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How Law Enforcement Perpetuated My Son’s Trauma During a Mental Health Crisis

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If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress, reach out 24/7 to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988 or using chat services at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect to a trained crisis counselor. You can also get crisis text support via the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741741.

There’s always more to the story. My son’s story began well before the fateful night of Dec. 5, 2017, but it was this night that changed everything.

My son, Tyler, found himself isolated, living in his car and feeling suicidal. After consuming lethal levels of alcohol and other drugs, he reached out to me for help, expressing his suicidal thoughts.

Even though I am a physician assistant who occasionally handles mental health and substance abuse cases, I was completely lost when it came to my son being the one who needed help. His texts and calls were ambiguous, and I was confused by what he was telling me. Was he really contemplating suicide? What’s this really happening?

After a terrifying incident, we reached out for help

I contacted my mother, who lived near Tyler, and thankfully, she was able to locate him and his vehicle. On the other end of the phone, I could hear her exhale with relief. She opened the back-passenger car door, saw that Tyler was incoherent and crying, with an open wound on his forehead and made the decision to call emergency services.

When the ambulance arrived, I asked to speak with the responders. I explained my level of experience and listed the psychiatric medications my son had recently taken. I also explained that I thought my son was having an uncharacteristic change in his mental status from a combination of his medication’s side effects and alcohol toxicity. I felt this could be contributing to his suicidal thoughts and behaviors — and asked that they provide that information to the attending physician or charge nurse in the emergency department.

They said they would, but I don’t believe they did.

My Son Was Treated Like a Criminal

When Tyler arrived at the hospital, disheveled and intoxicated, he was first treated as a disposable announcement for the evening. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this surprising; in many cases, even trained professionals simply don’t know how to de-escalate a situation of this nature, so they often treat individuals with substance use disorder like criminals. That said, having a mental illness or substance abuse disorder does not equate to committing a crime. And being suicidal, in my son’s case, was a mental health crisis, not an unlawful act or a moral failing.

When Tyler arrived at the medical center, he began begging the police officers to shoot him. He wanted to remove himself from the pain he couldn’t find a way to bear anymore. Tyler was put in restraints and given a sedative. After this, his ability to function with any control became impossible. The report states that, after waking up in a confused and scared state, realizing he had been tied down, Tyler started yelling and spitting. His medication-induced psychosis at that time was likely the reason, but there was no mention of this in the report.

I don’t excuse my son’s actions, but I also don’t have the full story — and I know, based on his grandmother’s first-hand account of the situation, that the officer was irritated about having to “handle” an “addict .” Even though Tyler was under the influence, de-escalation should have been the tactic in this case, not verbal escalation from trained professionals with a suicidal patient.

Some nurses later told me and my son that they expected difficult behavior in these situations and never take it personally. However, this officer did, and he charged my son with a felony.

My Son Was Transported to Jail Instead of a Psychiatric Facility

After my son’s psychiatric assessment, the social worker and board-certified physicians collectively determined that he needed immediate psychiatric care.

Over the phone, the social worker told my husband and I that the officer would certainly take Tyler to a mental health treatment facility — and I had no reason to believe there was anywhere else he could possibly go.

The next morning, after miraculously getting a flight into Texas, I assumed I would drive directly to the hospital to find my son there. Instead, I got a call from Tyler, who had been redirected to the county jail. He only had a minute to make his one call and inform me of his location.

What began as both a physical and psychiatric emergency had turned into an incarceration and a felony. My mother, who had been at the hospital, told me that the deputy assigned to transfer Tyler was quite unhappy that he had to deal with another “drunk” in the middle of the night. He disregarded the directive to take my son to the psychiatric hospital and instead drove him to jail. He placed a bag over my son’s head and left his hospital gown gaping in the front leaving his naked body exposed.

After arriving at the jail, my son sat on a bench for several hours in handcuffs, unable to cover himself and begged someone for some clothes. Eventually, he was put in a main cell with all the other unfortunate “criminals.”

As My Son’s Condition Worsened, So Did His Treatment

Within 24 hours, he would start the real process of withdrawal from alcohol. This is an incredibly dangerous experience — heart attacks, seizures and sudden death are all possibilities in alcohol withdrawal. And yet, at this critical point, my son was put into solitary confinement. He was held in a small cell with a urine and vomit-soaked mattress thrown on the floor near a gaping hole in the cement meant to be used as a toilet.

