Senin, 30 September 2013

Cry for Help

At 5:10, my phone buzzed. Our administrative assistant asked if I could take a call from a mother of a son with schizophrenia. I rolled my eyes, looking at the pile of work on my desk that I needed to get through before I could go home, and said “It’s after five! Stop answering the phone!” But I took the call. The woman on the line sounded like my mom—southern and genteel. Her 50 year old son had schizophrenia, and he wouldn’t let his family in his house. He had shut them all out. He got angry when his family members suggested he needed help, and specifically needed medications. He told them his neighbors were pumping gas into his apartment, and trying to poison him. He was angry and scared, but wouldn’t let his family help him. As she told her story, she started crying, and said “I don’t know what to do. I love my son, and he needs help. I don’t know where to turn.” My eyes welled up, too, feeling guilty about my reluctance to take the call. I swallowed and said “I’ve talked to many families in your situation. You’re not alone. I can help.”
She then told her story—of how her son, though smart and well-educated, always had difficulty holding a job. Seven years ago, he had a psychotic episode. He was hospitalized and treated with medications that were effective. His parents stayed with him in his apartment while he got better, then sold their house in their rural community. They bought a new house in his community, and he lived with them while he recovered. He got a good job, and they continued to support his recovery. About a year ago, he moved into his own apartment.
It’s not uncommon for persons with schizophrenia to stop taking medications. And some may be able to do fine without them. But frequently, psychosis reemerges, and families find themselves at a loss. What to do, how to help?
So we talked, and I went through how to access emergency mental health services. I reviewed the process for an involuntary commitment, with no sugar coating, as this is a terrible thing for a family to have to do, and the response to someone with mental illness is not always humane.  She asked what would happen to her son if she did this – again, no sugar coating, as emergency room waits are long and torturous for someone who is psychotic, and the promise of good treatment once a hospital bed is found is not guaranteed. I gave her phone numbers – the county crisis center, the mobile crisis team, the family support group, NAMI. And I crossed my fingers, hoping that she’d be able to get some help for him, and for her. And in my mind, I knew there had to be a better way, but this is what we have in NC.
I remembered another mother I knew, whose attempts at getting help for her daughter ended up with the daughter in jail for 22 days.  This mom and I spent hours on the phone with jail staff, advocates, mental health workers, hospital staff and anyone else we could think of, trying to get her out of jail and into treatment. She and I both worried that something bad would happen if we didn’t get her daughter out of jail. When I talked with the daughter after the ordeal, she told me how angry she had been at her mother, and how she had told the police officers who responded to the mental health crisis by saying she wanted to go to jail, not to the mental health crisis center. Unfortunately, they honored her request. Fortunately, she and her mother could laugh about the experience.
This is what I do—I listen to stories, I respond with compassion, information and hopefully good advice.  I hope that families will connect with other families through NAMI, and I wish that in all of this, the man who is terrified because of his paranoid delusions will come out of his house, and find some humane response that will allow him to rejoin his family, his work and his community.  It is a simple wish—its granting possible but elusive.

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