Lara health story

Parents Jenny Lara, left, and Jesse Lara, right, stand with their son Jesse, Jr., after his graduation from Roseburg High School in 2016. Jesse, Jr., has been struggling with mental health issues.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Lara

Editor’s Note

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.

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.

Jenny Lara of Roseburg is the mother of Jesse Lara.

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(12) comments

Mogie

Have a friend in Sutherlin whose mother became delusional. He took her to Mercy and they informed him she was high on crack. This is an older women and the police delivered her to his door in one of their cop cars. To this day he has no idea what happened to her (she is still not on full thrusters). I am worried that one day she will just disappear. But what can be done?

Saitaina

Douglas County lost any sense of caring for the mentally ill many, many years ago. My mother was in and out of the system for decades before her death and at best, they would ship her off to another hospital in another county for a few weeks and then we'd be back on the same cycle mere months later of cops and suicide threats and me trying to find a hospital in a town I've never been in to pick her up after a week or two.

My mother was hospitalized for medical complications to a suicide attempt (pill overdose) in May of 2010. In September of 2010, she was just barely home, still on court orders when I called the Sheriff in the middle of the night to inform them that a suicidal patient was missing with all of her medications. They stated there was nothing that could be done. No searching, no putting a heads up that you know...she was out there, in a car that they had the make, model, colour and plate number of...nothing.

The next morning I was politely informed my mother was found (in her car!), having committed suicide.

There is no hope in this country, no help. You can actively ASK for help (my mother called her therapist for an emergency crisis visit and was turned down because she didn't show up to group therapy the week before) and be rejected.

Douglas County just doesn't care and hasn't for a long time.

jstandish

Get in touch with Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. In my experience they are they best and possibly only help anywhere near Roseburg.

Riversmom

Jenny, thank you for sharing and bringing attention to this epidemic. I too have a seventeen year old beautiful boy who at sixteen was diagnosed with schizophrenia. River my son will be eighteen in five weeks, that's where it all gets much scarier in my mind. I too have three other children at home to care for. In the last two years he has been hospitalized three times for up to sixty days. The pain of watching your child go thru these horrors is unimaginable. The desperation for answers is never ending. Or it seems so, so many times I have thought when my son gets better and I feel stronger I will fight to make changes for the mentally ill. Only to be taken down the road of psychosis over and over again. I teared up reading this it is so familiar. I hurt for your family and your son. I hurt for the homeless that live with these illnesses. River is currently hospitalized but when he turns eighteen he can sign himself out and refuse help. He does not recognize he is I'll as I am sure you can relate. Surely he will do just that. I am trying to get legal guardianship of him to protect him from jail, prison, confrontations with police that do not his diagnosis and might turn very ugly, and worst of all committed with me not having access or being able to help. We dread the day we can't help our children. I have done some research and I would like to share with you some things I have learned. It's a long road but I faith that if I advocate, educate and try to better understand I can help my son andaybe your too. There is a stigma attached to mental illness here in our nation. A misunderstanding that is not shared by all cultures. Mental illness is considered a gift or rather a blessing in many parts of the world. They are thought to be enlightened. Where we see lost they see finding they're way. Where we see drowning they see swimming to the top. I believe that if they are seen in a different light and believed in their reality, maybe they can trust us to walk with them thru their journey and come out with less demons on the other side. To change many people's way of thinking and approaching such sensitive issues it takes results. I plan on trying to do just that. Starting with seeing mental illness in a different light. United is the only way to remove the stigma. I pray that i find a better way to help my child, and that if I do it will help many others. Take care of yourself and bless you for your commitment to see change.

BrieE

Jenny you are so brave to share your story publicly. Hopefully your article will inspire the community to bring back desperately needed resources for mental health care.

Mikesgirl

I understand what you are going thru, its so sad that we live in a community this size and there is no help for people with mental illness. People need to wake up to the problem .

Mogie

Mikesgirl why would you say there is no help for people with mental problems around here? Just look in the phone book and you will see lots of shrinks listed. Mercy also has an entire staff just for this. They might not be the sharpest tacks in the box but they are here and open for business. There are also at least one business that deals with mental issues.

Saitaina

You clearly know very little of the issue if you think having shrinks does anything. We can have a million of them and not help one person if we don't have the tools and appropriate measures in order to actually make it effective.

Also, not being the sharpest tacks in the box IS a problem when someone's mother, someone's child is the one you have to bury because their shrink can't do their jobs.

Have you ever been in mercy's locked ward? It's not an 'entire staff', it's a small handful of nurses and occasionally, once a day you see someone from the county to ask if you're still crazy. Yes? Alright, you either get another night staring at the same four walls or shipped out of county. No? Okay, we'll send you out the door with no where to go or way to get there. A week of staring at the camera staring at you is enough to make anyone lie, no matter what help you need (none of which they provide).

Not to mention mental illness needs FAR more than 'shrinks'.

Mogie

Not all mental illness is treated with the same things (some people respond to just meds while others need a combo of meds and therapy and still others need a more hard core answer). There is help for people with mental problems in this community. Severe problems appear to be a different matter. Perhaps relocating to a large city that has those facilities would be a answer. But the point is that roseburg does have shrinks to help. Roseburg might not have the resources that you need but there are resources here. Just like we don't have a hospital as large and well staffed as Eugene (SacredHeart) but we do have a hospital. While Roseburg's selection of docs isn't as large as Eugene's we do have docs. Maybe a larger city would be able to offer you more. Is relocating an option? I have dealt with mental illness in my own family and with friends also. Our shrinks have walked through suicide attempts they were able to handle our problems but perhaps your problems are too much to be dealt with at this level.

Mogie

I know that title 10 teacher aides conduct testing every year beginning (I believe in 1st grade. The testing results (if your kid is up to grade standards) are shared with parents so they can determine if there is a learning problem. That info is part of the students permanent record and should have been shared with the parents. You should have received some type of a heads up regarding this situation.

Mogie

Even if you can't afford insurance you should surely qualify for the Oregon Health Plan. They offer mental health care at no cost to you. I also have a family member who is homeless (well to be truthful they used to be homeless). With help (mental) and medicine there should be an answer. Has your son every got a diagnosis?

Saitaina

....did you READ the article? It clearly answers your question.

Also, OHP is on a lottery system, so even if you qualify, doesn't mean you get it. Nto to mention, if you DO have OHP, your options are limited and insurance doesn't amount for the fact Douglas County has a SERIOUS problem in regards to resources for patients. Bad social workers, horrific therapists, rotton drug programs and no inpatient facility.

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