Mental illness is a brain disorder that, left untreated, can trigger such national incidents as the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Conn., the 2012 mass shooting inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., the 2012 shopping mall shooting in Tucson, Ariz. and the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. It can also simply cause one to take his or her own life.
On Friday, in the Beach Library conference room, Beach author Dottie Pacharis recounted her son's unsuccessful struggles with bipolar disorder and a family's futile attempts to acquire the proper medical health care desperately needed yet too often stymied by a dead end in the navigation of the mental health system.
Pacharis reviewed her book entitled, Mind on the Run: A Bipolar Chronicle, and revealed facts about the disorder and mental illness in general. Her sharing opened up eyes and enabled presentation audience members to open up about their own accounts.
Beach author Dottie Pacharis speaks about mental illness during a presentation at the Fort Myers Beach Library Friday.
"(Mentally Ill) people have a brain disorder. Like people with any other illness, they need medical treatment," she said. "Therein lies the problem."
While only a small fraction of mentally ill people become violent, severe mentally ill people should not be allowed to purchase weapons or have access to them, says Pacharis. Guns can kill.
"Untreated mental illness also kills," she said. "Combine the two, and you have a tragedy waiting to happen."
Suicide rates are high among the mentally ill. One in four people are somehow affected by mentally illness.
"The secret is managing the illness," said Pacharis. "Untreated bipolar disorder took my son on a 13-year roller coaster ride. Each time he was allowed to go untreated for long periods of time, he sustained further brain damage."
The U.S. legal system failed to protect Scotty Baker when he could not protect himself. He took his own life six years ago.
"Allowing Scotty to roam the country in his untreated, psychotic bipolar world under the pretense of protecting his civil rights is in my opinion absurd and a disservice to him," she said. "The general public also has a civil right to be protected by potentially dangerous mentally ill individuals who are either off their meds or are not being treated at all."
Pacharis stated that more than 10 million people in this country have bipolar disorder.
"It's a life-long illness with recurring episodes," she said. "The good news is bipolar disorder is treatable."
According to Pacharis, involuntary commitment laws have changed since the 1950s, when families could commit relatives to so-called mental institutions for forced treatment. Deplorable facility conditions and patient mistreatment caused a change in law involving forced treatment on medications for the mentally ill.
"The laws in most states make it extraordinary difficult for family members to get treatment for loved ones who are overcome by severe mental illness. Once you turn age 18, you have a civil right to refuse treatment and remain mentally ill until you become suicidal or homicidal as determined by judges and commitment hearings," she said. "Twenty percent of jail and prison inmates are mentally ill and, for the most part, are being untreated. Thirty percent of our homeless population are mentally ill, who inundate are parks, train and bus stations and other places."
Pacharis has become an advocate for family involvement regarding treatments issues and decisions. She also volunteers at the National Alliance on Mentally Illness of Collier County at the nonprofit organization's Naples office.
"Those who are suicidal or ill should have the safety net of a family member," she said. "There must be a balance between protecting the rights of mentally ill people and acquiring the much needed treatment they require to not be a threat to society."
National Alliance on Mentally Illness of Collier County provides many support groups for those mentally ill and for family members/ caregivers who are trying to cope with and manage the situation they are in.
Go to www.nami.org to learn more.
"They are just an incredible organization that advocates the mentally ill, supports them, educates the community and provides medication when people loses their jobs," said Pacharis.