Written by: Alexis C. Custard
For nine months an innocent child lives within their mother’s womb. The child eats, sleeps, grows and develops within the four walls of its mother; however, when they are born in the world and become mentally ill, they are not accepted on this Earth. But what if it were you? Morning, evening and night you hear voices in your head, you see prodigious figures of shadows and you’re not sure who or what they are. You become angry and want to kill yourself. Why, because you cannot escape the four walls from within-yourself.
“At times I just want to crawl into a fetal position and give up on my lack of hope to help my own child” ... my name is Ronda Grafford, I live in Murray, Kentucky and I am the mother of a 31-year old son who lives with chronic paranoid schizophrenia. My son’s first psychotic break was in 2001 while away at school in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 21. During this time period, I was working a full time job, taking care of my elderly father and also my husband who had developed cancer. By the end of 2008, my life became so dreadfully unbearable that I regretfully turned my son over to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services – State Guardianship.
The state guardianship program moved my son 5 hours from his home into a personal care home. Due to the condition of my son's hygiene and apparent deterioration of his illness, I became concerned for his safety. I discovered he was being arrested on numerous occasions. I felt as if he was trapped in a place that no one understood his illness. As his symptoms worsen, I attempted to report my concerns but nothing changed. Finally, I requested for my son's guardianship to be returned to me. This was a lengthily and stressful process that took over a year.
It costs around 700 dollars per day to place a patient in a State Mental Hospital. On the other hand, it only costs taxpayers around 52 dollars per day to house a mentally ill person in jail. This should not mean that it is humane to incarcerate people with a severe mental illness because of a cost savings to the state budget. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have waivers for housing and supported services, in the state of Kentucky. However, people with mental illness rarely have these types of supports. People with mental illness cannot help their state of mind, just as people with other types of disabilities.
The Michelle P. Waiver supports people with intellectual disabilities to live independently in the community. It states that an individual must be diagnosed with a developmental disability before they turn 18 years old in order to qualify for supports. This excludes the majority of individuals with brain diseases such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar, ADHD, etc. People with severe mental illness lack many funding sources that would help them be independent. Are they not human? They should receive equal opportunity like everyone else. It’s no different than incarcerating a person with Alzheimer’s. Would you place your family member with Alzheimer’s in jail or prison?
I would like for my son to have the right to live in his community. I would like for medications to be administered that will allow him to have the right to live a healthy life, free of hallucinations and delusions. I would like for Kentucky to amend mental health laws to allow assisted outpatient treatment, (AOT) for people who are gravely disabled and lack the insight to their condition. I am also asking for my son to live in a safe and supportive housing environment rather than the revolving doors of hospitals, crisis centers, and jails. In order for this to happen, effective case management using evidence-based mental health treatment and services must be made available.
“It seems there is no place for my son in our society”. I am thankful for my family that has helped in many ways throughout my son’s journey. Some families turn their backs on people like me and my son. My son has lived in so many situations and they all fail due to his untreated mental illness, lack of supportive housing and case management. He has been hospitalized 17 times since 2000. Think of the money the state could save, if each person like my son received the support and treatment they needed within their community versus hospitals, jails or prisons.
One in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans— experience a mental health disorder per year. It could be you, a family member, someone you know or a person you walk by on the street. Please help my son escape the womb of the world that he constantly lives in.
Who is my son? He is a grandson, a brother, a nephew, a friend; an American citizen-he is still somebody!
Published and produced by friends of ~ The Change Mental Health Laws in Kentucky Project, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!