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Judge comments on problems of mentally ill


Somebody help me!

By Judge Randy T. Rogers
The Journal News

October 10, 2002

"Somebody help me!" cried the eight-year-old boy as he struggled to hold his little brother above the cold water. 

On that cool, cloudy day in October 1959, while finishing a chore his mother had given him, the boy heard a cry coming from the deep end of the family's partially drained pool. Seeking the source of the cry, he discovered his neighbor's three-year-old daughter floating helplessly on her back in the dirty, leaf-filled water. The little boy raced to the shallow end of the pool, slid down a slope into the deep end, then waded through the water to the frightened girl. Picking her up, he turned to see his three-year-old brother floating a few feet away, his face buried in the murky water. He grabbed him, and with the girl under one arm and the boy under the other, he struggled again and again to climb out of the pool. But the slope was too slippery for him to climb, so he stood there, waist deep in the water, for what seemed an eternity, crying over and over, "Somebody help me! Please, somebody, help me!" 

The help he needed did not come and the boy lost his little brother. 

The Butler County [Ohio] Mental Health Board has placed a tax levy ( Issue 7) on the ballot this year that will benefit people who need help. In the Probate Court it is not uncommon to hear someone cry, "Somebody help me!" In addition to being the court where people go to have wills filed and estates administered, trust agreements construed and adoptions finalized, the Probate Court is where people open guardianships and where they seek help for family members suffering from severe mental illness. 

Of more than 600 guardianships, at least a third involve people with mental illness, and on the Court's civil commitment docket there are over 100 cases of people found to be so mentally ill that the court has ordered their hospitalization. These numbers represent only a small fraction of the people the Mental Health Board helps. 

In response to a recent survey, the Probate Court received a communication from the mother of a person ordered into treatment some time ago. This mother was a family member who cried, "Somebody help me!" and pleaded for the court to order mental health treatment for her daughter who had been eating out of garbage cans and standing in front of a local business all night long, night after night, for weeks. She was not a danger to anyone, but she was suffering from a mental illness, an illness she did not understand she had. Her mother believes that if the court had not intervened, her daughter would have died. Today, after treatment paid for by the Mental Health Board, she understands her need to take medication, has a job, sings in a church choir, and is doing well. Her mother is very grateful. 

In another case it was a daughter who cried, "Somebody help me!" after her mother nearly blinded her during an explosive outburst fueled by an untreated mental illness. When the court ordered the mother into the hospital, the daughter, still seated in the witness chair, quietly sighed, "I just wanted to find someone to help my mother." After a short hospitalization and with the benefit of modern medication, the doctor reports that the mother's prognosis is very good. 

Treatment for serious mental illness is very expensive, much more than any one family can afford, and it is hard to find. Approximately half a million people were patients in America's mental hospitals in 1965, but because of funding shortages and hospital closings, only 60,000 people are hospitalized today. Many people who would have been hospitalized had they been mentally ill in 1965, are today either living in the streets or in jail. The largest institution providing mental health treatment in America today is not a hospital - it's the Los Angeles County Jail. 

It has been 17 years since the Mental Health Board has asked for an increase in funding. My wife and I plan to vote yes on Issue 7. It will cost each of us less than a dime a day. 

On October 12 it will be 43 years since this once eight-year-old boy stood waist deep in that cold, dirty water and cried, "Somebody help me! " Even though much has happened and many years have passed since that day in 1959, I have never forgotten what it was like to cry for help, and have no one come. I can't vote no.

The information on Mental Illness Policy Org. is not legal advice or medical advice. Do not rely on it. Discuss with your lawyer or medical doctor. Mental Illness Policy Org was founded in February 2011 and recently received 501(c)(3) status. In order to maintain independence MIPO does not accept any donations from companies in the health care industry or government. That makes us dependent on the generosity of people who care about these issues. If you can support our work, please send a donation to Mental Illness Policy Org., 50 East 129 St., Suite PH7, New York, NY 10035. Thank you. For more information, http://mentalillnesspolicy.org.