Linda Tashbook is combining her two loves — librarianship and the law — to empower millions of people who have a loved one with mental illness.
These people are a vulnerable population who often find themselves in a legal bind, whether it’s in a work setting, the criminal justice system, housing or their own finances. And far too often, loved ones don’t get involved because they simply don’t know how to help.
Tashbook, an international law librarian at Pitt Law, offers solutions.
Linda Tashbook, foreign, international and comparative law librarian, will discuss her new book on Wednesday, March 6, at 4:30 p.m.
Additional speakers include: John Rozel, associate professor of psychiatry and medical director, resolve Crisis Services; Christina Newhill, professor in the School of Social Work.
Free and open to the public.
Pitt School of Law
3900 Forbes Ave.
Her new book, “Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law,” is chock full of practical advice that Tashbook (SCI ’87G, LAW ’96) has given to community members throughout the years, as well as nuts-and-bolts legal information that family members need.
Let’s say a member of the family with a compulsive disorder is trying to function well in the workplace but the constant chime of the elevator bell is about to put him over the edge. Family members can step in. They can reach out to Human Resources and request the person’s work area be moved.
“Family members do not realize they have this power,” said Tashbook. “They can get the ball rolling. It’s possible to seek accommodations or ask for time off so the person can enter treatment. With advocacy, the person doesn’t have to get fired.”
The book is structured with a librarian’s love of order. There are 26 chapters that cover five basic themes: health law, criminal law, employment law, consumer law, and death and the law. There are shaded boxes of how-to tips on finding a lawyer, filing a complaint, assisting with a will, or making sure a loved one is getting their medicine while in prison. Every topic has a resource list that directs the reader to an agency or non-profit group that could help even further. And there are lists of tax facts that point to appropriate IRS forms.
Tashbook said that injustices can crop up because people with mental illness may have trouble navigating a rigid legal system. There are deadlines, court dates and requirements that may be anxiety inducing. Hearings take place in intimidating government buildings. The new book tells family members just what to expect and how they can help.
An early love of books
Like many librarians, Tashbook’s love of reading came early. The daughter of a social worker and a teacher, she visited the public library every week as her family moved to several different states.
“I got a library card as soon as we moved to each new city,” she said. She came to Pitt in 1986 to get a Master of Library and Information Science degree and, upon graduation, began her career as a children's librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
When members of the literacy agency Beginning with Books wanted to build reading rooms in Pittsburgh public housing projects, they came to Tashbook, who was a member of the Allegheny County Homeless Youth Network. Soon, she was helping to furnish reading rooms in all local public housing communities and 14 homeless and domestic violence shelters.
“I would hear about moms sitting in waiting rooms for three hours, so I wanted to stock the rooms with books,” she said. “I was always looking for a way to provide the recreational, social and stress-relieving benefits that books can provide.”
A compassionate legal advocate
Through the years, Tashbook said she befriended many homeless people but wanted to be even a stronger advocate. So she earned her Juris Doctor degree at Pitt Law in 1996 and became a volunteer lawyer and a law librarian.
One day, while providing free legal advice for the homeless at Project H.E.L.P., a thin grizzled man with bright blue eyes approached her desk for assistance. They struck up a friendship and Tashbook counseled him for years about disability benefits, police matters and other issues as he drifted in and out from the streets to jail. As Tashbook wrote her book, this friend proved to be an important resource. When she researched how prisoners received their medications, for example, she called him and asked, “Is this really how it is?”
Tashbook thanked her friend in her book’s acknowledgments section and invited him to her December book launch, but he didn’t attend. After calling him repeatedly with no luck, she finally called the medical examiner. He had died of natural causes six days after the launch and was buried in the county’s pauper’s grave.
“I don’t know if the hospital ever saw the living will I wrote for him,” she said. “But he knew his name was in the book and he knew he had been valuable to me.”
She stresses that people do not have to be lawyers to help someone with legal problems. Sometimes it can be as simple as writing a letter or making a phone call. And those in need of help are everywhere.
Said Tashbook: “It seems as though everyone is two degrees of separation from someone with a disruptive mental illness.”