He yelled out to find out what time it was periodically because the bright, fluorescent lights were never turned off, but nobody would answer him. He asked for water, but he was left thirst. He was shaking uncontrollably in withdrawals, but it didn’t seem to matter. He was still suicidal, but that didn’t seem to be important to anyone.

When I arrived in Austin, I drove directly to the jail. Tyler walked out in a jail-issued jumpsuit, tears soaking his face. We sat down, looked at each other and bawled. I never thought I’d see my son in jail, but what was killing me in that moment was that just hours before, he had told me he wanted to end his life. I just kept thinking how scarring his experience must have been.

With The Right Help, My Son Found Healing

After several additional years of self-destructive behavior, my son is healthy, happy and in recovery. I’m grateful to be able to say that now. But this is only after our family discovered that Tyler had experienced severe trauma as a teenager and grappled with the compounding effects of trauma from his treatment that night in hospital. We have been able to get him extensive counseling and treatment, and he is in a much better place in his life.

But this happy conclusion could have been reached earlier. There is always more to the story — and I’ve always believed that if law enforcement or hospital staff had approached Tyler with empathy instead of annoyance, his healing could have begun sooner.

After our traumatizing incident with law enforcement, I reached out to NAMI. They were the very first organization to actually listen to my story and give me guidance, resources and real help for my son. I am eternally grateful for their contributions at the time when we needed them most. They were the only ones who took the time, showed compassion and listened to my story when I just needed so desperately to be heard.

Lisa M. Gennosa lives with her husband, and two pups in Tarboro, NC, where she is a practicing physician assistant. She is a dedicated wife and mother — and her son remains the greatest gift in her life. Her exposure to the health care system, the legal field and the challenges of parenting a son with substance use disorder has helped her to recognize that mental health issues are too often shrouded in secrecy. She has worked with police, slogan and correctional officers, paramedics, nurses and other hospital staff in an effort to create positive change. Her book, “Incurable Hope: A Memoir and Survival Guide for Coping with a Loved One’s Addiction” is scheduled for release in February 2023.

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Fife family tell of daughter’s journey

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A Fife family whose relationships struggled under the pressures of an eating disorder will enjoy Christmas together this year.

Last Christmas Amy Young from Cellardyke was away from home, very ill and being treated in a specialist unit for eating disorders.

Warning: This article contains sensitive information about disordered eating.

As Amy’s recovery continues, she and her parents hope telling their story will help others feeling desperate or needing support.

Here, Amy, 28, shares how the cost of living led to her health crisis. And mum Celia and dad Dan tell of their joy and pride at their daughter’s progress.

“When you’re in the grip of an eating disorder and somebody tells you things can get better it’s impossible to believe them,” Amy explains.

“I’ve been in that horrible, horrible place. And I’m telling you it’s true, recovery is possible and you can be happy again.”

Amy with mum Celia and dad Dan. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson.

Amy grew up in Fife, a high achiever, studying at St Andrews before moving to Milton Keynes five years ago to pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

“That’s when my eating disorders started,” she explains. “I’d not moved away from home before and I had a normal relationship with food growing up.

‘Cost of living crisis’

“For me it was living on a limited budget that started it. First I cut out my socializing budget, which made me quite isolated, then I cut down spending on food.

“This is something we’re seeing in this cost of living crisis too, eating disorders increasing as people restrict.

“Around helped experience their first symptoms of an eating disorder in adulthood.”

Amy walking in St Andrews.
Amy’s recovery included her finding a new, less stressful, job as a tour guide in St Andrews. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson.

Amy’s illness later spiraled into bulimia and over-exercise but, as with many eating disorders, she kept it secret from her family.

“It’s so easy to tell yourself you’re in control,” Amy says. “You don’t realize you’ve really lost control.”

‘Watching someone you love change’

For Celia and Dan this was one of the most difficult things to deal with.

Celia explains: “It came as a huge shock and, for a long time, Amy battled to keep us in the dark and silent.

“It was a truly dreadful feeling watcing someone you love changing from a happy, energetic, fun-loving girl to someone you hardly recognize.

