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Andy Hines: Overcoming the Stigma

Dr. Wirt Anderson Hines, a dermatologist who lives in Anacortes, almost lost everything that matters to him. What was the menace that threatened him? Mental illness.

Hines grew up a Navy brat, and graduated from high school in Salt Lake City, Utah. Four years later, in 1993, he graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon with a degree in biology. He then returned to Utah and attended the University of Utah School of Medicine, where he earned both a medical degree and a PhD in human genetics. According to his curriculum vitae, his specialty in human genetics was the arcane study of cell signaling and Ras pathways.

He completed his internship in internal medicine in Utah, and then his residency in dermatology followed by a surgical fellowship at the University of Colorado in Denver. Eventually he moved to Skagit County and built a successful dermatology practice in Mount Vernon. By then he was married and had a young daughter.

But soon he began to display manic, grandiose behaviors. Though his wife tried to dissuade him, he bought an expensive piece of land that he could not afford. He leased a huge office for his one-man practice. Numerous friends, colleagues, and his wife suggested that he seek psychological care, but he ignored them.

In 2008 he attended a medical conference in Denver. By then he was sleeping very little, only one or two hours a night, but still feeling energized. He became preoccupied with starting a dermo-pathology lab in Denver on the spur of the moment, and tried to persuade colleagues to invest in it. He spent so much time on the Internet, researching and planning the lab, that he quit attending meetings at the conference.

While in Denver, he also became hypersexual. He solicited the services of several escort services (though he didn’t follow through), surfed the Web for pornography, and participated in several pornographic chat rooms at once.

Was this the real Andy Hines? He had never behaved this way before. Something had come over him.

Finally, he began chatting online with a woman who revealed that she was fourteen years old. She gave him an address and invited him to meet her there. He suspected that it might be a trap, but rather than being frightened, the idea excited him.

When he arrived at the address the “girl” had given him, the police awaited him. It was a sting – a police officer had impersonated a minor. Hines was arrested, taken into custody, and released. The court recommended Hines submit to psychological evaluations once he got home, and postponed its ruling on Hines’ case until it received the results of the evaluations.

Hines returned to Washington and reported himself to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), which conducted a thorough investigation. Hines was evaluated by both general and forensic psychiatrists, and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (Forensic psychiatry is a subspecialty of psychiatry, an auxiliary science of criminology, which encompasses the interface of law and psychiatry.)

The DOH investigation, which included a polygraph test, revealed no inappropriate behavior with patients or staff, and no inclination toward pedophilia. The DOH approved his return to clinical practice, with clear restrictions and psychiatric oversight provided by the Washington Physicians Health Program (WPHP). Hines was prescribed lithium and is required to take it to maintain his medical license. The WPHP closely monitors his compliance with this requirement, one of several, by administering regular blood checks of his medication level.

Hines was determined to have experienced an extreme manic episode in Colorado. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines such an episode as “a distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive or irritable mood.” The key word in that definition is “abnormally.”

Ultimately, the Colorado court was lenient because Hines’ mental illness, undiagnosed and untreated at the time of his illegal behavior, was regarded as a mitigating factor in his impaired judgment. Furthermore, there was no actual victim involved in his offense.

Since this traumatic episode, Hines’ family has healed, with the help of therapy, and he recently opened a new practice, Anacortes Dermatology, located at 902 – 28th Street  (www.anacortesderm.com). He is forthright about his story on his website, as he has been with the American Board of Dermatology and other authorities.

Aside from his medical practice, Hines’ passion is to dispel the stigma of mental illness, and to emphasize optimistically that, with proper treatment, people diagnosed with various mental illnesses can recover and fully function. Along with prominent people, such as former King County Executive Randy Revelle, who also has bipolar disorder, Hines has given numerous speeches on the topic. He has given presentations to Rotary clubs, Kiwanis clubs, Leadership Skagit, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and other organizations.

Founded in 1979, NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, with over 250,000 members and supporters nationwide. It advocates on behalf of mentally ill individuals and their families for access to treatment, support services, and research-based information. It also promotes awareness in the general public about mental illness, including sensitizing their use of language.

Individuals affected by mental illness are rarely portrayed in a positive light in the media, and when they are referred to in derogatory terms it perpetuates the negation of their personhood by equating them with their diagnoses.

“Stigma – ‘discrimination’ is actually a better word for it – is the #1 barrier to recovery,” says Susan Ramaglia of NAMI Skagit, “because people with mental illness don’t want to admit that they have it, for fear of rejection.”

In an effort to educate society about the realities of mental illness and the courageous struggles faced by mentally ill people, NAMI StigmaBusters challenge widespread stereotypes – the often inaccurate, hurtful, and inflammatory representations of mental illness in the media.    

Andy Hines is a soldier in the effort to combat this ubiquitous stigma, and an inspirational example of someone who has come back from the brink. But, despite his recovery, he still encounters evidence of the stigma. For example, he received a standing ovation after one of his presentations, but when he later applied to that organization for membership, he was denied. Its members were moved by his story, but not moved enough to fully embrace him as one of their own.

Still, his story is a success story, but his recovery and success must be shared with the Colorado court system, the Washington Department of Health, the Washington Physicians Health Program, the American Board of Dermatology, psychiatrists, therapists, and Hines’ medical colleagues, who – knowing his story – refer patients to him. “All have supported me,” says Hines, “and believe in my ability to resume my previous life and contribute to my community.”

Teru Lundsten is a freelance writer and personal historian who lives in Anacortes. To learn more about her, visit TeruLundsten.com.