Our youngest daughter suffers from severe mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. She was drug-exposed in-utero, and when we first got her at five days old as a foster child, she was still going through withdrawal from crack cocaine. She required extensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy growing up. At three she was diagnosed with severe ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) which, we’ve since learned can be a precursor to bipolar. We wonder if she might also suffer from some schizophrenia.
Twice during the next couple of years we had to call 911 when her rage became uncontrollable; twice sheriff’s deputies and paramedics talked to her, but by the time they had arrived she had de-escalated and come down from her rage, expressing remorse and dismay at her own behavior.
But over the last couple of months her instability had increased; her medications had not been quite working; her therapist and psychiatrist were aware of the problem and seeking to find something to get her back into a more stable condition, but without effect.
A few Saturday’s ago I was out of town helping my mother-in-law and sister-in-law do their taxes. Before I returned home, my wife took my youngest daughter to get pizza. When they got home, my wife opened pizza box and my youngest daughter exploded: “It’s burned—I can’t eat that!”
It wasn’t burned. There was nothing wrong with the pizza. But my youngest daughter rapidly escalated, exploding in anger. She screamed that she didn’t want the pizza; she insisted my wife take it back; my wife offered to make her something else. The rage spiraled out of control. She yelled that my wife wanted her to starve, that she didn’t love her, that she wasn’t her mother.
Then she screamed that she wanted to die. She ran into the kitchen, yanked open a drawer, grabbed a knife and put it against her own throat.
My wife suggested she put the knife down, but instead she flung it down at the floor, where it skittered across the tiles and bumped against my wife’s toe, causing no damage. Terrified, my wife ran to our bedroom, closed the door, and called 911.
My youngest daughter was charged with a felony: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The sheriffs took her to the hospital for evaluation, then down to a women’s prison in Los Angeles where she was placed in a psych ward. She remained under suicide watch in isolation. The district attorney rejected the charges and so they released her just after midnight on Tuesday.
On Thursday, my daughter went over to visit a friend, who took her to a park, where she met a boy. My daughter then ran off with for the weekend, not returning home until Sunday night. From the time of her arrest, until that Sunday night, she had mostly been un-medicated.
Monday morning, we called a mental hospital near Redondo Beach that her psychologist and psychiatrist had recommended. After a phone interview with my daughter, she was accepted into their treatment program. My daughter recognized her need for treatment and happily packed her own luggage. The trip to the mental hospital was a two hour drive.
Not long before we reached the hospital, my daughter cycled into severe depression and told us she had changed her mind, she didn’t want to go; she began to cry and demand we go back home. But we continued on to the hospital, stuck in slow LA rush hour traffic.
By the time we arrived she agreed to go into the hospital and talk to them. But she told them she didn’t want to stay. However, the intake nurse turned to my wife and asked her very carefully, “Do you feel you would be safe if you took your daughter back home?”
My wife reluctantly told the nurse “no.”
The nurse turned to my youngest daughter then and explained very carefully that going home was not an option for her. Instead, she had two choices: to either sign the papers for the treatment program she had agreed to, or to be involuntarily admitted on a 72 hour lockdown.
My daughter agreed to sign the paperwork for treatment.
Most mentally ill people do not get the opportunity for this sort of extended treatment. The laws seem to have been written in such a way as to make it as hard as possible for the mentally ill to get the treatment they need. Unless a mentally ill person voluntarily signs themselves in for treatment, there is very little that can be done for them. In contrast, it is very easy for them to reject their treatment and reject their medication. And getting a mentally ill person to recognize they need help or to accept ongoing treatment is hard. When your brain isn’t working right, it can’t recognize that anything is amiss.
For my daughter, things turned out better. After nearly two weeks in the hospital, with adjustments to her medications, and with more therapy, she has returned home in a much better place; she is nearly stable again, without the wild mood swings or the rage. So far, she is doing well. She is usually happy. Today has been a good day for her. For my wife and I, our stress levels are nearly normal.
She sees her therapist once a week and her psychiatrist every other week. It is not an easy road she is on, and the odds—and the laws—remain against her.