According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness. That’s about 43.8 million people, or around 18.5% of our country. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is a time to demystify some of the common misconceptions about various health issues. In an article written by Quinten Plummer for Tech Times, he states that The Mental Health America organization has used the national attention to spark a conversation about how people whose mental illness is addressed before Stage 4 can recover quickly.
This illness is certainly not age-based, nor culture-based. Years ago, I had represented a mother whose 18 year old son, “John”, for the most part, grew up “normal”. Then one day he was experimenting with his friends with various substances to get “high”. For some reason, his body and mind reacted in such an extraordinary way. John started seeing things, hearing things and just acting so unusual. His mom could not understand what was happening. She took him to a psychiatrist, and John was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, manic with psychosis and paranoid episodes. Mom was so distraught. He would refuse medication, wander in the streets in the middle of the night, and be violent to the rest of the family. Since he reached the age of majority, his mom could not talk to his doctors, and make decision on his behalf. We opened up a Guardianship proceeding, and after several months, was able to get Mom appointed as John’s guardian. When I met John in court, he appeared to be a typical 18 year old boy. It wasn’t until the Judge started asking him some questions that you notice he was suffering from a mental illness.
On the other side of the spectrum, I represented a 72 year old business owner, “Nick”, in the later stages of dementia. His son noticed that he was starting to do odd things, like leaving the stove on for a long period of time, or drive to the store, but wind up in a completely different neighborhood. It was then that the son moved him into a Senior living facility. Within a month of moving in, Nick met his next door neighbor, “Jane”, who befriended him. They ate meals together, hung out together, and Nick seemed to enjoy the attention. Then a few months later, Jane asked the facility to check into a 2 bedroom apartment for the two of them, because she said they were soon to be married. It wasn’t long before Nick’s son saw the red flags, and started a Guardianship proceeding to protect his father. I represented Nick and enjoyed learning about how he started his business years ago and what it has become today. Although his short term memory was not very sharp, he remembers clearly details from his life long ago. Needless to say it was a long court process and eventually Nick’s son became his guardian. Interestingly enough, Jane moved out a month later.
I share these stories hopefully to encourage people to start noticing family and friends around them. Anyone may seem “normal” at first, and yet, he or she may be suffering from a mental illness. They are very susceptible to financial abuse, and perhaps physical abuse. If we can keep an eye on our loved ones and our neighbors, have them seek help, perhaps they can recover with the right medical attention.