Kay's Story: Finding Our Humanity in M 101
This topic isn't one that is typically covered on this website., but education and healthcare are intricately intertwined. It seems pertinent that we support Measure 101 because it affects our children, young and old. There are many reason to support M 101, Kay's story is just one of them.
For the past decade I have witnessed the deterioration of my friend’s daughter as she has spiraled downward in pursuit of the mental health care she so desperately needs. This is the story of Kay (not her real name) as described by her elderly, disabled mother who has exhausted her resources in caring for her sick adult child. She worries incessantly about Kay, who now lives on the street and bounces from ER to ER because she is unable to afford stable care. This week Kay was assaulted and robbed. Her mother hopes that by telling her daughter’s story she can raise awareness about Oregon’s archaic, inane mental healthcare system and convince the public to vote for Measure 101. This is Kay’s story as told by her mother:
I am the mother of a mentally-ill adult daughter, Kay, who has had an extensive mental health history with multiple psychiatric hospitalizations throughout her adult life. Previous generations of our family have been similarly afflicted by mental illness. In addition, Kay’s underlying eating disorder has seriously exacerbated her other mental health diagnoses. Also, two car accidents have contributed to her physical and mental distress.
Kay was given medications around 2009-2010 that caused severe cycling with weight gain that, in turn, made her stop taking them. A psychiatrist was treating her at the time with multiple medications in an attempt to stabilize her. Her eating disorder plus numerous psychotic breaks caused her to be a danger to herself.
Kay was hospitalized many times while taking college classes from 2007-2011. As her behavior became more erratic, she sought help at the school’s disability resource center. The center granted appeals that allowed her to retake classes due her many hospitalizations. Still, she was unable to cope. Even when she enrolled in an online program in 2013, her mental health presented problems that forced her to dropout.
In 2012, Kay was found in a catatonic state in a hospital emergency room after hearing voices. She remained in that state for almost 12 hours, unidentified, until a passing nurse recognized her from a previous hospitalization. The voices had told her to leave her backpack that contained all her identification on public transportation. She has no memory of the incident.
Between 2011 and 2013, Kay’s difficulties in keeping a job, continuing her education, and maintaining supportive relationships — due to real or imagined people or slights — contributed to her depressive state and resulted in many hospitalizations in locked units as well as continued outpatient therapy. She continued to engage in suicide attempts, distracted thinking, and restricted eating. Her bizarre statements and behaviors such as hearing voices and talking to unknown objects and people, running naked in the street in the middle of winter, turning off all house breakers, drowning her new laptop in the bathtub, shutting down all electric appliances, and covering outlets with electrical tape to keep the voices contained, escalated.
As her mother, it has been extremely difficult to watch Kay deteriorate, become extremely thin, and further detach from reality. No matter how much I try to help her, there is not much I can do that makes any difference. The waitlists for housing and psychiatric care are devastatingly long. Kay is now homeless and without hope.
Between 2013-2017, Kay has had hundreds of hospitalizations — yes, hundreds. When she would need immediate help, the police would take her to the local ER. Kay has been repeatedly hospitalized, released, and encouraged to sign up at various agencies where she is told to wait because beds are not available. The money spent on police assistance, ER visits, and short term remedies could have paid many times over for quality long term treatment if such a program were available to her. The revolving door for mental health care hurts everyone in terms of the quality of care provided and costs incurred. Long term solutions are limited by the refusal to fund such projects. The result will be more pain and suffering, more homeless people, and more deaths of the most vulnerable.
Where is Kay’s father in the treatment of his daughter’s mental illness you might wonder? His perceived view of mental illness as a stigma keeps him at a distance. He lives in another state and is estranged from his daughter even as she pleads for his approval and help. He is an extremely wealthy man whose “compassionate conservatism” does not extend to caring for his sick child. He sees her as an adult who should be able to take care of herself. While we, the public, can’t make a parent care for his adult child, we can as a society do everything in our power to ensure that the basic human needs of our citizens are met. Our identity as as a people depends on it. Vote YES for M 101.
For more information:
A History of Mental Health Institutions in America gives context to the national dilemma. Oregon Measure 101: How did we get here? gives current context in this state.