The horror that is the mental health system in Arizona
My mother started acting erratically in 2020 at the age of 67.
It started with sudden onsets of dyslexia, uncharacteristic irritability, buying or collecting all sorts of things until everywhere I inhabited things piled up. heavy blankets, specialty crafts, rocks, pine and woodblocks, Any thing At the grocery store with an orange “discounted” sticker. Before long, she maxed out her credit cards and physical space to store things.
Today, most people carry two or three credit cards. As convenient as they are to trade, they are also financial machine guns of ten or twenty thousand rounds (“lines of credit”), capable of unleashing money in quick bursts (“swipes”) of hundreds or thousands of dollars with each pull of the trigger. At the very least, automatic weapons come with a safety. Within a few months, my mother had accumulated nearly $30,000 in inseparable credit card debt. It should be noted that families have no recourse against such extravagance by a loved one in the midst of cognitive decline of any kind. There was no way for us to deactivate her card or reduce her credit limit.
I became paranoid. She called 911 and told the police that she had been threatened. On their third trip to our home, the police recommended an “involuntary mental health evaluation.”
More than half of people diagnosed with cognitive impairment — including schizophrenia, dementia, and bipolar disorder — suffer from “Anosognosia,” a word of Greek origin meaning “without knowledge of the disease.” It describes a person’s inability to realize that something is wrong with them. This was definitely my mother’s case. Our concerns about her erratic behavior were met with vigorous denials, regardless of the evidence presented.
After months of not getting her to see a doctor, we were desperate. Involuntary evaluation seems to be the only way to provide our mother with the help she needs. The threshold for initiating such an assessment is understandably high. The petitioner must prove that the person concerned “poses a danger to himself or others,” is “severely disabled,” or is at risk of suffering “extreme and unnatural mental, emotional, or physical harm” without treatment.
On the morning of my mother’s first involuntary evaluation, she was tearing up the house in a fit of rage and was planning to skip town in her car, which the police, just two hours earlier, had helped us disable by pulling the spark plug. The officers returned to take her to the community bridges in Mesa. If you haven’t been to CBI before, pray to God you never go. It can best be described as a treatment facility for mentally disturbed individuals ranging from the criminally insane to addicts going through withdrawal to senior citizens suffering from age-related cognitive decline like my mother.
After spending a few sleepless nights among terrifying spirits screaming, hallucinating, and huddled together on loungers with blankets in a windowless room, she was sent to Valleywise Behavioral Health in Phoenix for further evaluation. For reasons that require more space than writing space, my kind country mother went through this hellish process not once, but twice.
Even in Valleywise, we couldn’t visit her — the “COVID policy” that, to our great shame as a country, is still in effect today, denying access to those most in need of the love and attention of family. Attempts to send her more tasty food were often rebuffed if contraband such as tin—which could apparently be made into a shank of some kind—were discovered in take-out containers. About once a week, we get a fuzzy update from a doctor or social worker.
A month later, the court ordered him to undergo treatment: compulsive consumption of an antipsychotic drug and periodic phone appointments with a psychiatrist. By then, she feels betrayed by the family and assaulted by a broken system. She moved into her own apartment to start a new life, but forgot to show her file manager her new address, in violation of the court order. So, she was arrested. The police showed up and carried my confused and frightened mother down the stairs of her apartment building into a police SUV as her new neighbors looked on. Apparently, asking courtesy of her family to clarify the address issue before sending in armed men was too much. She is returned to CBI for a third assignment.
A common next step for people in this situation is to seek guardianship to protect their loved ones and manage their assets. We sought to do the same. As is customary in Arizona, she was represented by a court-appointed attorney at the guardianship hearings. The legal process took several months, and only then did we find out that we had to foot the nearly $17,000 court-appointed attorney’s bill, plus our own attorney’s fees.
Today, our mother is doing better. As the world returns to a post-pandemic normality, so does our mother’s mental health. Miraculously, we got our mom back, for the most part.
But we were left wondering what we got for all the money we personally spent that taxpayers spent on our behalf. What value does the public mental health system provide to an operation that is so insensitive, so unregulated, and requires families to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to attorneys? I hope you and your loved ones don’t have to put up with what we went through. Our system is broken (many are broken anymore): instead of helping the afflicted and their families who are going through tremendous financial and emotional stress, it exacerbates their pain and leaves them broken. Meanwhile, the large companies that run these “services” are profiting from their downtime.
Many times I have thought about what would have happened if my family had less means and I had to endure similar financial hardships due to the suddenly reduced abilities of a loved one. The answer seems obvious: you’ll be on the street.
It’s time for reform and accountability, and it can’t start soon enough.
Dan is an Arizonan, entrepreneur, and refractor.
It is not possible to mention one of them in this post.