Helping a loved one who is experiencing a severe mental illness, especially someone who may not realize they are sick, is one of the greatest gifts you can give. For some, it may mean the difference between life and tragedy. ~ Treatment Advocacy Center
(Dec. 12, 2012) David Haldane’s son, Drew, was suffering from untreated schizophrenia and homeless at the age of 24. The mental health system, lacking funding and psychiatric beds, made a grim situation even worse.
As a teenager in California, Drew was arrested for setting fire to a trash can, theft and running away from home. At first, his father thought these were normal teenage antics. But he knew something was really wrong when his ex-wife called and asked, “Are you home yet? Because Drew says he hears your voice” (“Frayed: Mental illness steals David Haldane’s son, and the system makes it worse,” Off-Ramp, Nov. 15).
Haldane says his son “spent his high school graduation day in a psychiatric ward at College Hospital of Costa Mesa—his first of many stays.”
Following this and several other incidents, Drew was placed under a conservatorship. But the California mental health system failed Drew and his family when the conservatorship was lifted because a psychiatrist missed three court hearings on whether it should be continued.
From that point forward, every time Haldane attempted to get his son into treatment, the mental health system obstructed him. Said the young man’s father, “In a year and a half, Drew was hospitalized 10 times. Each time we swung into action, making as much noise as possible. And each time we were rebuffed or ignored.” Today, Drew is hospitalized again, and his father says, "our son is safe at least until the next renewal hearing."
Timely and effective treatment works. Unfortunately, California’s mental health treatment laws leave people like Drew to fend for themselves rather than providing the treatment they need. Haldane says “the same patients' rights laws that were designed to protect him were also blocking much-needed care.”
The mental health system should not be a barrier to treatment. In California, removing this barrier means every county implementing Laura’s Law, the state's assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law; to date, only Nevada County has done so. Elsewhere, it means passing or using civil commitment laws to help put people with the most severe mental illness onto the road to recovery.
To join our efforts to improve the treatment laws in your state, sign up now. For more about the devastating costs of untreated severe mental illness, see our backgrounder “Consequences of Non-Treatment.”
Karen Easter, Mental Health Advocate for Assisted Outpatient Treatment