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A Family Perspective on Mental Illness

By August 7, 2018June 9th, 2019No Comments

Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality

Mary Wilson realized her son had a mental illness about 17 years ago. They had always had a rocky relationship, “but I’d always stuck with him, and he’d always stuck with me… It became really obvious around that time.” She started attending family support groups in Santa Cruz. It really came to the forefront after he graduated from college when he was 25 years old. She heard about Interim’s programs in Monterey County, but knew he couldn’t attend them because he lived in Santa Cruz. His friends graduated and started their lives, while he struggled with work. He had a job as a janitor for a few years. He motivated himself to join the Marines at one point, but left a week later.

At one low point, 15 years ago, he was living on the street. Mary invited him back home to live. “That was the beginning of seeing how much his mental illness had progressed.” He couldn’t sleep at night, and accused Mary of making noises to keep him up at night.  He also was exhibiting signs of paranoia, at one point thinking she had poisoned his hot chocolate.

Eventually, she had to ask him to leave. Ultimately, he checked himself into the mental health unit at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz. “He was pretty lost.” They managed to find him a room to rent. He continued to see a private psychiatrist, who helped him to access SSI.

He still struggled. “He was hospitalized a huge number of times.” Eventually, he was placed on conservatorship, and was sent to a facility in the Bay area. They removed the conservatorship in three months and moved him to another facility in Greenfield. At that point, he was having physical symptoms of pain and discomfort.

Eventually, her son was hospitalized at CHOMP. Because he still wasn’t a resident of Monterey County, they decided to discharge him back to the Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) in Santa Cruz for 5 days. PHF is a locked acute psychiatric inpatient program funded by the County of Santa Cruz. After he was released from PHF he decided to change his residency to Monterey County to access services through Behavioral Health. Mary also had him re-evaluated by a private psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder in the bipolar category. Once he was accessing services through Monterey County Behavioral Health, they were able to send him to Interim’s Manzanita House, a short-term crisis residential program. That was in June 2017. Four months after his discharge, he was accepted into Interim’s Shelter Cove program.

Since coming to Interim, Mary feels her son’s treatment has changed dramatically. She feels like he’s respected. When looking at photos of her son before he went into Shelter Cove in July, compared to a recent photo, she can see the changes. “He was still in a lot of pain and discomfort in May and you could tell from the picture.” By July, in another photo, his appearance had begun to change. In another more recent photo, he is smiling and finally beginning to look happy. His physical pain is also subsiding. Recently, Mary asked her son how he liked the groups he was attending. He replied, “I like them. They are helpful.” Mary says she never would have heard that from him two years ago. He knows they care about him and he can go to their staff.

Mental illness also affects family members’ lives. They are usually on the front lines of dealing with crises, doctors, hospital visits, psychiatrists, appointments, and medications. She feels like she can finally rest, and let Interim take over the care of her son, as she sees him steadily improving. As her son’s illness has improved, he has been able to improve his connections with his family, especially his father and sister.  He wasn’t able to have those moments for a long time.