This is what my book is all about. Don't forget the families. Let's talk about the children and spouses of the mentally ill. The diagnosed mentally ill patient gets a lot of attention and rightfully so; but having said that, let's take time to take care of the care givers. In my opinion, without the caregivers some mentally ill persons will be on the street. My teachers aide just today told me her sister-in-law is mentally ill and currently living on the street. She said they are just waiting her out for the time that she will be either arrested or taken against her will to a psy-ward and get the medical care she desperately needs. This is the repeated story of many families around this country, sadly. Don't forget the caregivers need help and compassion as well. They are also the victims of any mental illness.
Mental illness hard on families
They often juggle desire to help loved one, fears for their own safety.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A thick sheaf of hospital discharge forms and medical records paint a grim picture of a Norcross woman tormented by demons that neither she nor her family were strong enough to exorcise.
Hospital records show that Na Yong Pak, 32, who is accused of setting her mother on fire and killing her, had been involuntarily committed to inpatient psychiatric treatment twice within the past six months. She had also been arrested twice since September for allegedly beating up her mother, 58-year-old Myong Hui Pak.
The tragedy of Hui Pak’s slaying last Tuesday has turned a spotlight on the anguish of thousands of families who are grappling with mental illness. Many feel they have nowhere to turn.
Family members said Yong Pak, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression, set her mother on fire last Tuesday because she thought she was being poisoned. She refused to take the anti-psychotic medication that doctors prescribed when she was released from a state mental health facility Jan. 29, according to her father, Gold Pak.
“She beat her mother all the time,” Gold Pak said Wednesday. “[My wife] was scared of her.”
Experts say that the problems the Pak family faced are not uncommon.
“I’ve talked to parents who have a hard time sleeping because they’re afraid of their loved one in the house,” said Lisa Roberts, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter in Cobb County. “It’s sad for the person who is ill and the family members who are suffering. They both suffer.”
Families don’t want loved ones jailed or thrown out on the street, even when they are uncooperative or violent, said Sgt. Tracy Lee of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department. Lee is a member of the county Domestic Violence Task Force. Reluctance to see a loved one imprisoned prevents some people from seeking a protective order, because a violation of the order gets the offender jailed, he said.
Getting medical help for mental illness also can be a Catch-22. Gold Pak and his adult son sought permission from a Gwinnett probate judge to have Yong Pak involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital in September. She went to Charter Peachford Hospital in Dunwoody for about a week and a half before being released, they said. Yong Pak also was taken to Georgia Regional Hospital in Decatur for a second round of inpatient treatment in December, after Norcross police arrested her on suspicion of battery against her mother. The family said Georgia Regional released her Jan. 29 following a seven-week stay.
Few families can afford long-term inpatient treatment at a private mental health facility. State mental hospitals in many instances are just a stopgap, where the patient is stabilized and then released, said Eric Spencer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Georgia.
Spencer said local NAMI chapters in many Georgia counties can provide resources for families of people suffering from mental illness, but the state also needs to fund more treatment options. Georgia is ranked 45th out of the 50 states on per capita spending on mental health care, Spencer said.
Plenty of people do manage to live normal lives despite having a mental disorder. Ric Hershman, 50, of Lawrenceville is one of them. Hershman was hospitalized a dozen times after he began to suffer from schizo affective disorder at about age 18. At one time, he had paranoid delusions that the world was coming to an end, but now he manages his symptoms effectively with medication and therapy. Hershman now works training volunteers for NAMI.
“People with a mental illness can live productive, constructive lives,” Hershman said. “They’re on a constant road to recovery, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not functional and caring people.”
The important thing is that safety comes first.
“What we usually tell the parents is that you have to protect yourself, first and foremost,” said Spencer. “If you can’t take care of yourself, then you can’t be there to help and protect your loved one.”