Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Failure of the Mental Health System

My Grandpa was a martyr in his own way. In the weeks before he died, he spent time getting his affairs in order, although he assured my mom he was not moving into assisted living. It was just time, he said. In retrospect, it seems he knew his time was at hand and, although he certainly didn't know how, he probably suspected by whom.

Grandpa did not live alone. He shared his home with his youngest son, who was (and is) a paranoid schizophrenic. Our family knew my uncle was a time bomb, as he had been violent in the past, and had tried different strategies over the years to get him into treatment. He is a funny, compassionate man with his illness controlled. However, when he responded to his medication, his doctor told him he was well and no longer needed it. There was nothing we could do to ensure he was kept in treatment.
"Love always, now and then a special hug & kiss. Grandpa"

My Grandpa's death was not a waste. He knew my uncle could be dangerous, but did not want to abandon his son. He took a calculated risk. In some ways, it paid off. His death was the event that finally committed my uncle to a lifetime of supervised psychiatric treatment.

The tragedy is that The System is so broken that this is what it took. The tragedy is the lives of so many others who are mentally ill and those of their families are lived in fear and anguish. My uncle never faced charges, being found incompetent to stand trial, but he shouldn't have been the only one held culpable. The mental health system and society as a whole have failed to provide enough support.

People who know our family's story marvel that we were able to forgive my uncle. To me, there was nothing to forgive. He truly did not know what he was doing. I have no desire to see him punished and think knowing you killed your father is a terrible burden to bear without adding a judicial sentence. I struggle to forgive his doctor, though. The one who assured him he was fine and didn't need to continue regular treatment. I assume he advised what he thought was best, but he was wrong. The system is wrong. I don't know the best way to fix it, but the first step is realizing it is broken. I hope sharing my story spreads that message.

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