You may already be a member of the 911 Club, a community of parents who depend on emergency services for managing their mentally ill child. Our T-shirts are black and blue like bruises. Only people raising a mentally ill child or young adult join. Club rules are simple:
1. Focus on safety first.
2. Continually manage the trauma you and your family experience.
3. Accept that no one is guilty or a failure.
4. Ask others for emotional and physical help.
Every day, an emergency is just around the corner.
Parents with troubled children, no matter the age or diagnosis, are forced to make difficult decisions and take extreme actions… like calling 911. It’s not something they choose, and they’ll avoid it if possible. They are like any other parent with a severely disabled or physically ill child—they will do anything to help their child, but instead of wheelchairs or chemotherapy, they need emergency responders.
Ten things that parents of troubled children often do:
- Call police
- Call an ambulance
- Call a crisis line repeatedly
- Search a child’s room, especially if the child is a teenager or may be suicidal
- Spy on their child: read their email, texts, social media or search histories, read their journals
- File criminal charges or get a restraining order
- Lock up common household items (matches, knives, scissors, fuel, chemicals, and anything conceivably dangerous in the wrong hands)
- Participate in endless meetings, appointments, and therapy sessions. Complete dozens of forms and continually pursue financial or community mental health resources
- Block out people who used to be friends, block their child from troubled friends
- Never share stories with ‘normal’ people to avoid bombardment with uninformed and unsolicited opinions.
Parents can see an emergency coming, but can do little to prevent it.
All parents of troubled children have barriers to getting help, even when it’s blatantly obvious that the child needs it. Why? The aftermath of a recent high school shooting in Florida by provides details:
- The tragedy has to happen first: “A neighbor warned the sheriff’s office …and begged them to intervene. She was told there was nothing deputies could do until Cruz actually did something.”
- Mental health professionals don’t take history into account; and they are ignorant that children can behave well in their presence: “An investigator … spoke to Cruz, and advised that he was “not currently a threat to himself or others” and did not need to be committed.
- Family and other eyewitnesses are ignored by the people and institutions they depend on. “Lynda Cruz’s cousin warned deputies Cruz had rifles and pleaded for them to “recover these weapons.”
Policymakers, mental health professionals, and emergency responders out there: fix this!
Part of the reason parents or family of the mentally ill person can’t get timely help is because of civil rights laws. To those in the mental health community, start talking about how to handle this. The present situation is unacceptable! Stop protecting an acknowledged dangerous person’s rights over those of innocent victims. It’s not OK. This is just like some gun advocates who think it’s more important to sell assault rifles to protect their personal rights over those of innocent victims.
An upsetting thing happened in my city about 10 years ago that could have been my story. A man took his grown son to the emergency room because the son had been insisting he was going to stab someone—he suffered from untreated schizophrenia. When there, the staff found no reason to hold the son despite his history of violence and his father’s testimony. The father pleaded with them to put his son in a 72-hour hold and they refused.
Within minutes, the son ran off into the surrounding neighborhood, and within an hour, had stolen a steak knife from a restaurant, and ran out and stabbed a man walking on the sidewalk. (The victim lived, fortunately.) The father told the reporter that he’d been trying every possible means to stop this from happening in the hours before the event. Getting the son to go with him to the ER was an extraordinary feat in and of itself. He was beside himself with frustration and sadness and anger. Now his son had aggravated assault and attempted homicide charges, and faced prison instead of a hospital.
U.K. needs to be a “999 Club”; Germany needs a “112” Club; a “110 Club” in China…