WE’VE LOST HOPE: Chrisa Hickey, A Parent Blogger Responds

Today, Chrisa Hickey, a well-respected advocate and parent blogger  — see The Mindstorm — responds to A Concerned Parent.

Dear Pete,

We have tried to get our son professional help. I think he has bipolar disorder, although he possibly could have schizophrenia. We know he has an alcohol addiction. He has not cooperated with hardly anything, and we’ve been unable to get him to go to our local mental health center, although officials there said he is eligible for treatment.

 We feel like our hands our tied. The few times that we’ve gotten him to a psychiatrist, our son denies that he is sick, won’t take his medicine, and is extremely hostile to doctors for the short time he’s being seen by them. We’ve had him in our house for several months with his erratic moods and high level of anger. Yesterday he asked to go to a homeless shelter and he is now on the streets. If we try to visit him, he runs away.

His dad and I are at the point where we feel resigned that there is no hope nor help for our son. The system has worked against us at every turn … and he needs help. People have recommended “he needs to hit rock bottom” and that we need to wait for him to *want* help. We simply don’t know what to do. Do we wait for him to hit rock bottom on the streets where we know he is not safe?

In our view, the mental health network has been ineffective at best, and is rolling the dice with people’s lives. Now we can see how barriers in the mental illness system keep people from receiving basic services. This has been hell for his dad and me, and I’m sure worse for our son.

If you have any advice please let us know.

A concerned parent.

I can relate to the helplessness you must feel. You didn’t mention how old your son is. My son Tim is 18 years old and, although he was diagnosed as a child, having reached legal adulthood, any say for his care is now mainly in his hands and if he wanted to discontinue his treatment, we wouldn’t have much recourse. You mentioned that your local mental health services center has said your son is eligible for services but he refuses to go and he is defiant to the professionals he has seen. I agree that the mental health services in this country aren’t adequate for the need, but it sounds like there are some services available that your son could take advantage of, if he chose to. In a sense, he’s rolling the dice himself. That has got to be frustrating and frightening.

Chrisa Hickey

I understand the desire to do anything and everything you can do to help your son. If he truly is an immediate danger to himself or others, you absolutely have the right to call the police and have him committed to a psychiatric facility. (Check your state laws first.) I understand the allure of wanting to grab him off the street and slap him into the first available mental hospital for a 72 hour psych hold. There’s plenty of advice, both legal and logistical, on how you can do that if you really feel that’s your only recourse, but 72 hours is a really, really short period of time, and if your son doesn’t demonstrate that he is an immediate threat to himself or others, no hospital in the country will hold him – or legally can hold him – longer than those 72 hours. Then he’d be right back on the street and you’d be no closer to getting him to accept treatment. In the end, the best you can do is to get support for yourself, remind him that you love him, encourage him to stay in contact with you, and let him know you are there to help him find help when he’s is ready to acknowledge he needs it.

The issue that I would be most concerned about is his alcohol abuse. It’s nearly impossible to diagnose any mental health condition if the person in treatment is abusing alcohol or drugs, and, frankly, any treatment or medication would likely be futile while the person is abusing drugs or alcohol, even if an underlying mental health condition is contributing to the substance abuse. Frankly, you are more likely to die of alcoholism than suicide, so I would be encouraging him to enter rehab or attend AA meetings with peers struggling with similar issues.

Speaking of peers, I want to echo Pete’s suggestion that you contact your local NAMI affiliate. Before you can help your son, you need to find help. It’s sort of like putting on an oxygen mask in an airplane. You have to put on your mask before you can help others put on theirs. You are better able to help your son if you seek help for yourself first. As a parent, I’ve found that the most realistic advice I’ve received is from other parents who are in the same situation I’m in. In addition to NAMI’s Family to Family classes I’d highly recommend the family support groups that many affiliates sponsor. Sitting in a room of parents and spouses who are in the same place I was and hearing what they have been through was the first time I really understood that we weren’t alone in this struggle. I want to warn you, some of the stories may scare the bejeezus out of you. They did out of me. And no one there will have all the answers to your questions, but they WILL understand and be able to help you determine the best way you can help your son in your community. They will also be your best source to prevent YOU from developing depression, a common and unfortunate side effect many caregivers of persons with mental illness face. You can demonstrate to your son that asking for help isn’t a weakness when you reach out for help for yourself. I wish you peace.

