Hindsight is 20/20 right? Too bad we can’t take our knowledge of today and change the past – or can we? Sociology, Psychology and Psychiatry classes are filled with statistics. It’s how they base allot of their hypothesis. We may not have the ability to change the past, but we can absolutely change the future by revisiting the past.
Take a look at today’s reality as we are faced with FACTS that emotional and mental disorders NEED to be taken seriously and taken care of just as we would with a child who shows up with symptoms of any socially accepted disease. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 20 % of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition. These are the adults. Now – 70% of youth in our juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness. What will the adult system look like in 10 years?
Again, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.
I think of my son today and am blessed by the amount of help he has been provided by not only our school system, but our State and County in general. They seem to recognize this epidemic and are doing everything in their limited power to make significant changes. But…. What about those kids 10 years ago who didn’t get this help? Maybe the mild cases are still struggling and have no idea where to turn or what to do? How about the severe cases? The children who may have been abused or suffered through a physical or emotional disaster that left their brains altered and “wired incorrectly”? What if some of them were the ones self-medicating as teenagers who were able to somewhat enjoy the side effects of their medication with their “bros” as they drifted through their chaotic thinking the only way they knew how? Then, adulthood hits and it seems too late to fix what they don’t understand as real life throws a 40 hour work week, a spouse, possibly a kid or two or three at them like a hail storm that creates a lifestyle of dodging the pounding hail each and every day as they zig zag their way from point a to point b with no real life tools to help them cope?
According to The US Department of Justice, approximately, 24% of jail inmates, 15% of State prisoners, and 10% of Federal prisoners reported at least one symptom of psychotic disorder. A psychotic disorder was indicated by any signs of delusions or hallucinations during the 12-month test period. Delusions were characterized by the offenders’ belief that other people were controlling their brain or thoughts, could read their mind, or were spying on them. Hallucinations included reports of seeing things others said they did not see or hearing voices others did not hear.
Typical mental illness signs and symptoms include
- Confused thinking
- Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
- Feelings of extreme highs and lows
- Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- STRONG FEELINGS OF ANGER
- STRANGE THOUGHTS (DELUSIONS)
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
- Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Numerous unexplained physical ailments
- SUBSTANCE ABUSE
When adults have the ability to see these symptoms in their children we have the ability to help them find appropriate care in hopes that we can modify their life skills in order to ensure a successful future.
I have stated over and over that I believe this is possible. We all do what we must do to get through our day. If we look at someone who suffers from obesity who is winning the battle and finally losing the weight that has corrupted their entire lives, they are winning because they have made significant life changes that someone who has never had to deal with “being overweight” has never had to even think about. They no longer walk down the “cookie isle” at the store. No matter how incredibly hungry they are, they will no longer eat that cake with triple layer frosting – they look at that cake as a recovering heroin addict looks at a heroin. THEY CANNOT EAT IT and they change their entire lifestyle FOREVER to ensure they live healthy and happy or they know the 100 or 200 or 400 pounds will come right back. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, only 8% of adult women and only 4% of adult men suffer from Morbid Obesity. That percent is significantly smaller than the mental health statistics that I just pointed out and yet, their disease is not only recognized but curable.
We once again go 10 years into the future. We are no longer a 16-year-old boy dealing with some of the above symptoms – we are a grown man who has been dealing with them for over a decade. I have seen first-hand the face of the boy in utter confusion over a thought or emotion that he knows is not typical. If our family and support system had not helped him “realize that he can’t eat the cake” – figuratively speaking to prove a point – where might this lead?
Confidential Case in Point, maybe a young man who never learned how to control his anger and he took it out inappropriately? Maybe a young man who has self-medicated his whole life to get rid of the intruding thoughts, the voices, the everyday confusion that haunts his soul? Maybe a young man who can’t figure out why his life won’t straighten out, completely clueless that his daily choices have been poisoned by a medical inability to rationalize the smallest problems? Maybe now a young man who gets caught up in a system less forgiving and more penalizing because that is what the system knows? Maybe a young man who now, not only holds his own future in his hands, but the future of an entire family who are left penniless and homeless as the consequences become exceedingly unforgiving?
The symptoms will not ever go away on their own. Their brains are not working like the typical brain so typical remedies will not work. Humans are creatures of habit and we tend to follow like a flock of sheep but when the issue is mental illness, following the herd will be your demise! Especially in today’s world when you will also be judged by the herd. Tomorrow may be a different story. We may be able to educate society in understanding that there is a cure for many kinds of mental illness. Mental illness that all too often the individual suffering may not even comprehend that they fit into this category….. UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE. Rehabilitation for the victims of this disease now through a sentence of education, required medical attention and the opportunity to live a new life under a proper diagnosis and medication regiment vs. “a guilty plea” by the unforgiving and those willing to throw away the key possibly unknowing that this behavior just keeps the pattern going for ever and ever. The children of this forced lifestyle will grow up with trauma of their own and are already at risk in the best of situations due to genetics.
It has been proven that when given the opportunity through medication management, to replace a key function that is missing in individuals with mental illness – they can live completely normal and productive lives. For the sake of our children, my child, your child – it may be a difficult task to accomplish but we need to amend many of our laws and legal practices to protect the mentally ill from being improperly judged or implicated as being a threat based on the dysfunctional untreated brain and work towards allowing the judgement to come once the corrections have been made. Once the chemical imbalance has been corrected.
I hope I continue to be lucky and that my son continues with his strengthened skill building to ensure that he has every ounce of knowledge and tools to succeed in his adult life with courage, pride and proper choices. I pray that he will always understand that his medication will continue daily for the rest of his life as this is what “makes things work” as they need to. This medication will replace what will always be missing and will enhance all of his abilities. This will be essential if we plan on making a difference to the 70% of juveniles in the justice system who are currently suffering from mental health issues. If we thought our prisons were over crowed now……. YOU DO THE MATH!