A Mother’s Journey with Her Son’s Mental Illness

Sandy is pictured above in a room similar to where her son was housed at WellPower’s Behavioral Health Solutions Center.
Photography by Evan Semón.

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The hero’s journey is one we are familiar with in recovery, the story of rising from the ashes amidst adversity. Within those stories, we hear about the friends and family who have helped along the way. But we don’t always hear directly from them – the people who often suffer just as much as those they are caring for.  

Sandy’s son experienced his first psychotic break at age 19, two weeks after his freshman year of college. She took him to an emergency room where he was transported in handcuffs. She describes the encounter as disastrous; this was their introduction to the behavioral health system.

In the decade since, her son’s life is often interrupted by the progression of schizophrenia symptoms. He has experienced homelessness, numerous suicide attempts, inpatient stays and problematic substance use. As his illness has progressed, so have the voices in his head. These voices have led to violent outbursts with his mom resulting in multiple arrests.

A Novel Model to Crisis Stabilization

Sandy estimates her son has been to more than 20 crisis stabilization units. For their family, it has been one frustrating experience after another. This changed when her son was admitted to the Behavioral Health Solutions Center – WellPower’s new, innovative, 24/7 program that provides crisis stabilization, temporary housing and ongoing support all in the same facility.

From the moment Sandy met her son at the Solutions Center after he was transported by first responders, her entire experience was different. Staff took time to build trust with Sandy, something she is extremely grateful for. She could also tell that her son was responding to the environment even after just a few days – it’s clean, safe, colorful, extremely caring and more treatment-orientated than anything her family experienced previously.

Sandy says that the Solutions Center holds no judgment with those experiencing serious mental illness; her son is treated with respect and dignity. The number of compassionate acts of kindness she has witnessed is like nothing she has ever encountered. Staff continuously go out of their way to give the best care – from working diligently to find her son a bed upon discharge to scrubbing his feet and interacting with him daily, to truly getting to know him and understanding his needs.

An Ongoing Journey

Caring for someone living with a serious mental illness can take a toll. Sandy doesn’t hesitate to say that it has destroyed her family. When her son was living with her, she was often working up to three jobs to help support him. Friends and family left, and she says one community treated her like she had the plague after her son’s diagnosis. She was told early on by a crisis counselor that every time her son was in inpatient care, she needed to take care of herself to regain energy for when he would be discharged. She has learned to build boundaries, including not allowing him to live with her. This is one of the hardest decisions she has had to make as a parent, but one that has given her time to heal.  

Sandy remains steadfast in her mission to break the stigma surrounding mental health. Despite the many up and downs and exhausting advocacy efforts, finding the best care for her son is Sandy’s North Star. She does it not only for him but for every family to come after. She spent time with her son this past weekend and says he was happy. She meets him where he’s at, as a person living with schizophrenia, bipolar or psychosis – however his illness presents, on any given day. He was happy and that is all she wants, for him to be happy.