A local parent of a mentally ill child says: “Change our mental health system now before more blood is shed.”

In response to Newtown, a local parent sent this letter about her struggles getting help for her mentally ill son. At the parent’s request, I am not using any names:

The Sandy Hook tragedy should be a clear indication that our mental health system needs a complete overhaul. My husband and I adopted a child six years ago. We expected joy and love from our adopted child, but instead we have faced years of mental illness filled with rages and violence.

We have turned to psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and our local school for help to no avail. I will give you a few examples so you will understand our situation. This past spring we endured hours of extreme raging and violence every day to the point where my biological son and I would have to hide in a closet. We made the difficult decision to have our son committed to Peachford Hospital. Within a week, he was home and the raging began again within 24 hours.

When I called the doctor and asked him how he could send home our son when he was clearly not stable, the doctor said that our insurance company forced him to be released. Our insurance company has also refused to refill a prescription because we went through the pills too quickly. Even though I got a new prescription explaining that we had to increase the dosage, our insurance still would not refill the medication. So, I bought several pills at $30 apiece to keep my family safe.

Despite having a hefty file at the school full of behavior infractions, I am still jumping through hoops to get him enrolled at the GNETS program at our local elementary school. {The Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) is comprised of 24 programs which support the local school systems’ continuum of services for students with disabilities, ages 3-21. The programs provide comprehensive educational and therapeutic support services to students who might otherwise require residential or other more restrictive placements due to the severity of one or more of the characteristics of the disability category of emotional and behavioral disorders.}

The school psychologist said he will definitely get into the program because he is very severe. Well, if we have data collected on his behavior, along with multiple strategies previously tried, why should I jump through hoops?

I am trying to get him into a school that is equipped to handle him and shield mainstream students from his extreme outbursts. Now, I don’t know the background of the Sandy Hook shooter, but I can only assume his family is much like mine — trying our hardest to help our mentally disturbed child while protecting our family from his harmful actions and battling those that should be helping us.

We will not prevent future tragedies until we take a different look at mental illness.

Does the government really want a child released from a mental hospital against the doctor’s advice, have medication denied to them or keep them from a school that may be a chance to heal them? Therapy would be great, but surprise none is covered by insurance.

We have a responsibility to change our mental health system now before more blood is shed. Would we treat a cancer patient this way? Shouldn’t we support parents and families that are trying to do the responsible thing by doing everything in their power to prevent these tragedies? Families like mine need to support, not a back turned.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

98 comments Add your comment

Shades of Gray

December 18th, 2012
12:08 pm

Shouldn’t we be embracing these kids in our public schools with programs that meet the needs of kids that suffer with these issues? Seems to me that the ‘one size fits all’ public school model does not help the child you described and does not help several other shades of behavioral issues. I think public school is a good place to start the mental illness reforms.

I also think that the child described in the letter is lucky to have such a great Mom!

Beverly Fraud

December 18th, 2012
12:10 pm

Maureen you referenced another piece; in it the mother said she was told the only way to get the help for her son that she needed was to put him in the criminal justice system.

As much as we have children who are diagnosed with, as John Rosemond would say, a simple case of BAD (as opposed to ODD, ADHD or a variety of other ailments) we have children who simply need help.

Now imagine a child like this in a classroom and a teacher held “accountable” for his “behavior management.”

What’s telling is these administrators often can’t control the child in a one to one setting so why are we expecting teachers to do it in a 1-25 setting?

Sometimes children need help; and the political game we like to play called “fix the teacher” will not change that.

Neither will $2100 office chairs or “rock start” superintendents with personal drivers; but the money we spend on them might mitigate it.

Our entire educational system lacks integrity; are “we the people” willing to address that?

What's Best for Kids???

December 18th, 2012
12:22 pm

Unfortunately, we have many, many more parents who bury their heads in the sand and do not wish to acknowlege that their children are a detriment to the safety and security of the other 99% of the children in the school.
My heart breaks for this mom, but often times the school’s hands are tied, as the child was labled as BD or EBD or SEBD, and we are left to allow little Johnny to run around the school and threaten people, often times carrying through with those threats. The consequences? None. His rights trump the rights of the rest of the children, teachers, and other members of the school community.

