I receive dozens of emails a week from family members who are frustrated by our failed mental health system. All of them are poignant. Here is a recent one that I found especially compelling.
Hi Pete Earley,
…I came across your book while looking for a source of comfort during my own family’s time of need. Two months ago, my dad was finally forced into treatment for his undiagnosed severe bipolar disorder and coexisting extreme alcoholism. My mother and I (I am an only child) have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get him help.
In order for him to finally be involuntary subjected to treatment, he had to have a major traumatic psychotic episode. He had a previous psychotic episode earlier this year that landed him in a mental health facility for one week. But the latest one proved even more traumatic to all of us.
My father was in Las Vegas and within hours after landing his deluded mind told him he had won 146 million dollars at a casino. It took two phone calls to 911 to get help. The first time the police refused to intervene and suggested my father drink juice to get better. The second call came after he was spotted walking around naked and couldn’t remember what had happened last week. The police finally succumbed to our pleas.
It took 9 men and 2 women to sedate him. After one week, my mother was going broke due to the cab fare to visit him in the hospital and the 500 dollar charge that he had racked up at the minibar prior to his hospitalization. The hospital released him under the condition that he would get treatment upon returning home to the East Coast. When he got here, he went to a mandatory appointment with his primary care doctor who shrugged the whole thing off and told him he just needed to attend AA.
My mother and I were livid. What did it take for the “experts” to listen to us?
What it took was him going completely psychotic.
On a Thursday morning, my father was acting more manic than usual. My mother took him to a 24 hour mental health crisis center but they turned her away – stating that she was kidnapping him. She needed to get a judge to approve it if she wanted him admitted, as if she could do that in time to save him from going completely insane! Less than 3 hours later, my mother was forced to escape from her own house.
After my mother fled, my father accidentally locked himself out of the house and broke a window to get back inside. He cut his foot on the broken glass on the floor and then ran all over the house with a foot that was bleeding profusely… He covered my parents’ entire house with blood. .. He turned on the shower and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off so he thought the house was trying to drown him. He ripped up 2 toilets, broke a window, broke a mirror, short circuited half the electricity to the house, broke a pipe, flipped his bed (to preserve his life) and cut off all running water.
My mother called the police’s nonemergency hotline and asked them to check on him. When they got there the house was destroyed and he was taken to the hospital via ambulance. He was in the Alzheimer’s unit for a couple of days before they realized his problem was psychological instead of memory related.
I wasn’t allowed any information on my father’s hospitalization until he had been there for weeks because he was too mentally unstable to figure out how to sign his name to release his information to me and by law they weren’t allowed to even confirm that he was in the hospital. They could not acknowledge it even though he was calling me 6 times a day from the psych ward, saying that he was being released (which was terrifying and untrue, but I couldn’t verify it).
I took a video on my phone of the house for evidence if we needed to force him into treatment and the next day called a crime scene clean up company that cleans up scenes for our state police. Its cleaners said they had cleaned up triple homicides and had never seen so much blood. The area supervisor had tears in his eyes when he saw the house and said, “This isn’t just alcoholism, this is bipolar. I know because my brother has it and I have had to pick up from the streets of Boston where he likes to wander around in nothing but his underwear.”
Not one of the psychologists, therapists, doctors, or counselors ever diagnosed him with bipolar disorder even though all the evidence was there. I knew what it was because he had given me this illness.
Like you, I refuse to sit around and despair about our challenges. A few weeks ago I did a presentation on ‘Mental Illness and Substance Abuse’ for my graduate course. My fellow classmates said I was very brave for admitting I have bipolar because it is so stigmatized, but I wanted to show that not all people with the disorder are violent monsters or whacked out homeless beggars. I am a 3rd grade teacher getting a Master’s in Moderate Special Needs and from the time I was 15 years old to the present I went 9 years without any medication. After my dad’s hospitalization, the stress that his destruction put on my family caused me to ask my doctor for bipolar meds because the stress of my father’s mental illness was triggering mania in myself. I don’t suggest that people with this disorder go without taking medication, I only did so because I have type II and can always detect the symptoms and solve them before things get out of control.
At 24 years old, I know my battle is not over, but I consider myself a success story and my major goal in life is to never let my illness control me. I hope that gives you faith that mental illness doesn’t have to be a death sentence for all its victims.