I just came home from a 4-hour long session with a psychiatrist who deals with mentally ill, developmentally delayed patients. He is one of a handful who has this role in the entire state of Virginia. “Many mental health clinics and hospitals don’t want to deal with people who are the ‘R’ word,” he said, apologetically. My mother, father, and I were in his office discussing whether or not to involuntarily commit my younger brother to the hospital—his violent behavior had gotten worse as he continually punched my parents and kicked random strangers in the street. He would start fights in banks and cell phone stores and grab the steering wheel while my dad drove the car. He was completely out of control. I wonder, on a daily basis, when will he swerve our vehicle into an oncoming car.
I advocated for a stay at a hospital, while my parents waffled. They worried about the quality of the facility, if my brother would resent them, how they would handle the days after he was released. But I believe his institutionalization would level him out. After all, mental illness gone unchecked, untreated, and unrecognized for the grave outcomes it can yield has become par for the course in this country. The Virginia Tech shooting, Sandy Hook, and so many other incidents and tragic events have become part of the daily news cycle, and we have allowed it to affect us less and less each time. I wonder, on a daily basis, when will my brother’s headline be next.
I am reminded of the Creigh Deeds’ incident—when the Virginia Senator’s son, Gus, stabbed his father then committed suicide. Gus had been denied access to healthcare at Virginia mental hospitals because there weren’t enough beds. That act led to an unavoidable tragedy. I wonder, on a daily basis, when will that unavoidable tragedy strike my brother and our family.
My brother does not have the language to advocate for himself because of his developmental delay. He has to wait weeks, if not longer, to see one of the half a dozen doctors in the entire state that can treat a patient with the myriad issues he deals with on a daily basis. He is a harm to himself and to others and yet there are no guarantees he will have access to the resources he needs to get even marginally better.
Tonight we did not end up sending him to the hospital, against my recommendations and my deep wishes. He is sitting at the kitchen table, a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, his attitude changing on a whim. For all I know, he could pick up a vase and throw it at my head before I am done writing this article.
Last week, I had a solo rally on the street corner in my neighborhood. I wore a sign that read “Did you know 1 in 5 Americans suffers from a mental illness?” I handed out fact sheets that I had printed out from the NAMI website. I tried to engage people in conversations about mental health. I stood in the heat for hours while hundreds of athleisure-clad people walked right by me, like I was invisible. My brother doesn’t have a voice in this fight. And maybe neither do I.
I wonder, on a daily basis, does anyone give a shit?
Please prove me wrong.