Ron F.

December 18th, 2012
12:27 pm

Beverly: this article is about a mother’s battle with insurance, not school. The kid will get in GNETS, but it may not be immediate. There’s not a dearth of services out there just waiting for the applicants to show up. Paperwork and time are required to enroll in many programs, and that is to make sure there are no legal issues and that there is full compliance with federal law. Have you seen much of the paperwork in a special education student’s file? The problem is that our entire mental health system needs streamlining, and we have to work with insurers to help provide ongoing care, as this case seems to need.

And if Nancy Lanza was as worried about her son and working as hard to get him care as this mother seems to be, then she wouldn’t have likely left so many guns within his reach. We may never know for sure how he got them, but the fact that he did it without his mother seeming to notice concerns me.

indigo

December 18th, 2012
12:32 pm

Getting the comprehensive mental healthcare system we need will take a great deal of money. This will mean an increase in taxes and a much more honest group of politicians.

As we are seeing now, raising taxes, even a little bit, is like getting blood out of a turnip.

As for getting a better grade of politician, that will be about as easy as herding cats.

So, don’t look for any improvement in our mental healthcare system.

It just isn’t going to happen.

William Casey

December 18th, 2012
12:50 pm

I will vote for taxes to pay for mental health programs that put the safety of society at large as their first priority. This might seem expensive but, so are prisons.

Ernest

December 18th, 2012
1:00 pm

Well said, Beverly Fraud. Many of us probably know someone like Adam Lanza and perhaps that person is in class with one of our children. To think part of a teachers evaluation would be based upon ‘classroom management’ in this age of mainstreaming is hard to conceive. Also what impact will this have on the learning environment?

Everything I’ve read about his mother suggests she did everything she could. What about those parents who either aren’t equipped to provide the necessary resources or shift the burden entirely to the schools? I’m sure no one could have predicted what unfortunately happened but then again, who can?

There is an interesting article on the Huffington Post by Liza Long on her perspective of mental health. If interested, it can be found at:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

We also need a national conversation on mental health in addition to gun control, specifically on semi-automatic weapons.

Beverly Fraud

December 18th, 2012
1:07 pm

“Have you seen much of the paperwork in a special education student’s file? The problem is that our entire mental health system needs streamlining, and we have to work with insurers to help provide ongoing care, as this case seems to need.”

@Ron F maybe our definition needs to change from “least restrictive environment” to “most appropriate environment.” Barring that we need to be willing to ask the question “At what point does asking the regular classroom teacher to tolerate all kinds of outbursts in fact start to become restrictive to the child who engages in socially appropriate behavior?

Maybe we need to do something really radical like require every administrator to teach on a regular basis, so they can experience first hand what the regular classroom teacher goes through.

mystery poster

December 18th, 2012
1:15 pm

There was a similar situation in Douglas County a year or so ago. The grandmother and great grandmother had tried to get the young man help, but they had no private insurance. The police had been at the house numerous times, but for some reason the young man was not arrested. One day, he had a particularly bad outburst and came at the grandmother and great grandmother with a sword. The grandmother was hospitalized and the great grandmother was killed. Tragic failure of the mental health system in this country.

Ga Tech Rules

December 18th, 2012
1:28 pm

In America, it is all about getting someone else to pay for your expenses. Mommy could have kept her child in the mental hospital just by paying the bill herself, but no, the big bad insurance company refused to pay more, so neither would mommy! Where pray tell is daddy? When I see these type articles, I always wonder why the father is not mentioned, you know, father, aka “my baby’s daddy.”

paulo977

December 18th, 2012
1:34 pm

Indigo…”As for getting a better grade of politician, that will be about as easy as herding cats.”
______________________________________________________
Unfortunately you are correct ….They are all within the same system that holds that if we don’t pay for health care and expect the govt to provide it we are MOOCHERS!! Any politician who even attempts to influence the nation otherwise is demonized and described as a Socialist , Marxist , Fascist etc etc ,,,,,re : what happened when Obama tried to make things right for ALL citizens !!
Even his watered down Health Care Bill is being challenged by many segments of the society !!

