Her Son Said She Was Homeless, Mentally Ill, Living In A Car. The Response: “Technically, She Has A Roof Over Her Head.”

 (4-2-18) For some time, Mike Gaeta, has been chronicling his attempts to help his mother, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He informed me his mother died recently, becoming yet another victim of untreated mental illness and our failed system. 

Tribute: My Beautiful Mom Showed Me What Strength and Courage Are

By Mike Gaeta  first published on his blog: Benevolent Neglect.

The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.” –Michel Foucault

Despite my family’s best efforts to care for her and make sure she received adequate medical and mental health treatment, my beautiful mama passed away prematurely  at the age of 66.

My mom at around eleven years old

My mom was the daughter of Mexican immigrant farm workers and the youngest of eight children. She graduated from high-school and received her Associate’s Degree from Fresno City College, despite having to work in the fields with her family starting from a young age. She would marry her high-school sweetheart, my father, shortly after his return from the Vietnam War.

My mom was a devoted wife, mom, sister and aunt and would defend her family fiercely from all injustices and dangers. One of my earliest memories of her protecting me involves her confronting an older boy who was bullying me when I was in first grade. In talking with him, she convinced the older boy to act as a bodyguard for me against any further bullying from anybody.

When she was not busy working or advocating for us in our schools, my mom enjoyed hosting and feeding extended family and our friends. Whether with her lasagna or albondigas soup, my mom would regularly showcase her excellent cooking skills. Her menudo was particularly good. To this day, my dad adamantly says he has never had menudo as good as my mom’s. In recent weeks, my cousins have reminded me how central my mom’s love, charisma and generosity were to our larger family’s closeness and happiness.

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An Update: Frustrated Mother Is Skeptical, But Clinging to Hope For Her Ill Son

(3-29-18)  I posted a March 20th blog that received an unusually high number of hits and more than 150 shares.

I suspect this is because many of you identified with the impassioned plea for treatment from a mother trying to help her 22 year-old son. Frustrated Mother Outlines Son’s Mental Illness For Commitment Judge. When Will Our Leaders Do Something To End Our Children’s Suffering? 

I received so many emails asking about the outcome of the commitment hearing that I am posting an update. Again, I want to thank this mother for her courage in speaking out and praise her for the deep love that she has for her son.

Dear Pete

The judge ordered my son held for “up to 14 days.” Some friends and family tried to help us celebrate this as though it were a victory. To be clear, we were relieved. This hold was the only option available in that hospital court room that made any sense at all. But it’s hard to celebrate that indeed our son met criteria as an individual who is “an imminent danger to others” and who is “gravely disabled” because he is utterly incapable of managing himself in the world. Yes, this disabling brain illness finally got him the chance for maybe two weeks of treatment. If he shows signs that the treatment actually starts to work, the hospital will most likely release him before he’s even close to well or ready to manage this extreme impairment on his own.

Our son has been calling from the hospital phone, eager to share that he can’t wait to get out and that this was all a terrible misunderstanding: He was never going to hurt anyone. He believes this to be the truth because he has state-dependent memory. He has no idea where brain illness took him, and he still doesn’t really believe that he has an illness. And we know the hospital won’t teach him that, because they never have. And every sign that he is improving is a warning to us that this reprieve will be short and our ride through chaos will likely start again soon.

If the outcome is different and the hospital helps him learn to understand and sets him up in a program with housing and supports that are at least calculated to succeed we will be amazed and probably collapse with gratitude. We are not holding our breath.

Those of us who have walked down this road understand why this mom is skeptical. This is why we must continue speaking and demand meaningful reforms. No family should have to go through this and, yet, everyday someone does.

Everything Here Is Beautiful: A Unique Novel About Sisters, Immigrants & Mental Illness

(3-26-18) Ever since Bebe Moore Campbell’s death in 2006, the mental health community has  been desperately in need of a skilled novelist who can write a captivating story that offers readers a realistic portrait of mental illness while educating and entertaining them.

Such a novelist and a book are needed because novels reach a wide swath of Americans who would not be the slightest bit interested mental illnesses. Great novels can be timeless and speak to multiple generations.

The search has ended.

Mira T. Lee and her debut novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful, hits all the right marks.

First a word about Bebe Moore Campbell. Her first children’s book, Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, established her as a creative and credible writer about mental illness. It won the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Outstanding Literature Award for 2003. As the title suggests, her children’s book is about a little girl who has to cope with her mentally ill mother.

