Six weeks later, Ian made his first attempt at suicide. He left school, placed a plastic bag over his head and tied it around his neck. This was five years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Not just the pain and anguish, but this marked the beginning of my journey to find services and treatment while not having authority to act on my son’s behalf.In Colorado, minors at the age of 14 have the right to make their own medical and mental health decisions. The only way for a parent to obtain information is if the child signs a release of information. This law, combined with HIPAA, created an endless battle for me trying to help my son. I couldn’t schedule appointments for him unless he expressly stated I had the authority to do so. Ian is one of the many who experience anosognosia, or a lack of awareness that he has a mental illness. At 16 Ian experienced his first psychotic episode. He began communicating in word salad, was thought blocking and became very disorganized. I tried to make him an appointment, but he had not authorized me to do so. I tried to convince him to make his own appointment, but he didn’t feel there was anything wrong with him. I tried to get the school involved, but they didn’t have the resources. I watched my son decompensate right in front of me. Ten days later, I found my son unconscious in the backyard. The ambulance rushed him to the emergency room where he stopped breathing. They registered his blood alcohol level in ~ .426. The lethal limit ins .50. He was on a ventilator in ICU for three days before being transferred to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. It took my son almost dying to get him into the hospital.At the age of 18, Ian was hospitalized for the 5th time after threatening to kill someone with a butcher knife to make the voices stop. After his discharge the insurance company outsourced his treatment because they could not provide the level of support he needed. After talking with Ian for less than 30 minutes, his new psychiatrist tried to discontinue his medications because he denied having hallucinations or other symptoms of schizophrenia. After two suicide attempts, six hospitalizations, a dozen other ER visits, three arrests, homicidal threats, many medication trials, and four diagnoses Ian is now relatively stable. He is 19 years old living independently despite the schizophrenia. I watch for little clues every time I see him to assess how he’s doing: the self-talk, disorganization, collection of random objects, cleanliness of his clothes, how much soap and shampoo he’s using, how many pieces of paper are covering places from where he’s being watched, and how many holes have been punched or kicked in his walls. For years we dealt with the onset of schizophrenia without any help, without any understanding, without any hope. I’m thankful my story doesn’t end in tragedy. I know there will be many more challenges in our future.
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I want to make sure when things aren’t going well that I can help my son get the interventions and treatments he needs to keep him and others safe.CANDIE DALTONCOLORADOTo comment, visit our Facebook page. Visit our blog archive to read all our recent posts.
The Treatment Advocacy Center has documented the laws and standards in each state. State data also includes psychiatric bed availability and the number of people with severe mental illness in jails and prisons in each state.