Chrisa Hickey

Chrisa is a blogger and mental health advocate specializing in providing education and support for parents of children diagnosed with serious mental health conditions. Chrisa began her journey into the world of childhood onset mental illness when her middle child, Timothy, was diagnosed with Emotional Disorder Not Otherwise Specified at age 8, Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Symptoms at the age of 11, and Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type at the age of 14.

Chrisa began blogging when her therapist suggested she journal her feelings and thoughts about raising a child with a severe mental health condition. Her blog, The Mindstorm, catalogs the day-to-day triumphs and tribulations of raising Timothy, as well as articles on fighting mental health stigma, navigating the Special Education system, sibling issues, and parental self-care. Her blog reaches nearly 1,600 readers a week, and has received several acknowledgements, including the Wellsphere Top Health Blogger Award,Mental Health Hero Award, Most Touching Blog from WEGO Health, and it was named one of the Top50 Blogs for Special NeedsTeachers by OnlineUniversities.com.

In addition to writing her blog, Chrisa is also a volunteer support group moderator and blogger for the Balanced Mind Foundation, blogger for BringChange2Mind, and has appeared on Blog Talk Radio for HealthyPlace.com and The Coffee Klatch, an online community for parents raising children with special needs, and is a regular contributor to SupportForSpecialNeeds.com, and WEGO Health . You can follow Chrisa on twitter @ Chrisa_Hickey and follow The Mindstormon Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TheMindstorm.


 Tomorrow: Dr. Tracey Skale, community psychiatrist, answers A Concerned Parent.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. I feel your pain Chrisa.
    Having a 15 year old daughter with bipolar nos, add, and having great difficulty reading social cues, she is lost in a sea of 18 hospitalizations since the age of 7. She is in one right now. Trying to keep her alive is a major challenge since she is a cutter and has suicidal ideation.  Unfortunately, the state of Illinois, ranked 48th in this country for taking care of the mentally ill, does not seem to think she warrants the Illinois Care grant because she is not delusional or psychotic. After all , she has only tried to kill herself twice. 
    She goes to a very good therapeutic day school and has individual therapy and DBT therapy 2x per week, but I just cannot keep her safe and the state does not seem to care.

  2. Mary Peterson says

    I think the only thing I would like to add (as a parent of a bipolar child, and another on the path to possibly worse) is that if he is mentally ill, there is no “rock-bottom” because they aren’t aware they are even down so do not listen to those around you talking about rock bottom or holding out hope he’ll get there and then turn around.  Addiction comes with the territory of mental illness and Chrisa is spot-on that mental illness treatment isn’t all that effective with any drug abuse.  Chrisa is also correct to get to a place that supports family members.  I was personally going down a rabbit hole and didn’t even know it until I stumbled into a support group for parents of children with MI.  Once I was able to talk freely and get direct advice, heck even just a “e-hug” some days, I realized how much of a burden I carried.  I think the only part we differ is that a 72 hour hold, if he’s actively running, it might be paranoia, it could be long enough to demonstrate some questionable behavior so it might be worth talking to a lawyer to see your options and check with state laws on your rights when they are under a psychiatric hold.  Some states, treatment from there can be discussed with next of kin, other states are strictly up to the doctor/patient’s team to make decisions.  Unfortunately, once they are adults, without some serious, serious threats – it’s very difficult to force anyone to get treatment or help you get them treatment as parents.  It’s an issue we parents struggle with every day as they “age out” of our care.