A key reason why Ms. Campbell could write so authentically was because she had mental illness in her family, a topic she further explored in her fictional 72 Hour Hold. She was well-known and well-respected in the NAMI community, having helped found the NAMI-Inglewood chapter.

I greatly admired Ms. Campbell’s writing, courage, frankness and willingness to help others – including me. Before brain cancer ended her life, she wrote a complimentary blurb for the cover of my book CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.

To me, her’s were big shoes to fill. It isn’t easy to write about mental illness in fiction, especially if a seriously mentally ill character and the overall narrative does not fit nicely with the stereotypical, happy, redemptive ending that publishers and readers often prefer.

If writing about mental illness realistically isn’t enough of a challenge, try writing a book that doesn’t feature white, middle-class Americans as its main characters, but focuses on minorities and deals with such issues as immigration and how different cultures view mental disorders. Now consider that you have never before published a novel.

Mira T. Lee, who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not only takes on all of these challenges, but conquers each with aplomb in Everything Here Is Beautiful. (Yes, I am repeating the title, because I don’t want you to forget it.)

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Frustrated Mother Outlines Son’s Mental Illness For Commitment Judge. When Will Our Leaders Do Something To End Our Children’s Suffering?

(3-20-18) A mother’s testimony to be delivered today (Wednesday) before a judge who will decide if her 22 year-old seriously mentally ill son will be hospitalized. This plea tells much about our broken system and, quite frankly, makes me angry. This letter is representative of what happens every week in our country. We’ve got to do better. Lives are being destroyed.)

Your honor,

In one of my hundreds of calls to crisis during the past three years, a clinician asked me, “What is it that you want?” My answer was clear:

I want my son to receive treatment in a safe environment, under the care of a qualified physician, with sophisticated medication management and therapy and enough time to determine whether the treatment is working.

The clinician laughed and said flatly, “You will never get that.”

Sadly, she has been correct.

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Forced Commitment Might Have Stopped School Shooting, AP reports. Also, A Father Inside View Of A Backward System

(3-19-18)  During the weekend, the Associated Press reported that authorities in Parkland, Florida,  sought to involuntarily commit the alleged school shooter there several times more than a year before he opened fire, killing 17 with an assault rifle and wounding 17 more . A commitment under the law would have made it more difficult, if not impossible, for Nikolas Cruz to obtain a gun legally. 

A New York Times OP ED by advocate Normal J. Ornstein, whom I greatly admire, specifically discusses what happened in his family in Florida after Ornstein used the Baker Act to hospitalize his son. 

Meanwhile, The Washington Post published a front page story entitled, “I’m constantly asking: Why? When mass shootings end, the painful wait for answers begins. Earlier in that same week, D. J. Jaffe, author of Insane Consequences, and no stranger to causing controversy, published an Op Ed in the Post under the title: “Don’t deny the link between serious mental illness and violence.”  Jaffe wrote that untreated Americans with serious mental illnesses are, in fact, more dangerous, an unpopular view that others have challenged. He also repeated his call for six changes: 1. more hospital beds, 2. not using dangerousness as the primary criteria for involuntary commitment, 3. adoption and better funding for Assisted Outpatient Treatment, 4. modifying HIPAA so that parents and other caregivers are kept informed by medical providers, 5. using “red flag” orders to remove firearms from persons with mental illnesses, and 6. reining in the federally funded, state administered Protection and Advocacy groups (PAIMI), that often fight to get individuals out of hospitals arguably before they are ready. 

Ever since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., law enforcement and other officials have been calling for changes in the Baker Act, a Florida law that allows involuntary commitment for 72 hours of people who are an imminent danger to themselves or others. If the Baker Act had been easier to deploy, they think, Nikolas Cruz, the accused shooter, would have been taken and treated before his horrible act.

However this law may be reformed, it will never be able to get people with serious mental illness the treatment they need.

I know something about the Baker Act. About halfway through my son Matthew’s decade-long struggle with serious mental illness, my wife and I invoked the Baker Act against him.

This kind, brilliant, thoughtful young man, who experienced the sudden onset of mental illness at age 24, was living in a small condominium we owned near Sarasota, Fla. One day the manager called us with alarming allegations about his behavior and insisted that Matthew was in immediate danger.

In a panic, we flew to Sarasota, went to the courthouse and filled out the forms to invoke the Baker Act. It was surprisingly easy.

When we got to the condo, Matthew was already gone.

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John Oliver Uses Humor To Focus Attention On The Need For Mental Health Reform

(3-16-18) From My Files Friday: I posted this segment about the need for mental health reform by John Oliver three years ago and it remains one of the best.