Franklin James Cook

Grieving Mom Recounts Saga of Working with “The System”

In Grief, Mental Illness, Policy, Stigma on November 30, 2008 at 10:21 am

ORIGINAL STORY — A story in the San Angelo Standard-Times recounts the experience of a San Angelo, Texas, mother whose son died of suicide on Nov. 3. She writes in order “to reach out to other frustrated families that have been unable to find beneficial mental health treatment from what we trust to be ‘The System.'”

She tells of her son being “too disturbed to be accepted in any of the residential treatment facilities” and how the family “dedicated our lives to learning all we could and setting up 24-hour care for him at home, in shifts.”

People asked us, “Why don’t you just commit him somewhere?” Well, folks, let me tell you, it is never that simple.

We were told … that the MHMR [Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation] system was limited on what they could do. And we would not be able to get any real help for him until he entered the criminal justice system as an offender and they could help get him diagnosed and rehabilitated … Even worse, a Texas Youth Commission counselor, after listening to our quandary and lack of resources, advised us that we could give up custody of Andrew to the state of Texas, which could take over his care and put him into intensive treatment that would not be available to us as his parents and custodians.

The mother gives examples of “The System” being helpful, including referral to a medical clinic that resulted in diagonosis of “several disorders, including rapid cycling bipolar, rage/aggression and oppositional/defiant conduct disorders … [and a doctor] also made medication and school recommendations on his learning disorders based on his findings.”

Tragically, her son’s treatment remained suboptimal, he had repetitive nonfatal suicide attempts, he continued a pattern of aggressive and maladaptive behavior, and by the age of 17 he was “in the adult criminal system”–and a few weeks ago, he died by suicide.

As for things that help those of us with seriously mentally ill loved ones, I registered online with NAMI, which is the National Alliance on Mental Illness … You can pay an annual fee of $35 and get additional services, but all of the basic services are free. NAMI has been instrumental in getting the new mental health parity legislation moved forward.

Please, please, don’t give up, and keep searching for answers. Somebody, somewhere, has a referral that will help you.

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