A couple of days ago we attempted to get help for my sister and nephew. It’s difficult to even explain to anyone that hasn’t been through it but it is an incredibly frustrating experience. The laws make it difficult to force anyone to get psychiatric help against their will. This makes sense because we wouldn’t want people to easily get someone locked up just out of spite, etc. The problem comes in the balance between personal liberty and the safety of the mentally ill person and those around them.
The criteria for involuntary commitment vary by state. The key requirements for most states are the question of whether the person poses a threat to self or others. Remember, there is no law against being crazy. The difficulty lies in clearly demonstrating that there is a danger. Too many people confuse crazy with stupid and there is a difference.
When my sister is having an ‘episode’, she becomes hyper-alert and paranoid. She watches everything going on around her and draws erroneous conclusions that make no sense to the rest of us.
I spoke with someone in the psychiatry department at the hospital she goes to and he advised to have the police pick her up and take her to the hospital for a 48-hour hold. My dad went to the police station and made the arrangements. I spoke with the ER doctor at the local hospital and explained Lynne’s history and let him know that she would be brought in. Everything was done to facilitate Lynne’s transfer to the big hospital inpatient psych unit. Then it went wrong.
The officer decided that he would go over to Lynne’s house (without telling my dad) and check on her. He told her that he was there because her family was concerned. He questioned her about having suicidal thoughts, which she denied. Then he left. He called my dad and said that she was fine.
Lynne was very upset by the visit. She tried to get J, in the car with her. Fortunately, my mom and I had told J. that if there was ever a situation when she was crazy and trying to take him somewhere that he had to lie to avoid getting in the car. The lie that we had decided on was that he had diarrhea. If she did manage to get him in the car it is impossible to even guess where they might end up. The last time she was on her way to Canada when the car caught on fire. Even the burning car wasn’t enough to cause her to pull over.
I’m disgusted that the cop decided that he was qualified to judge Lynne’s mental status. Not only did he not help, he made it worse. Clearly she’s smarter than he is and she knows enough to not volunteer just how crazy she is. It’s my opinion that he never had any intention of taking her to the hospital. I think anything short of her answering the door drooling and brandishing a steak knife was not going to be considered to require any action.
The real problem here is that Lynne is crazy and lives with a child. The child is afraid and asking for help but no one will do anything. Someone left a comment here on the previous post about the reluctance of family’s to address the issue of mental illness due to shame or embarrassment. I do not believe that to be true. I am not embarrassed by my sister’s illness. My parents are not either. Anytime I have mentioned my sister’s illness to anyone I usually hear about someone in their family or a friend’s family that has the same issues. Certainly the stigma of being a psychiatric patient still exists to some extent, but it has lessened over the years. The number of people treated for depression and other mental illness has increased dramatically over the years. There are some mental illnesses that aren’t quite as innocuous or socially acceptable. Unfortunately we don’t get to choose.
If you are one of the lucky people that has never had to give this issue much thought then I want you to remember one thing. Anytime you hear a horror story like the one of the woman throwing her baby’s into the San Francisco Bay, keep in mind that there is likely a family that tried everything they could to prevent a tragedy. The families of the mentally ill have far more important things to worry about than what someone might think. We're worried about getting someone to listen.