Mary Jane has an elderly father. She has watched as his mental capacity has faded. She often stands outside his bedroom doorway and listens to him have conversations with her deceased mother. Recently she awoke at three o’clock in the morning to find the front door wide open and her father missing from the house. She called 911 and they found her father a few blocks away, sitting on a park bench in his pajamas, having a conversation with someone only he could see.
She knows in her heart he is no longer safe with her. The police explained when they brought him home that she would have to start thinking about putting him in an assisted living situation. She doesn’t like that thought, but she knows in her heart he will be safer there.
Three days ago, the neighbor came home to find her father sitting on the porch swing in the back yard. They asked him what he was doing. He stared off into space as if he didn’t even hear them speaking. They lovingly took the elderly man by the hand and walked him home. Mary was embarrassed that he had slipped away unnoticed. The neighbor assured her that he understood and told her he would be watching out for him in the future.
Mary has talked to her other siblings and they have decided it is time for him to go to some place safer. A place where trained professionals will keep him safe in an environment that caters to his specific brain disease. Its a hard decision, but the family is sure it is the right one. Mary Jane and her family get to pick between a dozen facilities that are all equally welcoming and well staffed. Transitioning her father from home to facility is easy and seamless. Now her father is safe and Mary Jane can sleep at night.
Mary Jane has a 22 year old son who recently started acting different. He returned unexpectedly from school and refuses to go back. He no longer takes a shower, stays up all night, and roams around the streets laughing and talking to himself. She doesn’t understand what is wrong. For a moment she wonders if he is on drugs, or having problems with his grades. She contacts the school and learns that his behavior there had been even more bizarre. He had jumped up in the middle of a laboratory and told the whole class he was the President of The United States and he was on a mission to save the world. Everyone laughed and he ran away. The school had wondered what had happened to him.
She decided to make a phone call to get him to a counselor. She told them on the phone he wasn’t himself. They couldn’t see him until next month, and her insurance was not going to cover the visit. She agreed and hung up. His behavior became stranger and she could hear him laughing and talking to someone day and night in his room. She came home from work to find him sleeping in the hedgerow in front of their house. She woke him up and asked him what he was doing. He replied “It is too hot in the house”. Mary goes in to find that he has turned the furnace on full blast. He lit all the burners on the gas stove and the house feels like an oven.
She calls the psychiatrist office and asks if there is any way to see them sooner. They ask if her son has tried to harm himself or is threatening others. She says no. They say that they can’t do anything to intervene and that it will just have to wait till he sees the doctor in 3 weeks.
Mary doesn’t understand what has happened to her son. She feels afraid to leave him while she goes to work. Everyday she comes home to find something else he has taken apart to keep “them” from watching him. He removed all of the smoke detectors, put a blanket over the TV and hung sheets over all the windows.
One day while at work she gets a phone call from the local police department. The officer tells her that her son had wandered into the neighbors back yard and entered into their home through their sliding glass door. They came home to find him eating a bowl of cereal and watching TV. When they asked him what he was doing he replied “I’m saving the world”. They called the police.
Mary asked if they had brought her son back to her house. The police officer replied “no ma’am your son is in jail”. He has been charged with felony home invasion. In disbelief she asks what she can do. The officer says not much. She tells them that her son has not been himself lately and that he had an upcoming doctors appointment. The officer tells her that due to HIPPA laws he can’t discuss anything with her concerning her sons mental or physical state without him filling out the proper forms. She is also not allowed to speak to him, she will have to wait for him to call.
Mary calls the family lawyer. When she gets home the neighbors are outside washing their car and they stare at her with disdain. She walks over to try to apologize but the wife rudely interrupts her. “Your son broke into our house and we are pressing charges” she says without any compassion to her tone. “He hasn’t been well lately” Mary retorts, “I had made him an appointment to see a doctor”. The wife interrupts again “I don’t care why he did it. You don’t go into other people’s houses, we feel violated”. Mary decides its best to just go home and try to figure out what she can do for her son.
The lawyer helps Mary bail her son out the following day. His mental capacity has severely declined now. Mary puts him in the car and decides to take him to the emergency room. They will help she is sure. She watches as her son’s flat expressionless face stares out the windshield. She asks him about jail. He just looks forward. As they pull into the hospital her son asks her why she has brought him here. Doesn’t she know this is where they kill people? She tells him that she just wants to get him some help. He screams at her and tells her they will kill him if he goes inside.
