ON MENTAL ILLNESS IN COLORADO AND AMERICA, A LONG STORY ABOUT MY LITTLE BROTHER WHOM I LOVE VERY MUCH
Let me state first that this is not written in sympathy of the recent shooter in Aurora, Colorado. He is a murderer and should be treated as such. This is also not meant to embarass my family, but it is Truth and on my heart to say.
My younger brother lives in an assisted living mental facility in Denver. He receives treatment for severe bipolar disorder and schizo-affective tendencies. That is just a long way of saying that when he doesn’t take meds and psychiatric treatment he experiences voices, visual hallucinations, and mood disruptions that can potentially put him and others in danger. At the home where he lives he has the freedom to come and go, as long as he complies with house and doctor rules, but it has taken him years of treatment to get to the point where this is possible.
My brother is highly intelligent and creative. He is a musician and in his teens was the leader of a band. He writes music and plays bass guitar, his band starred in HIV/AIDS public service announcement videos that aired in the ’80’s featuring songs he wrote urging teens to practice safe sex. He also began showing signs of mental illness in his mid teens. Understandably, my parents were in denial and hoped it was a rebellious phase that he would grow out of. If either of my parents had realized and acknowledged there was a problem brewing while he was still under 18, they might have been able to force him to receive treatment. Once he was 18 and no longer a minor, Colorado law (police/hospital workers/social workers) said he could not be forced to seek treatment, it had to be voluntary unless it could be proven he was an imminent danger to himself or others. I feel like once he realized there was a loophole to exploit, his condition worsened quicker. In my estimation he was dangerous but also tricky, and he fooled many people including my parents for a time.
Once my brother did start doing things that were dangerous he ended up in jail more often than the mental hospital. And when he was hospitalized, the state would treat his mental illness until he was “stable” and then release him to his own voluntary recognizance. Meaning that even though my parents and I wanted him to still continue to get meds and psychiatric treatment, it would start all over with the whole cycle of having to be voluntary or to have something dangerous happen first. Without going into painful details I’ll just say there were many times he was a threat to himself and others. Even still I would occasionally let him live with me, trying to help keep him safe and on track. He often made threats that didn’t come to pass, but I had no way of really knowing for sure what he would do. On more than one occasion I called the police on him, told them he threatened me, and had him jailed so that he would be in a safe place and/or get the help he needed. It hurt me a lot to do it.
It wasn’t until after he burned his apartment down that the lawyer my father hired was able to get my brother committed for care instead of charged with arson. No one was injured in the fire Thank GOD!!! If there had been no one who cared about him to show up and stand by him he probably would be in prison.
I hate to think what might have happened had my brother been able to afford assault weapons and such. As it is he did shoot me in the thigh with a blow dart once. I can laugh about that one now. But mental illness is nothing funny. As a society we really need to do better at protecting the mentally ill AND ALSO at protecting the public. I don’t have the answers about how to do that, I wish I did.