There’s a tragic story in the NY Daily News that points out a problem faced by individuals and families everywhere:  the consequences of untreated mental illness.  I have written before about the difficulty of obtaining adequate treatment in our area, and have received divergent responses.  Those who are involved at the entry level/diagnosis/referral end of the spectrum tell me there is a drastic lack of follow-up resources and options;  those on the treatment end tend to tell me that the services are available.  While I am only a sufferer and not an expert in the field of mental illness, I wish you would indulge me as I make a few observations.

  1. People who are mentally ill may not seek out or accept help.  I required an intervention to get me to the crisis center, even though I knew I had become a danger to myself.  The processing into the system is complicated, difficult and stressful, and I would not have made it through the process if not for my wife and daughter.  Once I was through with the hospitalization, the medications helped me out of bed in the morning, but they couldn’t get me to my counseling sessions through the Prospect Mountain construction traffic.  I had to force myself to go–and my guess is that not every sufferer is strong enough to make it to follow-up meetings.
  2. Sufferers may have an unrealistic sense of their own illness or the necessity of the treatments offered to them.  I have had several times when I thought I was better, only to put myself in situations I could not handle.  There is an aspect of my treatment that I am convinced is quackery and ineffective; and I have had to trust someone else’s wisdom, and force myself to do what I don’t believe in if I want my recovery plan to continue.  There have been many suggestions from my therapist that I have not even considered, because my mind is closed to those ideas–rightly or wrongly, I don’t know.  I often think that I can do it on my own, when reality (in the form of my wife) tells me I can’t.  I think a lot of my fellow sufferers who truly want to get better still have the mistaken idea that healing will come on its own with time (and perhaps some pills).
  3. In-patient treatment requires not only financial considerations, but availability of beds, and, sometimes, legal action.  In the case of the young man in the news article, a judge could have committed him to an in-patient facility on earlier occasions, but almost certainly the patient would not have wanted it, and the level of his acting out may not have made him a priority for the limited space.  The concept of “preventive” admission for a short-term stay still leaves the issue of follow-up to be considered (or ignored).  Mental illness is like a back injury:  if serious, it requires drastic measures in the hospital, and then months of follow-up therapy both in and out of the hospital.  Mental illness is different, though, because the sufferers can still walk around and be a threat to themselves or others, and it may be difficult for them or for the justice system to know when the hospital admission is an absolute necessity.
  4. Short-term treatments are helpful for patients like me, to point us in the direction of recovery.  For others, though, they are no more than minor inconveniences.  I met fellow sufferers who were just waiting to get discharged so that they could throw themselves back into their self-destructive behavior.  One patient, knowing that the stay was temporary, continued to conduct his illicit business by phone daily, and returned to it apparently unaffected by the services offered during the short-term stay.  By the way–my experience was that the various meetings, seminars, and sessions during the week I was there were only offered, but not required.  There were fellow sufferers I saw at meals, but at no other time.  While that may have caused some to have a longer stay, others were discharged on schedule.
  5. And one last note for today:  there are some issues–serious, life-dominating, family-destroying issues–that are not addressed or even acknowledged during the short term stay.  I asked my therapist about this, for the issues came up often in group meetings, but the leaders quickly changed the subject as if they had been instructed not to go there.  My therapist first suggested that it was out of confidentiality and that the topics would be covered in private counseling sessions.  When I countered that to my knowledge (based on my experience and inquiries with others)  such had not been the case, her second thought was that some topics are so complex that they take years of therapy to work through, and there would be no sense in trying to deal with them during the typical six-day stay.  I do not doubt her assessment at all; but I wonder how many sufferers are going to follow up for years to deal with issues apparently not considered a problem during their short-term jump start on recovery.

My therapist emphasizes the importance of spiritual–and specifically Christian–components to recovery from mental illness.  I fully agree and pray that some day I will find the miraculous healing of Christ for my troubled mind.  In the meantime, I can only pray for strength for myself and for fellow sufferers to cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and give me my daily bread; for Yours is the Kingdom and the power; and I can do this one thing today through Christ who strengthens me.”  I know it’s not much of a prayer, but it’s what I can handle.  I am a Christian and I am sick; but He is Christ, and He is the Healer–in His time.