Photo Credit: “When you think of mental illness, is this what you see?” (CC BY 2.0) by JenXer
Even as a very small child, our daughter required special attention and was very strong-willed. When she was three years old, her biological mother noted in writing before her death from breast cancer that she was going to be a challenge for her father as a single parent. When she entered puberty, her behavior worsened and she had her first diagnosis of mental illness. Although a very intelligent girl, she did poorly in school and did not want to accept the authority of teachers and parents. We put her in a very structured out-of-state private school for a short period of time. When she came back to Brookings, she attended an alternative school, but did not graduate with her class. She did later get her GED.
She found her friends in the wrong crowd and began a habit of drinking and illegal drugs. At the age of 19, she had her first child. Over the next seven years, she had four more children. They are now in the custody of their father and are doing well, both physically and emotionally.
Following her relationship with the father of her children, she had a relationship with another man who also had drug and alcohol issues. The police were often called to their residence for domestic violence disputes that resulted from their abuse of prescribed and illegal substances. He recently served a sentence in the South Dakota penitentiary for drug charges.
In addition to being well known by police officers, she was also well known by the medical community because of her frequent visits to the emergency room for various imagined maladies that were largely attempts (mostly successful) to obtain prescribed opiates. She attempted to end her life several times by drug overdose and by driving her car into an obstacle.
Beginning in her teenage years, we sought professional help for our daughter, who is now 31 years old. She has been in many treatment programs, has received several different mental illness diagnoses, and has been on many different medication regimens. Most treatment programs were 30 days or less in duration. Upon release, her discharge instructions for outpatient therapy and prescribed medications were usually ignored and replaced with self-medication via alcohol and illegal substances. Several times we sought involuntary commitment (IVC) as a route for the long-term treatment we felt she needed, only to be rejected by mental health professionals who said that she did not meet the criteria of causing harm to herself or others. Only one time were we successful in getting her into treatment via IVC.
In late fall 2016, our daughter was voluntarily admitted to Avera Behavioral and subsequently transported to the Human Services Center in Yankton. After about five weeks of treatment, she was released and brought to the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House in Sioux Falls. She came back to Brookings, but after a few days it was evident that she needed further help. Again, she was voluntarily admitted to Avera Behavioral and subsequently to the Human Services Center. This time she was there for four and one-half months, finally getting the long-term treatment we felt she needed. When she came back to Brookings, she was able to live independently and, as far as we know, did not use illegal drugs or alcohol. Recently, however, she stopped taking her medication and it became increasingly obvious to us from her behavior that she again needed treatment. During a regularly scheduled appointment, her psychiatrist quickly arrived at the same conclusion and immediately admitted her to Avera Behavioral. She is currently at the Human Services Center in Yankton where she appears to be making progress. The challenge now is to find a way to keep her on her prescribed medications upon her release.
Some of our frustrations along this journey:
- Not knowing who to consult for advice
- Law enforcement being sympathetic, but not being able to help us as concerned parents
- Ease of obtaining opiates from the medical community, despite well known addictions
- Inability to provide information to medical and mental health providers that may give them better insight into situations (and may correct inaccurate information provided by patient)
- Reluctance of attorneys to get involved
- Barriers to effective treatment created by HIPAA
- Reluctance of mental health professionals (for legal reasons) to agree to IVCs
- Inability to ensure that medications are taken as prescribed
- Inability to ensure that follow-up appointments with therapists and doctors are kept
- Lack of transitional living accommodations for after-treatment placement
We’ve presented this very abbreviated version of our journey with our daughter and her mental illness in the hopes of helping others who may find themselves in a similar situation.