second night of chaos in a St. Louis suburb, where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by police. The FBI is now investigating. We will speak with the young man's family's attorney.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The FBI has launched its own investigation into the fatal shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Missouri. The unarmed teenager was killed by a police officer in Ferguson over the weekend. Brown's death has sparked outrage in the town and beyond, where he was killed, with many demanding to know why the teen was shot multiple times. Overnight, more gunfire, though, rang out on the streets there, and police deployed tear gas in areas to disperse some of the large crowds.


BOLDUAN (on camera): Joining us now to discuss, the attorneys for Michael Brown's family, Benjamin Crump and Anthony Gray. Crump, who remember was also the attorney for Trayvon Martin's family. Gentlemen, thank you so much for the time.



BOLDUAN: Of course, Mr. Crump, we followed the Trayvon Martin case very, very closely, and here we are again speaking with you about the death of another teenager. I wanted to ask you after another night of violence in Ferguson, how is Michael Brown's family doing today?

CRUMP: They're having to deal with setting funeral arrangements. It's very difficult for them. It's very emotional, Kate, as one would imagine, to lose a child who you go from one moment about to send him off to college, to start his adult life, and then the next day you're planning a funeral, to say good bye to him. It's very hard for them.

BOLDUAN: It's nothing any parent can ever prepare for. That's absolutely the truth to say the very least. What did the Brown family, what did they say about the outrage, the anger that they've seen and the violence that they've seen on the streets of Ferguson in the aftermath of their son's death?

CRUMP: Kate, they have sent a consistent message, and we want to tell all America that the Brown family has asked that everybody be calm, be respectful, be peaceful because they want the legacy of Michael Brown Jr. to be one of positive and that reflects his life. When you look at this kid's history, there's no history of violence anywhere in his history, and so they don't want this to tarnish his legacy.

BOLDUAN: So far, there is not a clear picture, at least publicly known, of what happened on Saturday night. Do you know in talking to his parents and talking to witnesses, the friend maybe that was with him, that what happened that night?

CRUMP: Well first of all, Kate, let me correct you. It wasn't Saturday night.

BOLDUAN: Apologies, Saturday during the day. CRUMP: Saturday during the day at noon, in broad daylight, and there

were many, many witnesses who have talked to family members, and they paint a totally different picture than what the police version is, and that's the level of mistrust. Because people are saying we know what we saw and now you're going to try to spin this and tell us that you're justified in killing this kid, who had his hands up in broad daylight with a t-shirt, shorts and sandals? And it's just so troubling to this community, they have no faith in the local law enforcement so they're looking to the federal authorities to come in and take over the investigation entirely. My co-counselor, Attorney Gray, who lives her in St. Louis knows about that history, and why this is such a combustible situation.

BOLDUAN: Well, and Mr. Gray then, what do you make of the discrepancy, from what the initial statements we're hearing from police, and then what we're hearing from Michael Brown's family and witnesses who were there? As Benjamin Crump just said, you live there. You know the town. You know the area. What do you, as an attorney, representing the family, make of this discrepancy?

GRAY: Well, it's difficult at this point to make any sense of it. The stories are so diametrically different, there's almost impossible to reconcile in terms of their perspectives. Clearly there's one side that sees it one way, and there are several witnesses allegedly that see it a completely different way. So at this point, I join with the Brown family and Attorney Crump in just getting an objective and transparent investigation conducted, so that all of the different facts can come together and we can try to piece this together with the various different versions that we have heard. Perhaps there is a way to reconcile it, and I'm looking forward to see if this process would achieve that objective.

CRUMP: And also, Kate, there may be video that is out there, and we know the law enforcement agencies has some video in their custody and we are asking that they make it transparent, because it will be clear from the video, and we don't have to speculate what happened.

BOLDUAN: Do you think to this point, I know that it's very early on, though, in an investigation into what happened, do you think that there has not been transparency? Do you think that -- are you concerned that the truth is not going to come out in the end?

CRUMP: I think there has not been transparency because when you listen to what the police said at their press conference, they told totally one side of the story. And they put that out there, Kate, as what happened, and we know, if you're being objective, you say okay, this is what the shooter said, the person that killed the kid said, and this is what witnesses said. They didn't say anything about the witnesses' version. They went and told America what the police said and tried to say, accept this as justification and the Brown family, the community, and many in America reject that. That's not transparency.

BOLDUAN: The FBI, as you've noted, they have opened an investigation. The attorney general, Eric Holder, in part of the statement announcing this, he said the following. He said, "The federal investigation will supplement rather than supplant the inquiry by local authorities." He's saying the investigation on the ground must continue but that they will be looking and obviously doing their own investigation that will supplement the local investigation. What does it mean to the family, and what does it mean to you, representing the family, Mr. Crump, that the FBI has opened their own investigation now?

CRUMP: Well, the community leaders, Attorney Gray and myself, we were very encouraged when we heard from the attorney general that he was listening to the pleas of the family and the community. But we think to bring further calm and have people have confidence, we need the justice department to take over this investigation completely, and not rely on the St. Louis law enforcement authorities, because that is the reason for mistrust in the community right now. And until we can have complete transparency of an outside authority, I think that is what will bring confidence in this process.

BOLDUAN: We'll have to see if the attorney general, the FBI, moves in to make that kind of a move. I do want to ask you, though, as this continues, and you say you've heard from the family, you've heard from the community, and they're so diametrically at this point opposed versions it seems of what happened on Saturday. Is the family, in your view, have you talked to them, are they prepared for the possibility that the police were not in the wrong in how this went down? Have you had that conversation with them yet?

CRUMP: You know, this family has been very clear. They want the answers, they want the truth to come out, but they know their child, and they know that it's so different from anything they've ever heard of their child doing. That's what's troubling to them. He was doing positive things. He was looking forward to starting his college career. He was going to technical college, it was going to be his first day yesterday. Why would he do anything adverse? It makes no sense to them, Kate. And so for them, they want the truth to come out. They want the answers. They want to know, based on what they have heard from witnesses, because the police have not talked to them. What they have heard from witnesses is inconsistent with anything that the police are saying about how this altercation started and transpired.

BOLDUAN: Everyone, especially the parents of Michael Brown, deserve the truth to come out in all of this, and this horrible tragedy. Benjamin Crump, Anthony Gray, attorneys for Michael Brown's family. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

CRUMP: Thank you.

GRAY: Thank you. Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Of course. We'll stay in close touch. We'll follow that case very closely.

Coming up on NEW DAY, we're going to have more on the life of Robin Williams and the tributes pouring in from fans around the world, including this memorial to "Good Will Hunting" in Boston.