California Forum

Another View: Broken system leaves families, victims of mental illness helpless

We are one of the many families referred to in the column “Families must step up and care for mentally ill” (Viewpoints, July 15). However, you would never recognize our family or the many others I know if you were to rely on this column.

Like many other families, we have dedicated years and every ounce of our lives to help our loved one suffering from severe mental illness. But our system is terribly broken, and no matter what we did we could not get the sustained help needed to make any real difference.

Through support groups and by attending work groups and seminars, and through advocacy for change, we have met many families like ours. These families are the most caring and dedicated of families I have ever known.

Our struggles are different from those of normal families. How we wish our only struggle as a parent was to help our adult children finish college or help them with new babies. Instead, we live with the unimaginable stress of not knowing what the next day or minute will bring and with little ability to help our loved ones, given current laws.

Many of our most seriously ill are unable to recognize they have an illness. This condition is not the same as denial, and it is caused by the same part of the brain that is ill.

For this reason, people who lack awareness of their illness, approximately half of the people with severe mental illness, do not seek treatment and are left without any means of being helped.

Many of them suffer from paranoid delusions and frightening visual or auditory hallucinations. They often end up homeless, cycling in and out of psychiatric emergency wards, or harm themselves and sometimes others.

Many end up in jail for crimes they committed while floridly psychotic, unable to understand that what they were experiencing was not real.

We must find alternative ways to help people who are unable to help themselves. We need our leaders to recognize families’ desperate need for help and to adopt laws that have been proved through studies to be successful so we are able to help our children.

We need assisted outpatient treatment. Laura’s Law was passed more than a decade ago but has been left up to each county to adopt. We need the public to write to their board of supervisors to implement Laura’s Law.