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MENTAL ILLNESS: What about the sickest?

Letter by Betty Halsey Moorhead, University Place on Feb. 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm with 8 Comments »
February 8, 2011 1:38 pm

Re: “Hope in mental care” (TNT, 2-6).

With a great deal of interest I read your article on new “for profit” systems to treat our mentally ill population.

I’m the mother of a 52-year-old son who was first hospitalized and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 17. Sad to say, he belongs to the group of mentally ill people who not only have the most serious form of illness but are also the most difficult to treat. A large part of the time they are too ill to cooperate in their treatment and spend a lot of their lives living on the streets.

Nowhere in the long article did I read anything pertaining to services for this group.

I’ve had 35 years experience in three states (Alaska, California and Washington) trying to obtain and keep services available for my son. When he has been provided a case manager who sees him regularly, he always does much better.
For the last several years, case management services have not been available for him for one reason or another, and without it he has not been able to keep a roof over his head, living on the streets much of the time.

Hospital ERs might just as well have revolving doors because my son uses them for everything from a headache to a full-blown episode of paranoia. His symptoms are such that it is impossible for his loving family to care for him.

Dare I hope for change?

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  1. A very misleading article – I agree very strongly with Betty’s comments. In the article it states that the young man assisting the other man in the photo was recovering from bipolar illness. You never “recover” when you are bipolar. You might “stabilize”, but you never “recover”. My son is bipolar and we have learned first hand about what doesn’t exist within the system to help those with mental illnesses. From fighting with DSHS and the SS administration to the U.S. military as my son was discharged from being active duty in the military by having them declare his diagnosis as pre-existing, meaning they didn’t do A THING for him when they threw him out after nearly four years of service. This one location with the few beds to help those in the deepest crisis won’t even be a drop in the bucket for all of those who need care. There needs to be a lot more than this in order to make any impact upon all of those struggling with mental illness (including whatever support systems they might have).

  2. BlaineCGarver says:

    Betty…..I’m asking because I don’t know…..can’t he be commited? If he is that far gone, why not?

  3. cclngthr says:

    BlaineCGarver,
    Committing a person involuntary has to comply with federal law, which is not as easy as you think to get around. The reason for this is the state will determine if the person is fully able, or partially able to function independently. If the person is able to function independently if medication is taken, then the person is ineligible for certain services, or assistance because with medication, the person is now able to function independently and it is assumed the person can maintain that level on their own.

    snarl2,
    The problem with state and federal benefits is as long as the person is maintaining the level of behavior and on medication, they typically are not eligible for services because when the person is maintaining that level of behavior, the state assumes the person can do it on their own. For example, I need ongoing PT due to my disability, but PT services are only available on a medically necessary basis, and not on a long term basis because that is assumed I can do that on my own. However that said, like with medication and behavior over time, changes have to be made on a regular basis.

  4. Publico says:

    If I had to guess, it would be that caring for the mentally ill would cost less if done up front through a national healthcare system than piece meal and mostly after the fact as we do now.
    I would say the same for treating gang problems. It reminds me of the old engine oil ad; pay me now or pay me later. Guess which costs less?

  5. Good comments.

  6. cclngthr says:

    Publico,
    For one thing, the mental health system is not set up where services are readily available easy. It never has been good, many people, including children with mental illnesses are placed in the DOC system because there are no services that meet their needs. They can’t be committed because of their illness unless they do something that puts them in danger to others or themselves. Even then, they have to be integrated into society at some point.

  7. fatuous says:

    “A large part of the time they are too ill to cooperate in their treatment and spend a lot of their lives living on the streets.”

    That’s pretty scary for a mom. Your child is very vulnerable to predators and being killed by the police.

    I hope you are involved in an organization that deals with your son’s illness and have made appointments to talk to your legislators, both federal and state.

  8. poll2020 says:

    Ms. Moorhead is right on the money.

    Before I tell my story, I’m wondering if the success of the county system has to do with keeping people out of it. Read below:

    My 65 year old relative, even with a VA pension and a case worker through the VA, got off his meds somehow, spiraled downhill, and we couldn’t get him involuntarily committed until after he’d gone to the hospital a few times (someone called 911 and he was billed both for hospital and ambulance costs), and then finally ended up in jail for the first time in his life (for something like trespassing, which was dismissed). But jail still didn’t qualify him! We let him sit in jail in hopes the MHP’s (mental health professionals) would commit him, but he answered their questions too well.

    He’s been disabled so long that he doesn’t have enough credits to qualify for medicare or social security, so even though everyone thinks the elderly are taken care of, the sickest still are not.

    It seems that if people cycle through various systems long enough (think about how much just the above scenario cost!), they just need to finally be committed. But, in our anti-tax, everyone thinking about themselves country, people seem to think it’s the sick person’s fault, or that the family should take them in. I’m guessing that Ms. Moorhead’s son is probably not someone who can be taken in, much like my relative. While we care about him very much, taking him in would tear my nuclear family apart. The families have done too much already for some of these people, and the resources are out of our reach. There are some people who really are broken, and to get them into a stable environment would be the best option.

    Involuntary commitment laws have swung too far in the “patient’s rights” direction – they get to exercise their rights even when they aren’t in their right mind. It’s SO extraordinarily difficult to get people committed (not enough beds, I’m sure MHP’s are tasked with keeping as many people out as possible), but we’ve got to do something about it.

    The Treatment Advocacy Center, whose representatives were recently seen on talk shows after the Tucson shooting, is a place to start: http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/

    I also think that if ONE government entity actually was responsible for all these charges such as my relative’s, something would be done. As it is, his costs are spread around too much for anyone to notice: The county jail system, private hospital and ambulance, VA, the county private mental system profiled in the article, the state mental hospital.

    I’m so sorry for many families’ situations. If it weren’t for the VA pension, my relative would be out on the street.

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