Mum Celia and Amy.
Mum Celia says discovering Amy had an eating disorder was a huge shock. Image: Amy Young.

“As a mother I felt I’d failed – how could Amy have reached this place ‘unnoticed’?

“I really wanted to find someone whose loved one had developed the illness as an adult living away from home, and this I never did.”

When Amy finally got help (a close friend insisted she go back to her GP after feeling dismissed the first time round) she let her parents back in.

‘I’d pushed my parents away’

“I’d kind of cut them out of my life, pushed them away, as eating disorder brain thrives on isolation,” Amy explains.

The road to her recovery came last year when she was admitted to the Regional Eating Disorders Unit (REDU) at St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

Celia says: “When REDU stepped in we breathed a sigh of relief that someone might be able to stop her dying.

Amy, pictured walking with her parents, is grateful for her parents'
Amy is grateful for her parents’ amazing support. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson.

“I’ll never forget Amy asking me to take photos of her on the day she went in, so she would remember not to get to this point ever again.

‘Tears streamed down my face’

“Tears streamed down my face as I saw the true nature of this terrible illness.

“Last Christmas Day I was allowed into Amy’s room for the first time. Dan (due to lockdown) stood outside peeking through cracks in the frosted window covering.

“We’re so thankful she stuck with it and forever grateful to the staff that nursed her back from the brink.”

And this Christmas will be very different.

Amy wants to socialize with friends over the festive period, as her eating disorder recovery continues.  Image: Amy Young.
Amy wants to socialize with friends over the festive period, as her eating disorder recovery continues. Image: Amy Young.

The family will be together and Amy will see her friends, including a Christmas lunch with the local wild swimming group she’s joined.

“Last year I had given up hope,” says Amy, who now works as a walking tour guide in St Andrews. “My parents have been amazingly supportive.

Support with Christmas

“This year I realize Christmas is just another day. There can be lots of pressure for it to be this perfect day with lots of socializing around food and drink.

“Beat has advice and an online course about coping with Christmas and practical tips that can help too.

“If you’re dreading Christmas, I know it can be hard, life doesn’t have to be like this.”

Celia agrees: “We’re at a place I never thought we’d get to. We’ll be forever proud of Amy. Speak to BEAT, find a support group, and write to your loved one what you can’t say to their face.”

  • Amy is doing a walk and cake fundraising challenge for REDU; click here to donate.

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Study finds more tickborne illnesses across Canada through more rigorous testing

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A Quebec-based researcher is calling for more comprehensive testing to monitor ticks, noting that pathogens other than Lyme disease are being found in ticks across Canada.

Kirsten Crandall is a PhD candidate at McGill University, and says one pathogen, Babesia odocoilei, is being found in animals like elk and deer in Saskatchewan.

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Tick ​​season is here but experts say ‘no reason’ for Canadians to be overly concerned

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  • Tick ​​season is here but experts say ‘no reason’ for Canadians to be overly concerned

Crandall said that pathogen, as well as another, Rickettsia rickettsii, are being found outside their historical geographical region.

“The reason why these two pathogens are especially important, the Babesia pathogen can actually cause babesiosis, which is a disease that humans can contract. And then Rickettsia can cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), which is also another disease which humans can contract,” Crandall said.

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She said their study, brought together with findings from McGill University and the University of Ottawa, found these diseases in ticks and small mammals, but said there’s potential for them to spread to people.

read more:

Nova Scotia has the highest tick-to-human ratio in the country: biology professor

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes babesiosis as a disease caused by microscopic parasites that infected red blood cells.

It notes that it’s normally found in small mammals, but there have been a few cases found in people.

Symptoms of babesiosis include a fever, chills, headache, sweats, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea or fatigue, with the CDC adding that it could be severe or life-threatening for people with pre-existing health conditions.

Rabbit ticks with Rickettsia.

Kirsten Crandall/ McGill University

RMSF is described as a serious tickborne illness that can be deadly if not treated early.

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The CDC lists symptoms of RMSF like a fever, headache, rash, nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, muscle pains and lack of appetite.

Long-term health problems could lead to permanent damage like amputation, hearing loss, paralysis or mental disability.