We are the ONLY country in the industrialized nations without Universal Health Care !!!

It is going to take a l…….o…..n…g time , if at all ……before we become ‘ conscientized’,,Check Paulo Freire

Ga Tech Rules

December 18th, 2012
1:41 pm

paulo977 – Let me guess, you are one of the 49% who pay no federal income tax, yet you are very free with your demands on how to spend other people’s tax dollar! I do not take seriously the demands of any one in the 49% club.

mystery poster

December 18th, 2012
1:46 pm

@GA Tech
I tried to find out how much mental health treatment costs, it was not an easy thing to locate on the Internet. Finally found this blurb at the Fox News website:

…The use of inpatient psychiatry units as healing environments in which more sophisticated assessments of psychiatric patients are performed is now mostly relegated to rare hospitals that can cost as much as $20,000 or $40,000 or $80,000 a month, which people must pay for themselves, since insurance companies will not.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/12/17/why-cant-america-care-for-mentally-ill/#ixzz2FQlNgxOj

Grasshopper

December 18th, 2012
1:56 pm

Change the failing mental health system? Probably so.

Look at our gun control laws? Maybe – maybe not.

But the main thing that the sad tragedy at Newtown teaches us is that you can’t legislate outright stupidity. And the more we learn about this case, the clearer it becomes that stupidity, on the part of the mother, is the main culprit of this carnage.

She had an obviously mentally ill child which she was trying to get help for so what does she do? Teach him how to shoot guns, of course! And to top it off she leaves these weapons where her psychotic child can get to them somehow.

The sheer stupidity boggles the mind sometimes.

AlreadySheared

December 18th, 2012
2:02 pm

I have been avoiding, as best as possible, all coverage of this incident. Not because I am indifferent, but because of the mathematical certainty that all manner of folk would rush to figuratively stand atop the bodies of these innocent victims to gain a hearing for whichever cause, worthy or not, said folks lobby for.

My 0.2 worth

December 18th, 2012
2:03 pm

The solution to the issue of mental illness is this… Take some of the tractors sitting around and put them to work digging holes…. Lots of holes.. in a remote location.. Take said MI people out to hole. You can figure out the rest… It’s the cheapest long term solution we have… If I was in a position to make it happen then I’d be in 100 percent. It the parents want to keep their MI children then they are 100 percent responsible for the money it takes to maintain the MI and for the saftey of others… If they can’t control them and something happens then the parents would be jailed and the child or adult depending on age either way would go to the hole…. The government should not be involved in caring for MI patients!

Thank you

December 18th, 2012
2:07 pm

Thank you for getting help for your child while attempting to shield other children from his outbursts. I wish more parents felt this way. My son is in the third grade at a local school. There’s a severely disturbed child who has punched and kicked teachers, caused fights on the playground, and just last week was disturbing all the classes on the third grade hallway by screaming. The four – yes, you read that correctly – teaching aides assigned to him can’t control him and won’t take him to another part of the building. When I asked the principal, he noted that the parents want the child in the mainstream. Oh, the parents are lawyers… Forgot to mention that.
So thank you – I wish you the best for your child and your family.

STHU&STHD

December 18th, 2012
2:15 pm

@Ga Tech Rules didn’t get your meds?

Prof

December 18th, 2012
2:20 pm

Our mental health system HAS been changed with the passage of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2010, for mental health services are among the services provided under this new health care law to a much greater extent than before. Much discussion of this is going on right now; and one at the Boston Globe may be found at:

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/health_stew/2012/12/mental_health_and_the_aca.html

STHU&STHD

December 18th, 2012
2:30 pm

@ GA Tech take your meds and then re-read the 1st paragraph see My husband and I adopted a child six years ago. Please take the bitterness from your political loss to a different audience.

Aquagirl

December 18th, 2012
2:35 pm

Where pray tell is daddy? When I see these type articles, I always wonder why the father is not mentioned, you know, father, aka “my baby’s daddy.”

