Courtesy of Unsplash photography
Every parent’s worst nightmare is the thought of possibly losing a child in an accident or to a serious illness. An even greater fear is the thought of losing a child to an abduction and never knowing where that child is or who the child is with. Moreover, no parent wants to see their child abused or to be an abuser.
I have lost a child……. to a serious mental illness and addictions.
I have lost a child to multiple “accidents” in the current mental health system in which I have tried to participate. I go to bed every night not knowing where my child is or who she is with. I face each new day with the fear that she did not survive the night. Every day I brainstorm and research what else I might do to find her and get her to a hospital where she can be helped. Occasionally, I get a call from a police officer who has had an encounter with her, usually for trespassing or loitering. The call is a result of recent missing persons’ report that I filed. I am told that she is “okay” by the officer, even if she is demonstrating psychotic behavior, dressed in appropriately for the weather, calling 911 because she believes that she has been run over by a truck, or staying in settings where assaults are frequent.
Because she has not been given proper care and limits are placed on those of us (family, primarily) who are trying to help her, the results are as follows: multiple arrests, jail time, cruel solitary confinement, car accidents, fines, court hearings, emergency calls to police and fire departments, hospitalizations for both physical and psychiatric treatment, rehabs, halfway houses, domestic violence calls, petitions, court ordered appointments at clinics, dental repairs from assaults, disease, property damage, job losses, and loss of all meaningful relationships of friends and family.
My “child” is an adult who is persistently and acutely disabled due to mental illness and addictions. I am told over and over by physicians, law enforcement officers, counselors and friends, “She is an adult. You can’t force her to get help.” “She has to hit bottom first.” “We can’t tell you if she has been admitted.” “She can be talking to a light pole, but unless she has threatened to harm herself or others, we cannot admit her.” “Since she is already under court ordered treatment, you cannot petition her for pick-up. She has been evaluated already. She just needs to show up for her meds at her assigned clinic.” These comments demonstrate the lack of understanding when it comes to mental health and addiction issues. People who are not thinking clearly cannot make decisions in their best interest. Their brain is lying to them and sending a false narrative. Hitting bottom often means death. What good is court ordered treatment, if once you get it you cannot be evaluated again should you have a setback in your mental stability! Most severely mentally ill people have a very difficult time managing their own medications and even getting to all of the appointments without assistance.
Based upon calls from the police, my daughter is most likely living in a box on the streets of Phoenix and has been there at least 10 months. Previous to her leaving my home, she had lived with me for a year. It was one of the nicest years we had spent with her. She had developed a few close friends, interacted with family again, paid off most of her fines, obtained a job, bought a car, traveled with us, and went to all of her appointments at the court appointed clinic.
There were two things that I think made the most difference in our daughter’s progress: parental involvement and a longer stay at the mental health hospital initially. Obtaining a lawyer and gaining temporary guardianship was the first step in being able to be more involved in her care. Additionally, the longer stay at the psychiatric hospital allowed her to be evaluated thoroughly, stabilized, and prescribed the correct medication. It was amazing to see the difference in how she interacted with us and life in general following her hospital stay. Previous stays in the hospital had been so short (3-7 days) resulting in her return to the streets.
What failed? Why are we back where we started over a year ago? I believe when a medication change took place through her clinic there was a set-back in her mental health at that time and her desire for meth increased. We (her legal guardians) once again admitted her to UPC due to psychotic behavior. She was then sent to a different hospital and there they changed her medication again rather than prescribe what she had previously taken successfully a year before. I believe if she had gone back to the same hospital and seen the same doctor, she would be in a different place now. Long term care offers a chance to stabilize and seeing the same doctor offers consistency in care. The out-patient clinics primarily serve as dispensaries of meds, not in-depth evaluation and continued care. When we sought to renew guardianship, this process was dead on arrival because our paperwork had to be completed by a psychiatrist. All of her appointments at her court ordered clinic had been with the equivalent of a PA.
We must increase the number of secure, mental health hospitals. Current numbers are grossly inadequate. The length of hospital stays must increase for the seriously mentally ill allowing time for proper evaluation, stabilization, medication, and a proper post hospital plan. We need supervised housing for the SMI once released from the hospital as a protection for the patient, family and the general public. Currently, many SMI patients find housing in drug rehab settings which are not set up for the SMI population. Others return to the street or with family who are not always equipped to provide adequate supervision and support.
For change to take place, we must not view mental illness/addictions any differently than we do someone with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, or delayed mental functions. We make sure that they are in a safe environment and decisions are made with their best interest at heart. The SMI are being neglected and not receiving the help they so desperately need. Just walk around downtown Phoenix to see how many of the SMI are living. We take care of stray dogs better than these precious human beings.
I hope our daughter can soon get the help she needs before it is too late. We have lived the nightmare and I have only shared a brief summary of this past year, not the previous twenty years.
Anonymous Parent (in order to protect my daughter’s privacy)
These are the families that ACMI advocate for. They are the most vulnerable.
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