Source: The Saginaw News; Saginaw, Michigan, USA
Do you like my arts and crafts?
Is it time to take a nap?
Donahue is coming on.
Time for medication.
— [from the song] “Psychos in the Dayroom” by Gabriel J. Hadd
Gabriel J. Hadd is strumming away on his guitar, finding his rhythm and making up for lost time.
An unfailingly polite man with “Schizo” tattooed across his right arm, the 26-year-old likes to talk about his budding music career and ambitions to write cutting-edge rock songs.
The Saginaw man’s lyrics speak to the medication-induced fog and insanity that once disrupted his life.
But they also hint at newfound autonomy — freedom from years of psychiatrists, state mental hospitals and court-imposed medications that he blames for driving him crazy.
Nineteen months ago, Hadd climbed into a broken-down Oldsmobile and fled Saginaw — and the doctor’s syringe — to Colorado. Now he’s back, trying to rebuild his life without the needle.
“I’m the same person I ever was before, but I’m a hundred percent better,” says Hadd, who doctors once diagnosed as schizophrenic and now say is bipolar. “I lost a lot of time, and I lost a lot of ground.”
Hadd is an example of a growing number of mentally ill people who flee their communities to escape court-ordered medications.
In recent years, a rising number of states, including Michigan, have adopted laws designed to make it easier for judges to forcibly medicate the mentally ill on an outpatient basis, and it’s spurred a backlash by civil libertarians who call it a form of “chemical lobotomy.”
“The monster of forced drugging inside the back wards of state institutions has crawled out over the wall into our communities,” says David W. Oaks, director of Eugene, Ore.-based MindFreedom International, an advocacy group for the mentally ill.
“You can break a person’s spirit, and that’s what forced drugging does. It terrorizes the person.”
But judges, mental health professionals and other advocacy groups say anti-psychotic or antidepressant drugs — even on an involuntary basis — sometimes are the best way to treat mentally ill people who pose a danger to others or who can’t care for themselves.
“The dilemma is that we want to protect consumers’ rights, but while we want their rights protected, we don’t want them to wind up in prison,” says Judith A. Hutchins, director of the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy group, and an Ossineke mother of two children with bipolar disorder.
An act of violence
Driving these new state laws is the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, headed Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist.
Since 1998, the group has helped push through legislation in a number of states — including California, Florida and Michigan — calling for forced treatment of mentally ill persons who refuse medication.
Last year, Michigan lawmakers enacted “Kevin’s Law” after a schizophrenic Vietnam veteran beat to death Kevin Heisinger, a 24-year-old college student, at a Kalamazoo bus station in 2004. The veteran, who was not taking medication, told authorities that voices made him pummel the student.
Proponents say the state law is designed to make it easier to allow Michigan judges to order medication or substance abuse treatment on an out-patient basis, even in cases when the mentally ill are a danger only to themselves.
But Oaks argued that blind fear drives these new laws, saying proponents grossly exaggerate the danger posed by violent schizophrenics or psychotics.
Even Saginaw County Circuit Court Family Division Judge Patrick J. McGraw, who sees medication as a vital part of treatment for some mentally ill people, believes “Kevin’s Law” is unnecessary because judges already had the authority to order medication on an outpatient basis.
McGraw, who handles nearly all mentally ill commitments in the county, says he occasionally orders outpatient medication but has yet to use “Kevin’s Law” for any person.
“It was a political gem for somebody to get the law passed,” McGraw says. “It was passed without input from mental health professionals or judges. I don’t think it helps us at all.”
Family Division court typically has 120 to 150 people on either 90-day or one-year mental health commitment orders, says Nancy P. Johnson, supervisor of crisis intervention services for the Saginaw County Community Mental Health Authority, which aids the court during the commitment process.
In some cases, subjects have exhibited threatening behavior or attacked others; at other times, they are homeless on the street because of a debilitating mental illness.
Those committed are housed in a psychiatric ward — often at HealthSource Saginaw in Saginaw Township — but many also serve part of the commitment on an outpatient basis in which McGraw retains authority over them. Generally, the patient’s family or county prosecutors petition for commitment, and three psychiatrists evaluate the person.
“I rely on the testimony of medical professionals,” McGraw says. “I have to find (patients) are a danger to themselves or they can’t provide for their basic needs.”
Eye of the needle
Regina Brown, formerly of Saginaw Township, never guessed that one day, she would ask a judge to commit her son, Gabriel, to a mental institution.
Early on, Her son showed a gifted intelligence by talking at a very young age, says Brown, who now lives in Las Cruces, N.M. The toddler said his first words at 7 months, and spoke in rhyming sentences 11 months later.
Later in elementary and middle schools, Signs of trouble emerged when he was in elementary and middle schools, Brown says. Hadd had trouble concentrating on school assignments. and became perfectionist about many tasks. His performance varied wildly. from well to poor.
Both Hadd and his mother agree that his major downward spiral began at about age 19 — perhaps fueled by his use of drugs. Living at home with his parents after dropping out of Ferris State University, Hadd says he attended a rave party in Detroit and likely mistakenly took some ketamine, a depressant with dissociative effects.
He passed out at the party, then couldn’t sleep for three days. Hours slipped by as he lost his job at a video store and then locked himself in his bedroom with a bottle of liquor.
Still unable to sleep, Gabriel ran from his home to a friend’s house and eventually wound up on a church pew. His mother finally persuaded convinced him to seek psychiatric help.
A Bay City psychiatrist diagnosed him as having schizo-affective disorder, a form of schizophrenia, and placed him
on anti-psychotic drugs, a treatment Hadd says worsened his condition during the next several months.