What part of “my husband and I adopted a child six years ago” was unclear? It was in the second sentence. If you went off the rails before that point consider evaluation and appropriate medication, your anger at imaginary “babydaddies” under every rock should be addressed pronto.

bookman parrot

December 18th, 2012
2:43 pm

aquagirl, why are you so angry?

Aquagirl

December 18th, 2012
2:48 pm

why are you so angry?

It’s not anger, it’s concern that folks like Tech Rules may have access to guns.

indigo

December 18th, 2012
2:53 pm

Aquagirl – 2:48

And, the intelligence level of Tech Rules suggests he/she has never set foot at Tech and probably is a high school dropout.

Aquagirl

December 18th, 2012
3:03 pm

Oh great…..angry at babydaddies, angry at education failures…what could go wrong in this picture?

Mother of Mental Ill Child

December 18th, 2012
3:07 pm

Ga Tech Rules – The father is in the picture, but like many is working to support his family. Most of our son’s rages happened when my husband was at work. By the time he got home early evening our son was wiped out from the rage and calm at that point. We are a tax paying, rule following family. Not the slackers you mention. As for the hospital bills, we paid thousands for the short period he was there including $50 a day for a week for outpatient therapy until our insurance release him from outpatient therapy. Don’t pass judgement until you have all of the facts. All told, we are up to about $60,000 from the adoption to the therapy and mental health costs. How much have you spent helping a child?

George

December 18th, 2012
3:17 pm

In the Public School system some parents will not even let their kids be tested at all and they know that it is a problem.It money is put into it it needs to have a mandate.

Archie

December 18th, 2012
3:28 pm

There are children in public schools that are a demonstrated menace to themselves and others and pretending that it isn’t there will not make it go away. (Ignoring the problem doesn’t work either!) Unfortunately, special ed teachers and other professionals have become “customer service representatives” and “the customer (parents) is always right!” A teacher can’t even suggest a student see a mental health professional, far less intimate a student may need to be on psychotrophic medication. If the parent will not sign for Special Ed. services, the regular teacher is forced to “grin and bear it” while said student turns the classroom upside down and the regular students suffer because the teacher must take up THEIR time with this “high maintainance” student. For a student with severe behavior disorders, a special school (even residential) may well be the “Least Restrictive Envioronment!”

BehindEnemyLines

December 18th, 2012
3:37 pm

Once again, I see that the call for using other people’s money is quite popular here.

Pride and Joy

December 18th, 2012
3:46 pm

BULL-oney! GUNS caused the deaths, not mental illness. I know more than one kid and an adult on the autism spectrum and NONE are violent.
The issue here is GUNS, not mental illness.
Ronald Reagan certainly did a number on our society when he shut down the mental health benefits and institutions back in the 80s and we need to change that but to blame the gunman’s murders on his mental illness is to hide our heads in the sand.
If Adam Lanza only had a knife, he couldn’t have shot through the security door because knives don’t shoot. He would have banged on the locked door and the principal would have called the police to arrest Adam Lanza.
GUNS killed these 27 people!
Get rid of the guns!

mark

December 18th, 2012
3:53 pm

A charter school seems to be the best fit. They wont mind the $80K a year student.

Prof

December 18th, 2012
3:54 pm

@ BehindEnemyLines. So what exactly do you propose should be done if a person can’t afford treatment and present insurance companies refuse to cover treatment of their clients’ mental illnesses? We’ve already seen some possible consequences in Newtown.

beteachin

December 18th, 2012
4:00 pm

I’m not usually one to advocate the use of drugs; however, wouldn’t drug therapy be the cheapest and easiest and kindest way to help these angry children become more docile? Couldn’t the right drugs be used (sedation even in extreme cases?) to allow them to remain in the LRE at school and at home without being a danger to others? Parents could still care for and love their children without being afraid of them or putting them away or waiting for them to hurt someone or kill themselves or be put in jail? I’m not a medical person, but I know these drugs exist. If a child’s mind is raging, this might be the kindest thing we could do as a society to help–them AND the rest of us.

