Mental Illness is Not My Problem
I went to visit friends in Florida this past weekend. As I fly home sitting between my son and my husband, I am full of sadness and worry. Though this was a planned trip one month in advance, there were things that happened that were unplanned and yet familiar on so many levels.
On New Year's Day, our friends’ son took an overdose of antipsychotics. He suffers from Bipolar Disorder. It was triple his usual dose. He had cut it up into a powdery substance and inhaled it up his nose. The tremors and seizures started within minutes. He wanted to die, later telling his parents he did not want to worry them any longer. He has suffered from several severe mental illnesses for fifteen years, and more recently an addiction to multiple drugs and alcohol. (1) At the age of twenty-nine he has only known joy when writing and playing music. But when he writes and plays his guitar all night, he misses his medication and then uses drugs to get some sleep. This has been his pattern for years with occasional drug rehabilitation and psychiatric treatment.
John is too sick to work, he has very few interests and sadly is aware of the type of life he has wanted will never occur, such as working and having friends and his own family.
So, on January 1st he was hospitalized again. My family arrived on January 7th for our visit, several days after the initial crisis, but there was more fall out. John’s father went to his apartment to chase out all of the other drug abusers that had been crashing there, paying off dealers to go away, changing the locks, retrieving his car and transferring him to a hospital to medically stabilize him. They moved through the steps quite easily as history has not been kind and they know the routine.
I could complain about the cold weather, no trip to the beach, missing an opportunity to sit in the jacuzzi while sipping wine, but none of that really mattered. It just didn't. My friends built a beautiful new home with lovely furnishings and all the comforts anyone could ask for, but it will never be peaceful nor tranquil in their retirement. This is the life they have known for years having the burden that comes with raising two children with severe mental illnesses.
The rest of our visit was mostly to enjoy their company, tour their new home and community, and offer them support. Our families have done this for years going back and forth with different crises including several completed suicides.
Their 26-year-old daughter Jennifer just got married and she and her husband stopped over for a campfire the night we arrived. I’ve known the family for twelve years living from crisis to crisis. Though Jen also has mental illness she is stable on medication, graduated from nursing school and found a great job. Jennifer’s husband however just finished work in the military and now suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks. They have had some challenging times as a young couple, and he has applied for disability. He is 27 and his dream was to work in computer science. But serving our country erased that dream and replaced it with flashbacks and debilitating anxiety. If he does not get approved for disability they will need welfare and support from multiple resources. Thank you for your service.
The evening went without a hitch and though we talked a lot about getting the boys treatment we also laughed, shared snacks and had good conversation.
The next morning, as my husband and I finished our cup of coffee for the road, we heard my friend Meryl’s voice getting louder and louder in another area of the house. She then walked into the kitchen motioning she was on the phone with her daughter. Her son-in-law James was extremely agitated, threatening to hurt their cat and complaining of shortness of breath. He had been to the hospital the week before for a panic attack, and though they have no health insurance, he needed to go back to the hospital again, but this time it was clear he was suffering from more than post-traumatic stress disorder and we all knew it. There was a heavy silence in the room. They now had three children to help manage serious mental illness. Thank you for your service.
We left for the airport at the same time they left for their daughter’s apartment. We were on our way to the Tampa airport, and they were on their way to take their son-in-law to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation six days after they took their son. My heart ached for them.
Some people think a story like this is unusual perhaps something infrequent. And yet it is not. It is a common story our families hide and suffer in silence, fighting for quality services, respectful professionals and relief from horrific and painful suffering of loved ones.
We started our trip the day after the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting January 2017. On the way down the only thing notable was an increase in security. On the way home I thought about our weekend and again the Ft. Lauderdale shooting. The shooter Friday afternoon had killed five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
In November. He paid a visit to the FBI office in Anchorage, telling agents he was hearing voices and being directed by a US intelligence agency to watch ISIS videos, law enforcement sources told CNN. Two teams of doctors at different jails had diagnosed him with two psychotic illnesses: schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, according to his defense attorneys. (2) Both conditions, when not treated correctly, can result in hallucinations and delusions, mania, depression and other symptoms. He had not received treatment when he asked for help. Thank you for your service.
The military said he had nine years of service in the National Guard including one 10-month tour of Iraq, where he was awarded a combat action badge.
"His mind was not right," the aunt said in a phone interview in Spanish from her home in New Jersey. "He seemed normal at times, but other times he seemed lost. He changed." She added, "He talked about all the destruction and the killing of children. He had visions all the time."
The storyline of that shooting if someone were to write it accurately would read:
Young man honorably serves our country The United States of America.
Young man returns after serving our country, The United States of America, in poor mental health requiring psychiatric care for symptoms of hallucinations and delusions, but remains unstable and untreated, unsafe to himself and others.
Young man who served our country, The United States of America is discharged from psychiatric hospital.
Young man after serving our country, The United States of America, suffering with unstable mental illnesses travels to an airport committing murder in a severe episode of homicidal symptoms,
Young man who served our country, The United States of America found guilty with the death penalty as a possibility in his future.
Our people citizens of The United States of America are killing themselves.
Our people citizens of The United States of America are killing each other.
What do we tell ourselves when our soldiers survive battle in other countries, but are put to death by our own?
Thank you for your service!
Mental Illness is not my problem. Mental illness is everybody's problem. Why does it seem like it's nobody's problem?
1) Over 2 million Americans have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade and increasing numbers are returning home with complex mental and behavioral health challenges. – American Psychological Association.
2) It is estimated that about 17.5 million Americans over the age of 18 (or 8 percent of the adult population) had a serious mental health disorder in the past year. Of these, about 4 million people also struggled with a co-occurring drug or alcohol dependency. In the span of six years, the percentage of patients in drug rehab seeking help for addiction issues who were also diagnosed with a co-occurring mental health disorder increased from 12 percent to 16 percent. -Foundations Recovery Network.