Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Independent Living and Mental Illness: How Much, How Soon?

When a hug could fix everything...
I've spent a good part of this afternoon yelling at the people who are supposed to be supporting my son as he completes his first two weeks in "supported independent living." This was determined to be the next logical step after doing so well in his group home - that's what they told me, anyway.

Yeah. sure. Where is the support? In these two weeks, he has become isolated when not at work, has clearly (to us) somehow cheecked his meds twice, and has "forgotten" to show up for morning meds once.  He also missed an appointment with his caseworker. This, too, he "forgot"  - and they caseworker let it slide. After the initial move-in rush, Ben has not finished unpacking. I'll bet there are roaches crawling over unwashed dishes in his sink.  I hope not, but let's just say I have concerns.

Why? Well, it could be the stress of too much change too soon. After seven years in Harrison House - where he had 24/7 staffing, 7 housemates, required chores and meetings, and someone to be accountable to - Ben now is expected to live alone, and "take responsibility."  Except for showing up twice a day to take meds, he is left to his own schedule, his own decisions, his own life. Ben has lost his community, his sense of purpose, his structure and his parental figures.  All without gradual steps. It's like they threw him down a flight of stairs and said good luck.
And, oh sure, we'll take you to the hospital if you break a leg. But we won't bother cushioning your fall or providing a handrail.

Add to that the fact that Ben's school semester ended during this time, he no longer has required meetings to go to, and he has no one to play cards with, say good morning to, watch Iron Chef with. Yeah, he said he hated Harrison House and couldn't wait to get out - but even the things he did to get away from there (extra NA or AA meetings, community Clubhouse, nights spent with his family) were good for him. If not for his job, he'd he alone all the time. And that is not good for anyone.

On June 9th, I'll be the keynote speaker at Fellowship Place in New Haven CT, where they provide community to those like Ben who so desperately need it - and cannot get it elsewhere. I wish Ben lived near their program. If he would go. Things we're required to do sometimes help us the most.

Several calls to the office later, I have spoken to every possible staff member about Ben's tricks for not keeping his meds in his system. If they have to tattoo it on his arm, I don't care. Watch him taking the meds - every second - and make sure he sits afterward according to doctor's orders. No bathroom, no cigarette breaks. Come on! How hard is that? Why doesn't every per diem staff member have access to that info?
But - more than that - where is the plan they promised to make this transition easier?  When I asked his caseworker, I got this response: "Well, we do a plan after 30 days, after we get to know him."

Really? When and how do you plan to know him? Do you know how a kid can fall through the cracks in 30 days? How will you know if he's isolating himself?

Will it be too late when you finally notice him?
Quote from the Fellowship Place website: "It is possible to overcome the effects of severe mental illness and move from homelessness, poverty, and despair to a life of hope and self-sufficiency"
Yes- with love, a good plan, a sense of purpose, and the right meds. What if I were not there to step in? What about the people whose families have given up?


  1. So sorry you are going through this right now! Ben is lucky to have you in his corner fighting for him! Keep up the good work and make those caseworker's do their job every time, not when it is convenient for them!

  2. thanks for the support! I know caseworkers are overworked and well-intentioned - almost all of them I've met - but they often don't realize how important community, purpose, and structure are to recovery. Trying to spread the message! Hopefully the book will help do that.

  3. After 30 days? Are they freakin' kidding? That's ABSURD! You'd think a solid transition plan would have been the be the very minimum prerequisite for release from Harrison House. Common sense!

  4. yeah. ya think? They said at a meeting today, "if Ben needs us he can always call us." Problem is: what if he doesn't think he needs anyone? Common for all in that situation. So they put out fires instead of preventing them. Yikes.
    thanks for the comment!

  5. So the house staff are different from the community staff... Are they reading this blog? I have to believe that they will recognize what is happening. Otherwise, I just don't understand why they would allow this to happen. Can he go back to the house if need be?

  6. They don't have to read this blog, because I let them have it at a meeting yesterday. Boy they will cringe when they see me coming but I don't care. I think we made progress, but time will tell. There's a lot of adjusting to do, on all sides. Back to the house would take a crisis I don't want to see, ever again. Fingers crossed we have put some plans into place to help! Wake-up call for them, though, I think. I hope.

  7. I'm so sorry to hear that you're having such a hard time! It sounds all to familiar, 2 steps forward 1 steps back. It seems to me that all we do, day in and day out, is fight to keep our children from that crisis state and try to insure that they're getting what the need. Why does it have to be so hard? Ben is very blessed to have a mother that fights for him and that hasn't given up....

  8. Thanks,anonymous! I'm not sure his caseworkers felt the same way when I got on their case, but...changes were made. Hopefully in time. What amazes me is that there was no transition plan put in place when Ben would have accepted anything - at the moment of decision to take him into this new program of independent living. He would have agreed to daily visits, required meetings, anything to have his own place. To try and implement these changes now, after two weeks of "seeing what happens", is seen as a failure on Ben's part and he wants no part of it. Grrr. Like taking a kid who has glowing recommendations from first grade teacher and saying "Great! Put him in fourth grade and see what happens!"

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