By: GG Burns
Spring in Kentucky brings many things ... warmer temperatures, tree's flourishing their colorful blooms, designer hats and of course ... the Derby. Baby horses gallop around green pastures, birds chatter in the morning midst and flowers explode with fragrant aromas. Spring is also the time for people to celebrate with graduations, weddings and family gatherings.
Each spring, the mailman delivers invitations from friends and family from far and wide of graduations, weddings or other events. I hold these pieces of paper in my hand and shed tears of the missed opportunities to see my only son experience graduations or milestones common for his age.
Each year since 2006, 'spring' has brought horrid memories of extreme pain and heartache to my husband and I, as this was the year we lost our son to a horrible disease called bipolar disorder. Even though he was diagnosed with various labels at a young age, with treatment and supports he had become accomplished in music, electronics and aviation. He was often called a gifted genius and medical professionals assured us he would be OK. By the time our son turned 16, he was excelling among his peers, working while still in high school and looking forward to a successful future.
Then one day he stopped! He stopped taking care of himself. He stopped taking his needed medications. He stopped understanding the rules and reality of the world around him. He stopped attending class and eventually lost his job. As he turned 18, instead of moving forward toward his dreams he descended into a delusional world known as a psychotic episode. This was around the time my son lost all insight that he had a serious brain disorder. His grandiose and often aggressive behavior was so mind-boggling ... how could he not know?
It was years before I would learn he had a condition called anosognosia. Anosognosia is a neurological syndrome that produces an impaired awareness of one's illness. It is caused by damage to specific parts of the brain, especially the right hemisphere. It is also the number one reason some people with mental illness do not accept treatment. They simply do not understand they are ill or that their reality isn't the same as the world around them.
Family members of individuals like my son live in a never ending state of grief and terror. We try to go on with our lives, but losing a family member to mental illness is worse than death! (Especially when we know that medication could help restore their health and sanity.) In death, a person grieves for their loss forever, but is able to move on knowing their loved one has passed to a better place. In our case, we watch our son become sicker each passing year. Our grieving never ends. Our son is simply trapped in a war zone in his mind, believing he is someone he is not.
"In Kentucky, people have the right to 'not' accept treatment," even though they suffer with a cruel brain disease that doesn't allow them to understand their condition. "Kentucky law doesn't allow anyone—even an individual's family—to intervene." Not until his illness worsens and he reaches the point of 'danger' to himself and others. In many cases, this could be too late for individuals like my son!
One out of 4 American adults live with a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition. Treatment works, recovery is the expectation, but our state and federal laws must change for those 40% who lack insight to access it!