Nowhere to Go: Mentally Ill Youth in Crisis
60 Minutes ran a story earlier this year – “Nowhere to Go: Mentally Ill Youth in Crisis”
- which revealed significant problems in the mental health care system in the country. It specifically focused on mentally ill youth and highlighted the problems through interviews at Yale (my alma mater) New Haven Hospital.
The full video is below after some of the highlights I have excerpted here:
Last November 19th, Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds was slashed and stabbed repeatedly by his own son. Gus Deeds was 24 years old and had been struggling with mental illness. He and his father had been in an emergency room just hours before the attack but didn’t get the help that they needed. The story of what went wrong with his medical care exposes a problem in the way that America handles mental health. It’s a failure that came to the fore with the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The vast majority of mental patients are not violent. But this is a story about the fraction who are a danger to themselves or others. Parents of mentally ill children in crisis often find, as Sen. Deeds did, that they have nowhere to go. Creigh Deeds bears the scars of this failure on his face, his body and his soul.
Creigh Deeds: I really don't want Gus to be defined by his illness. I don't want Gus to be defined by what happened on the 19th. Gus was a great kid. He was a perfect son. It’s clear the system failed. It's clear that it failed Gus. It killed Gus.
We met Creigh Deeds four weeks after the attack. He was still distraught. But he told us his story was a warning that could not wait.
Scott Pelley: What would have saved Gus?
Creigh Deeds: If he could have been hospitalized that night, they could have gotten him medicated, and I could have worked to get Gus in some sort of long term care.
This is Gus Deeds when he was 20 years old, a talented musician on the Dean’s List at the College of William and Mary.
Creigh Deeds: Gus, when he turned 20, I was running for governor. He wanted to come and so he took the fall of 2009 to be with me and those are some of the best memories of my life is having him with me there.
But after the campaign, for no reason anyone could see, Gus Deeds stopped taking care of himself and became paranoid, obsessive, anti-social. He dropped out and couldn’t keep a job. In 2011, he was diagnosed as bipolar. His father was so worried that Gus would kill himself Deeds told us he got rid of all of the guns in their rural farmhouse—except one hunting rifle that had no ammunition. Later, with medication, Gus returned to William and Mary until last fall.
Creigh Deeds: Gus had posted weird things on his Facebook page about-- you know, how the professors were ganging up against him. And he was gonna start boycotting class. It was pretty clear to me that he wasn't taking medicine. I told Gus that he and I needed to talk to somebody together.
That’s when Deeds discovered that "talking to somebody," getting treatment, is harder in mental health than any other kind of medicine. In the decades after the 1960s most large mental institutions were closed. It was thought that patients would get better treatment back in their communities. But adequate local facilities were never built. The number of beds available to psychiatric patients in America dropped from more than half a million to fewer than 100,000. That leaves many kids in crisis today with one option: the emergency room.
Brian Geyser: You know, every day, we have 10 to 20 kids with psychiatric problems come into our emergency department, kids who wanna kill themselves, who’ve tried to kill themselves, who've tried to kill somebody else.
Brian Geyser is a nurse practitioner we met in the emergency department of Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut— it’s one of the best in the nation in psychiatry.
Brian Geyser: We have 52 psychiatric beds here at Yale. And right now, all 52 are full. And so the seven kids that are here in the emergency room are waiting for an open bed.
Scott Pelley: How long will they wait?
Brian Geyser: Five of them have been here three days already.
Resource: Families in need of help with a mentally ill child can find resources at the National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org or 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264).