Joann: From confusion to advocacy

“You have all these dreams for your children.”

Joann's son Jacob first showed symptoms of bipolar disorder at age 19. He burst into his parents’ bedroom at 1 a.m. on a Thursday morning and mumbled a jumble of words. “I know this is going to sound really strange but at 3 a.m. this morning, something is going to happen.” Joann quickly got out of bed and went with Jacob into the living room.

I was trying to hold his hand. His hands were clammy. He was racing—sitting there trying to sit still but he couldn’t and I couldn’t calm him. That felt really weird because I’ve always felt I had this connection with my kids. I could calm them; I could hold them and talk to them. In the past Jacob and I had always been very close where we talk and talk and he kind of just calms down and kind of regulates himself again. I was really scared.

The family gathered in the living roomJoann, husband Nathan, and three of Jacob’s four siblings. Jacob told them that his best friend was coming to the house at 3 a.m. to kill his brother. The family decided Jacob needed to go to the hospital. When he refused to leave if anyone stayed home, the whole family took him to the hospital in the middle of the night.

Jacob’s second hospitalization followed an incident with law enforcement. While out of town on a camping trip with his best friend, he stole a snowmobile to “escape imminent danger” and sped down the highway. Joann and Nathan drove five hours to be with their son during his arraignment. Guided by a sympathetic county attorney, the judge released Jacob to his parents on the condition he take prescribed medications and refrain from alcohol and illegal drug use until the next hearing.

Back at home, Jacob took on a frenzied schedule of working full time, fixing two cars, and buying things impulsively. Then one of their other sons awakened Joann and Nathan in the middle of the night, demanding that his parents do something about Jacob who trying to hurt himself. Joann called 911 and asked for a CIT officer.

Note: The CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) program is a model that combines the expertise of law enforcement, mental health providers, and hospital emergency staff to respond to persons in crisis. Police officers receive 40 hours of training, including de-escalation skills.

However, the officers that came to the house were not CIT trained; they handcuffed Jacob, patted him down, and hauled him off in a squad car.

I pleaded with the officers, explaining where I wanted Jacob brought for hospitalization. Please, we just want to talk with the CIT trained officer. We want our child brought to the hospital. He just tried to commit suicide. Where is the empathy? Were they doing this because my son is 6’3”, muscular, and is black? Was this because we live in the inner city where crime is reported on frequently? Did the officers have mental health education? My son just tried to commit suicide and I wasn’t even given the opportunity to explain. Outside of complete and utter astonishment at what had just gone on, my mentally ill son was being hauled away by police in handcuffs and I had four other young adults upset and bewildered and a husband just as amazed as myself trying to wrap our heads around the whole thing.

Jacob was hospitalized and placed under a six-month civil commitment. After six weeks in the hospital he was released to live with Joann and Nathan.

Note: Civil commitment involves the legal system. A court order mandates treatment for mental illness when individuals are unable or unwilling to seek treatment and are a danger to themselves or others.