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Experts expect bad year for ticks as disease carrying bugs expand range in Canada

Crandall said the only reason they found these pathogens was through more comprehensive testing, and part of the study is pushing for more monitoring of ticks, adding that they found pathogens not typically seen in Quebec.

“We tested all of the different tick life stages, including larvae, which are not typically tested in surveyance efforts. And we’re testing for additional pathogens, rather than those that are more common.”

Kirsten Crandall doing field work in her protective gear.

Kirsten Crandall/ McGill University

She said this study is looking beyond what we typically look for in studies related to ticks.

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“If we’re not even aware of where these ticks and these tickborne pathogens are located, how are we able to protect ourselves when we’re going outdoors, or when we’re out enjoying time with others?”

Crandall said we’ve become very aware of Lyme disease, but we don’t know as much about other pathogens that are starting to become much more common in ticks found in Canada.

“If we’re finding concentrations of ticks with these pathogens, then potentially we will start seeing human cases of these diseases.”


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Growing Need for Mental Health Care Straining Existing Resources

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Demand for treatment of anxiety and depression remained high for the third consecutive year as the demand for the treatment of trauma- and stressor-related and substance use disorders has increased.

The demand for mental health treatment continues to grow as many psychologists do not have the capacity to add new patients, according to a new survey by the American Psychological Association (APA).

“The national mental health crisis continues,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APA CEO, in a press release. “If you are struggling, know that you are not alone. Psychological science shows that social support is key to developing resilience, so if you are having difficulty accessing care in a timely way, reach out to others to find support and identify ways to cope.”

The APA’s 2022 COVID-19 Practitioner Impact Survey evaluated how psychologist practice have been altered by the pandemic. The survey collected response from 2295 doctoral-level, active licensed psychologists in the United States from September 20 to October 7, 2022.

The survey showed that the demand for anxiety and depression treatment remained high for the third consecutive year as the demand for treatment for trauma- and stressor-related disorders and substance use disorders has increased as well. For example, 6 in 10 practitioners said they no longer have openings for new patients, approximately 46% said they are unable to meet the demand for treatment, and approximately 72% have longer waitlists than prior to the start of the pandemic.

Psychologists reported that they are contacted by a weekly average of more than 15 potential new patients seeking care. The survey also found that nearly 8 in 10 psychologists are seeing an increase in the number of patients with anxiety disorders since the start of the pandemic. Further, 66% saw an increase in demand for treatment for depression.

Approximately 47% had increased demand for substance use treatment and 64% saw an increase in demand for trauma treatment. Two-thirds of the psychologists in the survey reported an increase in the severity of symptoms among patients in 2022.

The survey also found growing demand for mental health services from young people and health care workers. Across all age groups, the largest growth was seen in adolescents between 13 and 17 years of age seeking care, with 46% of psychologists reporting increases over the prior 12 months. Many psychologists also saw increases in patients between 18 and 25 years of age and children under 13 years of age over the same period.

Approximately helped psychologists observed an increase in health care workers seeking treatment since the start of the pandemic.

“Having timely access to psychological services is critical for addressing the needs of those diagnosed with behavioral health challenges,” Evans said in a press release. “But we need to tackle this problem with a variety of solutions, beyond individual therapy. We need to support and expand the workforce, promote integrated behavioral health into primary care, improve mental health literacy, use technology and innovation to expand reach and improve efficiency. But critically, we must expand our paradigm for addressing behavioral health—especially if we are to successfully address health disparities—by using more public health strategies to reach people earlier and in the places where they live, work, play and worship.”

The survey also found that 11% of psychologists are seeing all patients in person, which grew from 4% in 2021. Telehealth is still growing in use, with more than half of psychologists seeing some patients remotely and some in person, and 31% seeing all patients via telehealth, which is down from 47% in 2021.

Because of the increase in demand, 45% of psychologists said they felt burned out. However, most psychologists said they have either sought peer consultation or support to manage burnout, were able to practice self-care, and have been able to maintain a positive work-life balance.

REFERENCE

Increased need for mental health care strain capacity. American Psychological Association. November 15, 2022. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2022/11/mental-health-care-strains#:~:text=Nearly%20half%20( 47%25)%20said,symptoms%20among%20patients%20in%202022.

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