Our 30 year old son is bipolar. He was diagnosed in May, 2007, when he had his first manic episode. We run a small business in Fort Worth, and have never been able to afford health insurance for our family. The only option we had to get our son to a safe place when he was manic was to go to John Peter Smith Hospital, which is so overwhelmed with patients that they usually do not have a place available for him for longer than 24 hours or so in Psyche ER (unless he is considered ‘a danger to himself or others’) . We finally (after several attempts to get him admitted) had to get a judge to sign a commitment order so the police picked him up and he was eventually committed to the state hospital.
This scenario has cyclically repeated itself over the years. Once, when he was in the state hospital in Wichita Falls, the social worker applied for disability, and he qualified. He has been getting disability for over 3 years now, and that means that last summer he also was able to receive medicare.
Since he had insurance last fall, as soon as he realized a manic episode was coming on, he was able to get admitted to a private facility, and was admitted to Millwood, Sundance and Springwood Hospitals in Texas and several hospitals in other states. (Btw, before last fall, he was attending classes at TCC and making very good grades, but has not recovered enough during this last year to be motivated to go back to school.)
When he was admitted to Millwood and Sundance, they immediately took him off the medications that he had been on (which was basically the same for all the years since first being diagnosed) and put him on a different drug, to which he did not respond. They discharged him anyway, however, after a certain number of days — 10 or 11 — because ‘medicare doesn’t like it for him to be an inpatient longer than that.’
Each time, he got worse after being hospitalized, the mania escalated into psychosis, and it was up to us to figure out what to do, because the hospital would not readmit him, until finally the episode was over, with him back on the same medication that he had been on prior to becoming manic.
During the most recent manic episode this spring, he connected with some ‘friends’ from his past, and got some marijuana (his ‘drug of choice’ when he self-medicated in the past) and another drug from them. When he was walking along the street, with these drugs in his backpack, and saw a police car, he turned himself in to them. He believed this to be the ‘right thing’ to do, and, since I was unable to come pick him up when the policeman called me, he was taken to jail and is now dealing with the consequences of being charged with drug possession. He may not be able to get a job, with this on his record. He was asking for help. He was not in his right mind when this happened, but the help he needed was not available. He was in the middle of a manic episode (he was hospitalized both prior to the incident and for several weeks after). He is being penalized as a result of his illness.
He was an MHMR patient from the time he was first diagnosed and hospitalized until recently. He always takes his medication and does not use any kind of drugs or alcohol between episodes. His doctor at MHMR refused to take ‘walk in’ patients, so if our son felt a manic episode coming on, he was told to go to JPS, which, as I said above, was not able to treat him adequately unless he became ‘a danger to himself or others.’ This aspect of the mental health system did not provide support or planning. This is most probably due to lack of funding and being overwhelmed with patients.
The police at the Arlington City Jail told us that 25% of their inmates would not be there if the mental health care system was adequate. I have seen this same figure in stories about jails across the country.
The private system also does not provide adequate care and support so far, because no one even wants to take his history from us!
We are all in ‘waiting’ mode again now, between episodes, because we do not know where to turn for help. From everything I read, the mental health care system all over the country is the same.
Every time I hear on the news that there has been a tragic shooting and that the shooter is mentally ill, I can’t help but think that this person most likely asked for help, like our son does each time, before it got to the point where they took a gun to other people and then (usually) to themselves. A person in their right mind does not do these things. And, most mentally ill people want help at some point in their illness. If help was readily available to them at that point, our whole society would benefit.