A Day in the Life: Visiting the State Psychiatric Hospital

Shirley

Mom in her younger days

I am going to write a short post in my A Day in the Life Series today. As hard as it is for me to think about those memories, I don’t want to forget them because society still has a long way to go regarding the treatment of people with illnesses like schizophrenia and we still have a long way to go in finding adequate treatment.

The last time my mom was committed to the hospital, I was living in another state when my sister called me up to tell me. It had been a number of years since her last hospitalization, although she continued to have symptoms of paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations during those years. My dad’s philosophy was to allow her to make her own choice about medication and to leave her be unless she became dangerous to herself or others.

At the time he made the difficult decision to have her involuntarily committed she was becoming increasingly agitated with a few of their neighbors and making some relatively strong threats against them, although she had never been known to act on them. He became especially concerned when she came home one night and appeared to have been attacked. She wandered around the neighborhood a lot at night, and one night after dark she came crawling into the house with her broken umbrella, covered in dirt and scratches, saying someone had attacked her in the park. Unfortunately we didn’t always believe her when she told us something happened, but in this case, it was clear she had been attacked. The police came to the house and took a report and comforted her, but never found out who did it.

I flew home a few days after my mom was hospitalized to visit her. She was at the state hospital, and it had a large forensic population (criminals who were awaiting determination of their sanity or who had been declared insane) and other patients who didn’t have anywhere else to go or who were awaiting housing etc.  I remember going through several locked doors to visit with her, accompanied by my aunt and my sisters. My aunt was like an angel during that time, visiting my mom on a daily basis, and taking her things to eat or read. My mom’s brother tried to come and visit her, but when he realized he would be locked in with her, he panicked and said he couldn’t go in.

It was so sad to see my mom sitting at the long cafeteria table, amongst so many others who looked lost, angry, worn out, and disoriented.  She held her head high and tried to maintain her dignity and distance, never doubting that she was better than the rest. I will never forget a large woman coming up to her, trembling from head to toe, trying to ask for my mom’s help and crying, saying she couldn’t do it any more. My mom had become the person other patients came to for comfort, and she gently reassured the woman everything would be okay.

I held it together during the visit, but on the way home I sat in the back seat and sobbed. The thought of my mom in that environment, seeing the others who seemed so forlorn, lost and forgotten, and thinking about her being so alone was unbearable. All I wanted was for her to be healthy, and to be able to live in peace in her own home and spend time with her children and grandchildren.

Eventually mom was released, only after agreeing to take medicine. She held out for a long time, but finally they told her she wouldn’t be able to return to her home again if she didn’t, so she complied.

To see the previous post click here.

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To My Mother

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NAMI Walk May 9, 2015

Dear Mom,

Did you know you mattered to me?

When you were joyful, so was I

And when you saw demons, I did  too

When you wept, I wept

When you danced with joy, I did too

When you went away, I missed you

When they told me you didn’t love me, I knew better

I could see through the demons to you

It wasn’t you who broke my heart

It was your illness that broke your heart

And when cancer stepped in like a cosmic joke

I breathed your last breath with you

And when they tried to steal my grief,

And when they hushed my broken heart

I pulled myself out of the shadows

The light of justice burning fiercely,

And marched for you, and

For all those who are fighting demons

Because, did you know, you still matter to me.

Diagnosing and treating children

How can parents be sure about whether their child is receiving the right diagnosis and/or treatment for a psychiatric illness? 

I asked this question a lot when my daughter was younger. As a research professional, I have always been interested in finding out about best practices and evidence-based treatment options. There are many great online resources to address the problem of childhood mental illness such as the National Institute on Mental Health, CDC, and National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Recently I did some browsing on the internet and found another interesting website, The Hastings Center, that tackles some of the ethical issues related to mental health along with many other public interest topics.  I came across this article that I thought was worth sharing – Troubled Children: Ethical Questions about Diagnosing and Treating Pediatric Psychiatric Disorders.” 

All of these websites are worth checking out if you are feeling overwhelmed about the many options available to treat childhood mental health issues and would like help figuring out what is best for your child.

 

 

 

Suicide Prevention

From the NIMH Website:

Last year, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Research Prioritization Task Force released an action plan for suicide prevention, which outlines the research areas that show the most promise in helping to reduce the rates of suicide attempts and deaths in the next 5-10 years. A series of webinars organized around 6 key questions in the plan will run from January 29-June 24, 2015 to register go to:

http://1.usa.gov/15PdaHH

National Suicide Statistics at a Glance

Smoothed, Age-adjusted Suicide Rates* per 100,000 population, by County, United States, 2000–2006

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What caused this to happen?

????????????????????????????Here is an excellent blog post by the National Institute of Mental Health Director, Dr. Insel, addressing one of the most frequently asked questions whenever someone is diagnosed with a mental illness:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2015/what-caused-this-to-happen.shtml

There is so much guilt, shame, and blame associated with mental illness, and this article sheds a completely different light on the topic.  Until researchers figure out how to completely prevent them from happening, hopefully the associated stigma will decrease with these new insights and treatments will also continue to improve.

In the meantime, don’t give up hope or settle for sub-standard treatments. Everyone deserves a chance for happiness and health.

 

Mental Health Support in the Age of the Internet

father I have sinnedDo you ever worry about how much personal information you share on the internet?

I do, especially when it comes to sharing about the mental health issues my family has experienced. I prefer not to post about it on Facebook and other forms of media, and that is why I set up this blog. While I am still somewhat cautious about sharing on the internet, I feel strongly about de-stigmatizing mental illness and providing moral support and resources to those in need of it.

Having grown up in the pre-internet age, I am beyond thankful for all of the sources of support that are now available. Aside from the occasional magazine article or a small section of self-help books at the library or book store, there were few options for obtaining any meaningful guidance about how to deal with mental illness. There was far less tolerance of those who suffered from anxiety, depression, addictions, eating disorders, bipolar, and schizophrenia, and people went to great lengths to keep these health problems a secret. NAMI was around but few people knew about this wonderful organization.

Now one of the biggest challenges is learning how to sift through all of the different websites, and it is important to determine their credibility. Nonetheless, it is comforting to know that for most of us, there are many wonderful resources at the tip of our fingers. NAMI’s website is a great place to start, and they share many great links to other credible websites.

Mental Health Matters

 Thanks Demi Lovato, for having the courage to speak out about your mental health issues and for your advocacy efforts for parity in mental health coverage.  I can still  remember a time when people were too ashamed to talk about these issues.  I am thankful that we have come so far and hope we can do more to help those who are falling through the cracks and still desperately seeking help.