Our beautiful brilliant son now roams the streets in a free box wardrobe, eats from dumpsters, and sleeps on the grates outside the University of California at Berkeley buildings where he once attended classes. Despite our increasingly more desperate attempts to get him into treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder, with which he was diagnosed eight years ago, and despite what doctors confirm is a deteriorating mental condition, we have found that the current system of laws have thwarted every best attempt to get our son the care he needs. Although we now have highly effective medications and other treatment modalities that can restore people to a life of sanity, we are told we must not violate their civil liberties by giving them these remedies unless they are sane enough to realize they need them. A tragic Catch 22 that guarantees the right to be psychotic, delusional, haunted, homeless. Over the past ten years my son has been in and out of the hospital dozens of times. His typical stay is of two weeks duration or less. During the last of my son’s 7 short hospitalizations this past year, the doctor told me his prognosis for full recovery was excellent if he would stay in treatment but that, given the way our system works, that would probably never happen. Because my son responds to the medicine very quickly, he would likely be released very soon; once released he goes off the medicine, refuses to engage in any type of treatment, and deteriorates till he can be rehospitalized, and the cycle repeats endlessly, futilely. Despite the profound losses over the past ten years, he does not believe he has a mental illness.
I can’t tell you the desperation of families like mine, the horror and helplessness we deal with every waking hour. Families are the frontline of support and sustenance for the mentally ill, but without the support of our institutions and laws we are helpless to protect our loved ones, and our family members become society’s problems- the dangerous or simply deluded lost souls that populate our jails or wander our streets. When tragedies occur, families are the first to get blamed.
The passage of Proposition 63 in 2002 funneled millions of needed dollars into the Mental Health Care System, but little of that has trickled down to those in the gravest need: those with Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective, and Bipolar Disorder. Our Mental Health System needs to offer services that are sustained long enough to address the chronicity of these illnesses. That means switching from a crisis management mode, and instead intervening before people are in crisis. We need to adopt AB1421 to offer community-based intensive services. Doing so will prevent many from deteriorating to the point that they wind up in Psychiatric Emergency Rooms, and will free hospital beds for those in need of more sustained treatment. We also need Mental Health Parity Laws so that these medical conditions will receive the same reimbursement from insurers as other illnesses. We need to acknowledge that people in the throes of psychosis may not be competent to make medical decisions for their own care, and to fail to intervene is not compassion, it is societal neglect.