Sunday, March 18, 2007

Crazy Law

The first time my sister was hospitalized for mental illness was not as awful as the many times that have followed. She was initially taken to the local hospital ER for a possible drug overdose. Then my parents had to get the involuntary commitment in order to place her in a psychiatric unit. There were forms that had to be approved by a judge to obtain a “72 hour hold”. There must be evidence that a person is a danger to self or others or there will not be an involuntary hospitalization.

This can make it difficult to get proper treatment for a sick family member. It is important to keep in mind that there is no law against being crazy. The law very clearly states that involuntary commitment hinges upon the ability to establish the fact that the person is a danger to self or others.

I have had the experience of taking my sister to the hospital before when she has been delusional and paranoid. She would keep her delusions to herself in front of the mental health screener and basically just stare off into space as if she were in a trance. Then the minute the screener would leave, my sister would threaten me and tell me to keep my mouth shut. After all, she was positive she had seen that same woman in a public restroom two hundred miles away. For those of you that don’t understand crazy logic, that means the screener was part of the conspiracy. It was her job to keep tabs on my sister and make sure that she did not share any information that could compromise the “company.” To further clarify, the company would be my sister’s former employer. Any former employer became implicated in conspiracies anytime she had an “episode” of mental illness.

So, the screener never got the full picture of what was going on with my sister. I remember trying to hint to her in the hallway that maybe she should spend a little more time with my sister but her mind was made up. My sister was just suffering from some anxiety.

My parents, both together and separately, have had many experiences just like mine. They had her in one hospital and the doctor actually noticed that she was acutely psychotic but they did not have a psych unit equipped to deal with patients that ill. He then suggested another area hospital that could take her. Incredibly, by the time she was seen at the next hospital, she was only suffering from anxiety again. The reality here is that crazy people do not have insurance. Hello! So the trick is to call it something far more benign than acute psychosis like maybe, oh, I don’t know… Anxiety? Great, we don’t have to hospitalize for that. After all, that is the mental health version of a hang nail. This is a great way to protect the bottom line. The thing that makes it so effective is the fact that no one can prove that someone was ‘that crazy’ in the ER. No, they didn’t get ‘that crazy’ until they got home and picked up a butcher knife. See? No liability.

This leaves the family in the unfortunate position of waiting for something bad to happen. You don’t want really, really bad. Just bad enough that you can prove your point that “it’s not anxiety, for GOD’S SAKE!” This is the part that makes it so dangerous for everyone involved. There is just no way of knowing what is coming next with psychosis. The next time you read a story about a crazy mother killing her children (Andrea Yates or the woman that threw her three small children into the San Francisco Bay) stop and think before you automatically condemn the mother or the family. The family in the Bay incident had made repeated calls to Social Services regarding the mother’s mental illness expressing concerns about her having custody of the children. Obviously, Social Services did not take this seriously. Andrea Yates had been seeing a psychiatrist and was very open about her delusions that the devil was trying to get to her kids. She was trying to protect their souls. Yet, no one intervened to prevent the tragic deaths of her children.

So, my sister’s first hospitalization took place without as much drama as subsequent hospitalizations. If it looks like a suicide attempt then they really don’t have a choice. Only because they can’t get away with labeling it anxiety.

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