Mental Health Month Matters Even More when It Hits Close to Home
In 1977 while working as a trial labor law attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia, I met a tall, handsome young doctor training in infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control. Jerry drove a cute little Alpha Romeo convertible, was incredibly smart and our core values were totally in sync. We married in 1980 and moved to Columbia, Maryland, where I had taken a job with The Rouse Company.
We had our first child in 1981, a son named Kylen. Our daughter, Kia, was born in 1985. For a few years Jerry worked at the Columbia Medical Plan before joining several fellow Internists in a private medical practice. Our children seemed to thrive, and we became active in countless community projects. What a perfect life!
And then it all slowly began to change.
Our son began showing signs of anxiety, and maybe even depression, as early as his elementary school years. For a while he stopped eating, ruminated over wanting to be perfect at everything he did, found it difficult to make friends and had to be right next to Jerry and me every minute he was home. He would periodically start talking nonstop followed by curling up in bed and refusing to get out. We took him to his pediatrician, then to clinical psychologists and finally to a psychiatrist ($300/hr. – insurance not accepted – I might add) who diagnosed him with anxiety and bipolar disorder.
In early high school Kylen found something that eased the turmoil in his brain better than anything prescribed by his physicians… marijuana. It was as though he had jumped off a cliff. His grades went from a 4.2 GPA to 0 and we had to juggle the plethora of medications and doctors’ appointments to include… AA meetings. During this period, he had two inpatient stays at Howard County General Hospital for his depression followed by moving him to a therapeutic boarding school in Massachusetts. After graduating from high school, we had him in special programs (mental health/substance abuse/both) in Pennsylvania, Oregon, Florida and Connecticut.
On October 27, 2010, my gentle sweet son took his life, and for the first time in my life, I learned what depression really felt like.
Two years later, just as our family was coming out of our depression over the loss of Kylen, Jerry was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. He underwent a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins and also participated in a special cognitive program, but continued to decline. I enrolled him in several Howard County sponsored senior programs for individuals with dementia. He then began to wander – leaving the house three times one night fully dressed with his stethoscope around his neck thinking he was going to work in the hospital.
In 2016, I placed Jerry in Sunrise Senior Care where he initially became violent. He had to be moved to several geriatric psych units at Hopkins where he stayed for three months until his mood swings stabilized with the appropriate mix of medications. I drove to Hopkins most evenings after work because he wouldn’t take a shower or let the nurses take blood or even check his vitals unless I was standing right next to him. After returning to Sunrise, his decline has steadily progressed. At this point he can no longer walk, talk, feed himself or even make eye contact.
I tell my story for all of you to see that challenges with mental health can happen in any family no matter how much education, financial resources, friends, family support or medical connections you have. I shudder to think what this journey would have been like had I not had an abundance of all the foregoing.
The time to support services in our community for mental health is not when you need it… it’s NOW… so the services and facilities are available should lightning strike your family like it did mine.
Don’t hesitate to contact Maureen Harris, Director of Development at Howard County General Hospital, to learn more about how you might support the expansion plans for the Behavioral Health Unit at Howard County General Hospital.