Not PC and a HS teacher

December 18th, 2012
4:17 pm

The public school system is not the place to dump this staggering problem of dealing with the serious mental health issues of severely troubled children. This would be just as successful as expecting the schools to deal with teaching the un-ethical students ethical behavior, provide after-school cut-rate childcare, provide sex-education to the promiscuous, provide drug prevention to the those surrounded by the drug culture found in urban chaos, engage in the character development of those with no moral center, and the many other important issues that have nothing to do with the original intent for providing a person’s education.

While our society needs more from public schools than the 3 R’s, some of these programs have no place in the organization that is designed to provide academic instruction. Teachers are not prepared by their training for this challenge, administrators do not have the training, and the school districts do not have resources or facilities suited for the purpose of helping severely mentally disturbed adolescents.

The challenge was laid down that the US “will have to change”, this includes the liberal, no-fault, attitude that politcal leaders can just point a finger at an existing public institution and expect this problem to be resolved. The old approach of a cheap solution will not save one life nor prevent one troubled person from becoming a threat to others.

Properly administer laws, do not give people with obvious mental problems the multiple chances with no intervention that so many troubled people have experienced before others are hurt.

The funding of the public mental health system should be adequate so that such people with serious problems get the important help that their behavior requires. The purpose should be to make them safe to be around and to live their life without being a danger to others. And do it because it is the right thing, not because it is the opportunity to stack up political capital.

Mom of Deaf Adult

December 18th, 2012
4:27 pm

Everyday I fear he will be next! The State of GA’s mental health program ignored the deaf people for years! There are lawsuits! We won, but we are waiting for the money to be used for the services! I believe the government is not serious about the deaf services!

Another comment

December 18th, 2012
4:33 pm

@ Ga tech, so I am suppose to stay with a lazy abusive sociopath who is verbally, mentally abusive not only to me in front of the kids, But I find out he has molested his own daughter and physically and verbally abused his step daughter. No way, I am out of there! My kids are better off in a Single parent home.

Lots of men are verbally, mentally and physically abusive to wives and children. The only thing is now that women out number men in college we don’t have to put up with the bull. No man will ever treat my children and I like crap. Ga tech I would never date you or hire you. Don’t forget some of us single mothers are the hiring officials now. I don’t hire pig engineers, like you. I do have an Engineering degree. Not from a narrow minded school that produces male pigs.

Fenton Hardy

December 18th, 2012
4:45 pm

It’s not about WIIFM, it’s about what kind of society do we want to have. There are obviously some selfish jackasses out today. They may money, but, no compassion. Someday they’ll meet their Maker like the rest of us and He/She will probably ask “What good did you do for mankind” and their answer will be I hoarded money and things while castigating people trying to do the best for their children.

Mother of Mental Ill Child

December 18th, 2012
4:52 pm

beteachin – the would be wonderful if it worked. We have tried many medications and still can’t find one or the right combination that stops his rages. Plus, it is not cheap. The drug companies charge a ton for this type of medication. I paid $30 a pill one time because our insurance refused to refill a prescription. We are still working with a top notch psychiatrist to find the right combination of drugs and I am crossing my fingers they will work one day.

Ga Tech Rules

December 18th, 2012
4:53 pm

Another comment – For you to have ever been involved with a “a lazy abusive sociopath” brings your judgement into question, your lack of self control tells me you are not a hiring official, and frankly you could not but a date with me, you do not have enough money!

Aquagirl

December 18th, 2012
5:13 pm

I paid $30 a pill one time because our insurance refused to refill a prescription.

Holy [redacted]. Our system is broken.

ReaderRick

December 18th, 2012
5:17 pm

William Casey – If we had a tax for mental health, the government would spend it on something else.

Warrior Woman

December 18th, 2012
5:20 pm

@ Beverly Fraud – Amen to the idea of changing “least restrictive environment” to “most appropriate environment.” Mainstreaming has been a disaster for classroom management and for students that are not identified as some type of SPED. I am tired of my children having their learning environment destroyed because of mainstreaming; tired of having my children being REQUIRED to spend time during the school day “helping” LD, BD, SPED, etc., because some idiot thinks that type of inclusion is better for the disabled child and who cares about the rest of the classroom; tired of paying for an education that we don’t receive because school administrators are either unable or unwilling to remove disruptive students from the classroom; and tired of hearing that my child’s right under the Georgia Constitution to a free and appropriate education is trumped by the needs of disabled children despite the disruption of the classroom.

