The following was written by a Roseburg mother about her son and his mental health issues.
When you think about mental illness, does it really mean something to you unless it’s part of your life? Do you think about how it affects families all over the county, the state or even the world? Not many of us realize the epidemic we have here in Douglas County. We don’t understand the toll it takes on people’s lives and on their families.
I am a mother of four. My oldest son Jesse turned 18 only nine months ago, but he has the mental capacity of a 12 to 14 year old. When he was 17 and close to graduating from high school, we realized there was something going on with him and we didn’t know where to start to try and fix it. We thought he was acting out because his father and I divorced about a year earlier. We thought it was him learning to become an adult and making bad choices. We thought we did something so wrong and our parenting just wasn’t good enough.
As he grew up he was slower than most kids his age. He had learning disabilities, speech impediments and social awkwardness. He was never diagnosed as disabled, only treated for attention deficit disorder (ADD). He was in normal classes with an intervention education plan. He played sports and wasn’t picked on or bullied, but he had few friends. He has a big heart, and we love him.
For a long time, Douglas County has faced a shortage of mental health care providers, and it…
He’s been in and out of jail, because we don’t have the tools in our community to help people like him.
My heart hurts because as a mother I feel like I failed my son. When we realized there was something so wrong we needed help, we were told he would have to wait two to three months to see a psychiatrist who could prescribe him medication. During that time he was seeing a therapist once a week, but it wasn’t enough. Jesse got to the point where his father and I could no longer control him. Then he turned 18, and all control was out of our hands. He drank and smoked pot to make himself feel better, stole to support his habits, and lost his family support because he continued to steal from us, and we had three other children to think about.
He was living under a bridge because he wasn’t trusted by anyone anymore, and no one would take him in.
Once, in hopes of getting him off the streets, I brought him back into my home. It lasted about a week. He was stealing from everyone he could — his father, me, his siblings — not caring who he hurt or the consequences. He had been to jail at least three times, and he just couldn’t get it together. He started acting out and getting violent, punching holes in the walls, trying to fight people. It hurt to make him leave and not allow him to be around his brothers and sister. His father and I tried so hard to fix it, but we just couldn’t fix someone who didn’t want help.
He wasn’t the same person he had been a year ago.
Jesse would walk around town shirtless and shoe-less talking to himself. People would tell me they saw him and I would just cry because I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. He ended up staying with his uncle for a few days because his uncle thought he could help. That’s when our nightmare began.
One Saturday afternoon, the Winston Police Department called to say I needed to come pick up my son. They said he broke into a man’s home because someone in his head told him his cousin was there and needed help. Not long before that, he had thrown a propane tank through his uncle’s window because he thought it was a bomb and was going to go off. He was tested that day, and was drug-free. The man whose home he had broken into held him at knife point, but he realized there was something wrong with this boy. He called the cops and just asked that this boy get help. He didn’t want to press charges.
It was devastating. I told the police Jesse couldn’t come home because I couldn’t have him around my other kids. They said, “Ma’am your son needs help; he isn’t in the right frame of mind to go to jail” and the hospital also won’t do anything for him. A city our size should be big enough to offer help for a kid like Jesse, but we realized we had to look outside the county. We went to Eugene to try and find some help.
I sat with Jesse for eight hours. I held him and told him he would be OK. I cried. I still didn’t know what was wrong. It felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest watching my son, who was once a loving, sweet little boy endure all this pain, confusion and hurt and knowing I couldn’t take the pain away. They finally got him to sleep, so I left and they admitted him into their Behavioral Health Unit. A week later the doctor told us Jesse was in a schizophrenia psychosis, and that he was being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. My heart hurt, but I was happy to finally have some answers.
I had to go to a commitment hearing because they wanted to release Jesse after only about a week and a half of being medicated. The hardest thing to do was sit there and explain why he needed to be there while he looked at me with sad and empty eyes. They ended up keeping him for about 30 days then asked me to take him home. I was hoping there was more that could be done for him, more long-term care because I knew I couldn’t give him what he needed nor could his father. I told them no and that he needed more help. They told us if we didn’t take him he would go to the mission, so his dad took him.
When Jesse was released, he didn’t have any medications with him, just written prescriptions. The pharmacy in town didn’t have his anti-psychotic meds for two full days. It was a struggle getting him adjusted to being home again. Once he had all of his meds he did well for a while. He had ambitions to look for a job and start his life again. He really was trying.
He had very little memory of anything that had happened. He couldn’t even remember the little things like brushing his teeth or what he had for dinner the night before. His memory was just not there. We tried having him keep a notebook to write things down. We gave him tasks to do. Unfortunately, these things only lasted a little while. We both had jobs and three other kids who needed us. We weren’t able to take care of Jesse the way he needed.
About three months later, Jesse fell into his old habits, drinking when he could, smoking pot and stealing. He left his dad’s house one day and didn’t come back. We learned on Feb. 15 that he was arrested for breaking into a car lot, stealing a car and wrecking a couple others on his way out. He wrecked the car in someone’s yard and was then taken into custody. I was relieved and heartbroken all at the same time. I knew he would be safer in jail than on the streets, but I was heartbroken that he was yet again in jail. Jesse had been off his meds for about two weeks at this point, and I knew he wasn’t sane.
When I talked to him on the phone he asked me if they were going to let him out. I explained to Jesse that what he did was really bad, and he could go to prison for a very long time. He sat there very quiet as I explained all of this to him and when I asked him if he understood what I was saying and the severity of his actions he said, “Well I do now.”
Thankfully the jail was able to get Jesse back on his meds the day after he was arrested so by this point his frame of mind was somewhat coherent. Once again I wondered what can I do for him. I know he doesn’t belong in jail. He’s not a bad person. He just needs help living in society with a mental illness.
I am writing this story because I want people to know that there are so many others like my son, and they have nobody to help them. Our community is strong. We always seem to be there for each other when tragedies happen. Why aren’t we there for each other when it comes to the growing epidemic of mental illness?
When we look at the population of transients in Douglas County, we see drunks, drug addicts, gross people who can’t get jobs. We judge them and look down on them. I know I have, until my awareness of mental illness became so real and a part of my life I couldn’t look the other way. Why don’t we have help, why don’t we try harder to get these people what they need? Do we stop and wonder why are they like that, what happened to them to make them not care about their life? I know I didn’t until I realized my son is like that. He didn’t care to shower or change his clothes. He had no hope in life because he doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand it like most of us do.
I know that people live with this disease all the time and many others for that matter, but not everyone is the same. There will be many opinions and many people will disagree with my thoughts on this but one thing is true — my son lives with this illness and I know better than anyone how much it hurts to watch someone you love so much go through this and know that there is only so much you can do to help.