“Mental Illness, the way we treat it is insane.” A popular motto from NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness. This is a very true statement in my brother’s experience in trying to receive adequate mental health care. There are countless situations throughout his life since he was diagnosed when he was 17 years old, (he is now 42), where the system has failed miserably. The most upsetting thing is the pure lack of respect he has experienced at the hands of those hired to help him. Doctors and other health care professionals treating him as if he has no feelings or intellect. He is very perceptive and knows when someone is disrespecting him. He was denied the proper medication by one doctor because it was “too expensive” for the rinky dink clinic up in the hills of North Georgia where he lives. There are hardly any centers or programs for people like Terry, especially where he lives. The cities you will find more psychiatric hospitals but the care is still minimal. Once they are discharged, depending on how much the insurance is willing to pay, they are sent back into the world, many times without proper support or follow up treatment. This become a revolving door with patients returning to the hospital over and over again because they are not able to remain stable in the environments they return to when they leave the hospital. I have seen this time and time again working in a psychiatric hospital myself.
The latest example of the lack of empathy from the mental health care professionals that are paid to take care of him still infuriates me. Due to budget cuts at the only mental health clinic for several counties, there is no longer an actual nurse to see clients. Patients are seen “virtually” by a nurse through an online service. Now take into account that my brother is super paranoid, especially of cameras and thinking people are constantly surveying and spying on him. So you’re going to try and see him through a screen when he already thinks people are watching him through his own TV? Makes sense. Of course he blew up and started yelling all kinds of obscenities and ran out of the room as fast as he could. And guess what? He is required to see this “virtual nurse” in order to get his medications. Great system, very insightful to the needs of those with paranoid schizophrenia I’d say. Terry has been tossed in and out of hospitals, treated like he is dumb. The last doctor he had was very nice and actually cared which is very rare in his experience. I know doctors are overloaded with too many patients and not enough time to spend with them, and it’s the systems fault. But many doctors also seem to lack the empathy required in working with people with mental illness.
I am not sure where the mental health system is headed, it’s always been at the bottom of the list as far as funding and it’s always the first thing to be cut. But the consequences that result from this lack of attention to the mentally ill are far reaching. Jail have become like psych hospitals, because there is just no where for many mentally ill sufferers to go especially if families have abandoned them which is often. They end up doing something irrational because they are not on their meds. Unfortunately sometimes they end up hurting themselves or someone else. I am not excusing violent behavior, luckily my brother has never been violent, but I feel that the blood is on all of our hands because many of these situations could be prevented if there was adequate help available. Also they are many times not able to keep up with following up with doctors appointments due to lack of transportation or just pure disorientation. If you don’t know what day it is or even what’s real or not how are you going to remember to go to your doctors appointment? And if they miss it they are told they can no longer come back because they are being non compliant with treatment.
My brother has also been in jail a couple of times. One time it was a total mistake. He was very disoriented, had not been on his meds and opened the back door to a car that happened to be unlocked because he wanted to go to sleep. He had been roaming the streets alone and just wanted somewhere to lay down. He was obviously not trying to steal the car and plain to see he was not in his right mind but charges were still pressed and he spent 6 months in jail not getting any of his meds the whole time. Another time he was released from the hospital too soon before he was stable and came home wild and psychotic as hell. He climbed into a tree and started pulling the limbs off while screaming at the top of his lungs. The police were called and he ran into some nearby woods. The cops were chasing him and had their guns out. I was terrified they would shoot him but thankfully they allowed my mom to go get him first and he calmed down and was not resistant to the cops by some miracle. It is sad that a lot of people in law enforcement are not educated on how to deal with someone who is mentally ill. There are many instances where a violent end could be prevented if cops were properly educated on how to interact with someone who is mentally ill.
The latest episode where Terry was put into jail was about a year and a half ago. The story is still unclear what exactly happened. Terry is very cryptic when describing the incident. Basically he was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.
And the cycle from the streets, jail, psych hospitals and back again continues for many of those with mental illness in this country. Not sure when this revolving door will end…
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