Just A Teacher

December 18th, 2012
5:21 pm

You’ve got to be kidding me! Now we are supposed to feel sorry for people raising psychotic mass murderers? This guy killed 20 little kids and 8 educators, and you people want to wring your hands and say that it is the system’s fault. Those children are dead! They didn’t go to school that day asking about the rights of the mentally ill. They didn’t care whether people need guns which hold 30 bullets. They went to school to learn and to prepare themselves to be productive members of society. Now they are DEAD! I don’t feel any sympathy for people who can’t rear their children properly and teach them that committing mass murder is wrong. If your kid is sick, take him to a doctor. If the doctor can’t cure him, take him to the authorities and tell them that you are incapable of taking care of him. For God’s sake keep him away from other people whom he might kill. Don’t give him an assault weapon and train him not to miss when he is shooting at little children. And speaking of guns, who the heck needs a gun that can fire 30 times without reloading anyhow? I hunt, and if I needed 30 shots to hit something, I’d never go hunting again. This whole discussion is crap! The victims had rights too, and some maniac killed them, taking away all their rights! Adam Lanza and people like him are scum. If you can’t control your own child, do us all a favor and dump him on the steps of the police department. Let them put him in a cell but don’t enroll him in my class!

Dontavius

December 18th, 2012
5:24 pm

So then, it’s not the gun, it’s the gunner? I’m confused. I thought guns were the problem. Someone needs to clear this up.

ReaderRick

December 18th, 2012
5:25 pm

No one said it is the system’s fault. It is a society issue.
Don’t get defensive.

Warrior Woman

December 18th, 2012
5:28 pm

@ Pride and Joy – Guns did not cause Newtown. Guns are inanimate objects. They did not walk themselves to the school and start shooting. A mentally ill person broke into the school and murdered the innocents there. If not a gun, he could have used a bomb, a knife, or any number of other objects to kill and maim. Some of these would have been even more deadly than the guns.

Just A Teacher

December 18th, 2012
5:37 pm

@Rick . . . It’s not a society issue. It’s a parenting issue. I raised 3 kids and 1 of them was difficult and occasionally violent. After she spent some time in lock up, she learned not to be violent. My child was diagnosed with all kinds of things, too, but I diagnosed her as needing to be punished when she misbehaved. Turns out I was right. She has gotten her act together and is doing pretty well.

Pete

December 18th, 2012
5:44 pm

To Ga Tech Rules: you fail to understand how health insurance works. Just have the parents pay for the treatment out of pocket? A few could, no doubt, but most of us, and I suspect you are included in this group, cannot afford the extreme cost of treatment for a catastrophic illness, and mental illness can certainly qualify as catastrophic. To put it in simpler terms, if you were to get cancer, could you personally afford the $500K or more that your treatment would cost? No, so you purchase health insurance. The folks who pay their premiums and DON’T get sick cover the costs for those who do get sick.

Pete

December 18th, 2012
5:58 pm

Wow! Some lack of critical thinking! Just a Teacher says “. . . Adam Lanza and people like him are scum. If you can’t control your own child, do us all a favor and dump him on the steps of the police department. Let them put him in a cell but don’t enroll him in my class!” Most of the comments here are from folks who have tried to deal with a mentally ill child. They do not “blame it on society.” If you “dump him on the steps of the police department,” how long do you think they will keep him there? They’ll call you to come and get him. Will the exposure to incarceration cure him? Maybe. Maybe not. Only when someone has committed an unthinkable act such as in Newtown will the system “take him off the streets.”

Beverly Fraud

December 18th, 2012
5:59 pm

“tired of hearing that my child’s right under the Georgia Constitution to a free and appropriate education is trumped by the needs of disabled children despite the disruption of the classroom.”

Well as long as the Georgia Supreme Court was willing to wade in on charter schools; the above is a case begging to be tried in a court of law. Class action lawsuit, perhaps?