“I went from the dean’s list to not being able to complete my sentences,” Hadd says. “I tried to play my guitar and my fingers didn’t work.”
Despite the medication, Brown says her son’s behavior worsened at times, and he became threatening and agitated, sometimes kicking a bedroom door. She says she had to make a hard choice.
She persuaded convinced a judge to commit her son involuntarily for a few days to a state psychiatric hospital, where doctors ordered anti-psychotic medication. That began a series of involuntary commitments during the next few years.
“It was very painful, very frustrating,” Brown says. “You want the best for your child. It’s every parent’s hope that their child will be an independent, happy, functioning member of society with the gifts they’ve been given.”“I wanted that for Gabriel. While he was having those problems, he couldn’t do it.”
A new diagnosis
As the months wore on, Hadd’s disillusionment with psychiatry increased. He felt the drugs made him more tense and heightened his facial tics. He often felt lethargic.
His last hospitalization was in 2003. Doctors finally diagnosed him as having bipolar disorder, a condition in which a person may can experience attacks of depression and mania. He received lithium.
Brown noticed a big change in her son.
“It was like a light bulb went on,” she says. “He was his old self. His mind was clear. He had his great sense of humor back. He could take care of himself.”
Although the lithium seemed to help, Hadd says he continued researching psychiatric medications on the Web and concluded the “cure” was worse than the disease. He set a goal of weaning himself from the drugs.
He developed a plan.
More than medication
For decades, medication has remained at the heart of much psychiatric treatment — both in institutions as well as for out-patients and an out-patient basis — but groups such as MindFreedom International contend mental health professionals should focus on using less-invasive methods, such as peer counseling, to treat mental disorders.
Since the 1950s, however, researchers have documented the behavior-stabilizing properties of anti-psychotics and antidepressants. Torrey a chief proponent of medicating the mentally ill, has contended some anti-psychotics work by changing the brain’s structure, compensating for the abnormalities causing psychosis.
Oaks, MindFreedom’s director, considers it “brain damage,” but he also agrees mental health clients should receive anti-psychotic medication if they choose.
“Many of our members say they benefit from prescribed psychiatric drugs,” says Oaks, a diagnosed schizophrenic forced to undergo medication in the 1970s.
Johnson, the Saginaw County crisis intervention supervisor, says medication is not suitable for every patient — noting side effects in some cases — but is the only way for some to take control of their illness.
“In some situations, it’s the only effective treatment,” Johnson says. “In some situations, it has to be a combination of therapy, or a structured living arrangement. You have to get the right treatment and the right dosage.”
A new life
Hadd carefully plotted his escape.
Through several Web searches, he finally stumbled across WelcomeWorld.org, an Ignatio, Colo., group that offers shelter to mental health clients fleeing forced medication. After exchanging e-mails, he arranged with the group founder to stay at a home in Ignatio when the time came. First Hadd would need money.
For several months, Hadd worked as a cab driver to save money for the journey. He paid $200 for a 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra and $125 to fix an axle.
In July 2004, during a fireworks show in Bay City, Hadd figured it was time. Without saying goodbye to anyone, he climbed in the Oldsmobile and drove West.
For two months, Hadd stayed at the residential home run by WelcomeWorld, participating in peer counseling free of drugs — recreational or prescribed — and doing odd jobs around the house.
He eventually found jobs as a bartender and caterer in nearby Durango, Colo., and he developed a relationship with a woman — his first in many years. He says his mind cleared from the haze of prescribed medications.
“I started to feel a lot better,” Hadd says of a drug-free life. “You begin to feel like a human being again.”
Meanwhile, Hadd did not contact his mother. She agonized over his fate.
“You worry constantly,” Brown says. “You worry because you just don’t know. There are a lot of homeless people. They are there because they’re mentally ill and not treated.”
Ten months later, work dried up, and Hadd finally phoned his mother and learned . After learning she was moving to New Mexico. , he decided to He returned to Saginaw in May.
Hadd now lives in a Saginaw apartment, but he’s leery about giving out his address because he’s afraid authorities will show up at his door with a straitjacket cq.
Even so, he says life is returning to normal — or some version of it. He’s unemployed and collects a disability check, but he’s writing several songs and is recording demo tracks that he hopes will and hopes to launch a music career.
He dates occasionally, and his and sees friends. His only drug now is a couple of cups of java a day, but he swears he’ll cut back. He now has reconciled with his mother and talks weekly with his mother. long-distance.
“I’m not angry at my family anymore,” Hadd says. “I feel we were all misled.”
Brown, for one, worries that her son stopped taking medication, but and she attributes his improvement partly to a lack of stress in his life. Still, she’s glad the warm, engaging son she knew before has returned.
“He seems happy,” she says. “That’s the Gabe that I have back, and it feels wonderful.”
Meanwhile, Oaks fears that more states will adopt laws calling for forcible medication of those with signs of mental illness. He says these laws play on stereotypes of the mentally ill as violent, and they strip away the element of self-enpowerment crucial to mental recovery.
“People forget it may be their loved one at the end of a sharp needle,” Oaks says. “I wish that America’s problem with violence was as easy to fix by spreading magic fairy dust.”
Hutchins, the woman who runs the state mental illness alliance, acknowledged that prescribed drugs aren’t perfect and don’t work every time. But she argued that mental illness typically is a biological disorder that often only medication can treat. heal.
“The brain is an organ like any other,” she says. “It’s important for the public to understand that (mental illness) is no different than an illness of any other organ of the body.”
Scott Davis is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at (989) 776-9665. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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