Mental Illness Is Not My Problem

Mental illness is everybody's problem.

by SJ Hart, Author, Educator, Advocate

I went to visit friends in Tampa Florida this past weekend. Flying home with my son and my husband I am full of sadness. On New Year’s Day, their son took an overdose of antipsychotics. Their son John cut them into a powdery substance and inhaled it. The seizures started within minutes. He wanted to die later telling his parents he didn’t want to worry them any longer. He has suffered from several severe mental illnesses for two decades, and an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

At the age of twenty-nine he has only known joy when writing and playing music. But when he writes and plays guitar all night he misses his medication and then uses drugs to get some sleep. This has been his pattern for years with occasional drug rehabilitation and psychiatric treatment.

My family arrived on January 7th for our visit days after the initial crisis as John’s father was chasing out drug abusers that had been crashing at the apartment, paying off dealers to go away, changing the locks, retrieving his car and transferring him to a hospital to medically stabilize him. They moved through the steps easily as history has not been kind and they know the routine.

I could complain about the weather, no trip to the beach, missed opportunity to sit in the jacuzzi, but none of that really matters. It just doesn’t. My friends built a beautiful new home with lovely furnishings and all the comforts anyone could ask for, but it will never be peaceful nor tranquil in their retirement. This is the life they have known for decades.

The rest of our visit we enjoyed their company, toured their community, and offered support. Our families have done this for years going back and forth with different crises including completed suicides.

Their 26-year-old daughter Jennifer came over for a campfire the night we arrived. Though she also has mental illness she is stable on medication, graduated from nursing school and has a job. She was recently married and her husband finished work in the military and now suffering from PTSD. They have had many challenges as a young couple.

That evening we talked about getting the boys treatment, but we also laughed, shared snacks and had good conversation.

The next morning was low key and after breakfast we ventured out to take in the surroundings, including the beach, the local sites and then an Italian restaurant for lunch right before packing up for our trip home. As we finished our cup of coffee for the road, we heard my friend Meryl’s voice getting louder and louder in another area of the house. She walked into the kitchen making it clear she was on the phone with her daughter. Her son-in-law was agitated, threatening to hurt their cat and complaining of shortness of breath. He had been to the hospital the week before for a panic attack.

We left for the airport at the same time they left for their daughter’s apartment. We were on our way to the Tampa airport, and they were on their way to take their son-in-law to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation six days after they took their son.
Some people think a story like this is unusual perhaps something infrequent. And yet it is not. It is a common story and families like ours hide and suffer in silence, fighting for competent services, respectful professionals and relief from horrific and painful suffering of loved ones.

We flew down the day after the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting. It was not far from my mind we were using two airports twice. On the way home I thought about our weekend and again the Ft. Lauderdale shooting. The storyline of that shooting if someone were to write it accurately would read:

The Ft. Lauderdale airport shooter was a young man that served our country.

He returns from serving our country in poor mental health, requiring psychiatric care for symptoms of hallucinations and delusions, unsafe to himself and others.

After serving our country, he is admitted and discharged from a psychiatric hospital.
After serving our country he travels to an airport committing murder after seeking mental health care.
After serving our country he is given the death penalty.

Young man survives active military service and in return, the legal system, the mental healthcare system and our people, The United States of America thank him by contributing to his death sentence.

Our people are killing themselves.
Our people are killing each other
Our country, The United States of America, is killing our military men and women.

What do we tell ourselves when our soldiers survive battle in other countries, but are put to death by our own?
“Thank you for your service”!

Mental Illness is not my problem. Mental illness is everybody’s problem.

Why does it seem like it’s nobody’s problem?

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