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Kelly Thomas: Another Story of What is Wrong with the Mental Health System

Beside being a blogger for The Liberal OC and often disgruntled Costa Mesa resident, I am also a Mental Health Specialist.  Before that I was a Care Coordinator in Orange County for a mental health clinic.  In both these jobs, I have and do serve adults with chronic mental illness.  The killing of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton sickened me not just for the obvious reasons, but because every single day that I go to work, I see the constant hell that persons with mental illness suffer and the family members that suffer right along with them.

Rarely a day goes by that a person with Schizophrenia doesn’t live in a state of constant fear, sadness and confusion.  Symptoms range from audio hallucinations, paranoia, delusional and disorganized thinking, and depression.  They hear voices, often commanding them to hurt themselves.  They hear these voices as clearly as the voices we hear when someone is talking to us.  A lot of times the voices are telling them horrible things about themselves.  The analogy I use to try and get folks who have hard time grasping how a Schizophrenic experiences life is, imagine starting your car but the radio turns instead of the engine.  So you try turn the radio on but the horn starts blaring and won’t stop.  Then you put your foot on the brake and the gas pedal hits the floor and you go flying through the garage door.

Often a symptom, delusional thinking, tells them that they have no illness, and so they don’t want to take their medication.  This sends the client into a constant up and down cycle of unstable mood fluctuations and delusions of an endless variety.  Maintianing a steady home life in any situation is nearly, if not completely impossible.  Having relationships with others is difficult to put it mildly.  Many family members give up, in frustration or even shame, and force the sick family member out of their lives.  Or the client disappears and the family have no idea where they went or what happened to them.

The medications a Schizophrenic has to take have an extensive list of side effects and in the long run, can cause permanent, debilitating side effects.   Tarkive dyskenasia, diabetes, and hypertension to name just a few.  Some great choices, huh?  Out of control symptoms or barely controlled symptoms with out of control side effects.

The worst thing about my job?  The limited resources that are available to the client’s and their families.  Even with the best services it is an extremely difficult problem to manage, but nothing close to the best is available for the average client.  It is expensive in terms of both time and money, because the need is constant and the consequences of sub standard care are so severe.  We saw a horrific example of that with the beating death of a very young man on the streets of Fullerton.

Kelly Thomas

When I read the horrible story about the murder of Kelly Thomas by some members of the Fullerton Police Department, my heart literally ached.  I hear that recording of him begging them stop and crying out, “Dad! Dad! Dad!”  I saw the pictures of him, beaten to a pulp, hooked to life support, dying.  I see his father’s face and hear his piercing words as he addresses the Fullerton City Council.

I can’t happen but believe our State, and our nation, has the answers but doesn’t want to take the time or money to truly allocate the funding needed to make a difference in mental health.  I do not believe that most people care to acknowledge mental illness much less agree to adequate public funds being spent to provide for our nations mentally ill persons.  It would mean, after all, that tax payer funds would have to be spent for treatment, housing and counseling.  And we all know where many stand on taxes.  Cut them, and do so by taking from those who need it the most first, the old, the young and the ill.

What happened to Kelly is THE worst nightmare of every parent, sister, wife, child, or best friend of a mentally ill person.  They suffer most of the same kind of symptoms their loved ones do, only instead of paranoia, it’s real, unending fear.  They don’t have delusions, they have visions, of all the terrible things that can and do happen.  Instead of hallucinations, they hear real voices.  Like the one Kelly’s dad will hear every day for the rest of his life in his memory.  The sound of Kelly crying out, “Dad! Dad! Dad!”