She parks the car and goes inside to get someone to help bring him inside. She explains to the front desk what is going on. “How old is he?” the nurse asks. “22” Mary replies. “Do you have guardianship over him?” she asks looking down at her computer screen. Mary is confused “what is guardianship?” “Well since he is 22, unless he walks in here and agrees to be seen and treated, I can do nothing for him or you, unless you have guardianship or if he has tried to hurt himself or someone else” she replied in a flat almost robotic tone. “I don’t have that, how do I get that?” Mary asked. “You have to go to court, and prove he is mentally incompetent to make his own decisions” she says finally looking up at Mary from behind the front desk. “I don’t have that and I don’t have time like that, there is something seriously wrong with my son” Mary pleads with the nurse. “If he won’t come in here, I can’t send anyone out there to get him, I’m sorry…its the law ma’am” the nurse put her eyes back down to her computer screen.
Mary returns to the car to find her son’s door wide open and him missing. Her heart sinks. She drives around the neighborhood looking for him and finds him sitting under a tree in someone’s yard. She begs him to get in the car. He says “I don’t trust you – you work for them.” She tells him if he gets in the car she will take him to the place where he can save the world. “You promise?” he cautiously asks. Choking back tears she says “I promise.” She drives home and calls her boss and tells him she has to take off some time from work because her son is ill.
She calls the psychiatrists office again. They repeat the whole “until he hurts himself or others there is nothing we can do” line she has grown to hate. She tells her son to take a bath and relax because he didn’t get one in jail. She hears the bath water running upstairs and decides to try to relax herself. After a half hour the bath water is still running and she goes to see why. The carpet in the hall is soaking wet as water is running out from under the bathroom door. She calls her son’s name. No answer. She opens the door to find the bathroom empty, tub overflowing, and the window opened. She looks out and sees her sons crumpled body lying on the lawn below. She runs downstairs, grabbing the phone on the way out the door, she dials 911.
Thankfully he is still alive when she reaches him. The ambulance comes and they take him kicking and screaming to the hospital. She follows him to the hospital, crying all the way there. She doesn’t understand what has happened to her son. She also doesn’t understand why it is so hard to get anyone to help him. At the hospital he is involuntarily committed.
This is what it took for him to get help. He had to almost die. There are not facilities that cater to the psychiatric needs of those who suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder as there are for Alzheimer’s or Dementia patients. Although all of these diseases prevent the sufferer from being able to make informed decisions about their own care, only the elderly are protected in our society. There are nursing homes, assisted living and group homes for the elderly with psychiatric diseases. Places to keep them safe and serve their specialized needs.
But those that are afflicted early on in life by diseases like schizophrenia or bipolar have no long-term sustainable options. They are too sick to acknowledge they need help and the state will not force help on them. They will allow them to become homeless, often living in dangerous conditions, where they are preyed upon by other people because they have mental illnesses. Being robbed, raped or murdered in the states eyes is better than being involuntarily committed to a hospital where you receive treatment that brings you back to a state of wellness. Treatment can bring you back to a mental capacity where you can make informed decisions about your care.
In the United States of America if you develop a brain disease like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder which ultimately destroys your ability to recognize reality you will suffer one of three fates. You will go to jail. You will become homeless. Or you will spend your life being admitted and released from temporary psychiatric centers that are mostly equipped to keep a patient for about 3 days.
There are no long-term facilities anymore, we have replaced those with jails and prisons. Here those suffering from serious mental illnesses are warehoused for crimes that should be overlooked because of their diseases. They are booked on felony home invasion for entering the neighbor’s house in states of confusion. I know of a young man facing felony kidnapping charges in Florida for getting in the wrong car while in psychosis. My own son sits accused of “Attempted Murder with a Weapon” in Florida for an alleged incident with a comb while he was admitted to the hospital on an Involuntary Committment. The charges are always harsh and they sit there for years in jail cells before trials even can begin because they are often too sick to defend themselves.That seems so unfair. You have a biological brain disease. You should be allowed to receive the same standard of care and compassion that all ill people do in America.
So please someone tell me…what is the difference between Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Multiple sclerosis that makes getting treatment so complicated and hard to get? The effects of schizophrenia are not just “hearing voices” as has been popularly portrayed. This disease effects every aspect of the person living with it. Cognitive damage will occur in the loss of memory, inability to organize thoughts, or even convey ideas. They will often find themselves living in alter realities, where they can see and hear things that we can not. This is a debilitating disease that is very hard to live with. It becomes even harder when society wants to punish you for becoming ill.
One day, you wake up, and your brain has forsaken you. It is only reasonable to assume that you should be able to receive care with dignity. All humans deserve dignity, especially those that are suffering from chronic illnesses.