/Mississippi mental health care ‘The system failed Bobby’

Mississippi mental health care ‘The system failed Bobby’

Others are not so clear. Bobby Thomas was detained on April 18, 2008 and spent four days in Franklin County Jail. Thomas claims he wasn’t given his medication, which helps to keep his mind calm and steady. It is not clear why. Thomas said that he would begin hallucinating. “I believed someone was looking at me and trying to harm my mental health. I heard voices. There were many voices, and it was difficult to discern which one was which. It felt like ants were crawling over me. It was impossible to sleep. It was horrible.” Thomas, 49, from Brookhaven, is an excellent example of what a federal judge deemed Mississippi’s inadequacy in providing adequate care for people with mental illness. Research has shown that patients with mental illness who fail to seek treatment or don’t take prescribed medication can make their situation more difficult to manage. Katherine Panel, a psychiatrist who is also the medical director at Right Track Medical Group in Oxford, Tupelo and Starkville, Olive Branch, and Corinth, says that “time without their medication can be critical.” The brain is in crisis and it becomes harder to get it back to where it was when it was stable. It is obvious that mental health education is required, especially for firefighters and law enforcement who will be dealing with mentally ill patients. Angela Ladner is the executive director of Mississippi Psychiatric Association. She says: “The system failed Bobby. Bobby should have been given it. Although law enforcement is not authorized to administer medicine, he should have had it. He shouldn’t have been sent to jail in the first place. “If I told people that someone has cancer, they would be interested in me — that’s how it should be. When I mention mental illness, I get many blank stares. It is not understood by most people. Our state doesn’t understand it. “These people have a brain disease that they were born with. They are unable to function without treatment. It is easy to just shrug your shoulders, say “Oh, he/she is just crazy” and continue your day. We aren’t serving their needs as well as we should.” Thomas spent the majority of his time behind bars, waiting for a bed at the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield. Anyone can experience a gradual descent into mental illness. Twenty percent of Americans will experience severe mental illness in their lifetime. Pannel states that mental health issues are something that was not discussed in years past and has been passed down through generations. It’s taboo not to talk about it. It can make people afraid. It makes people fearful. In 1988, he graduated from Franklin County High School with high honors. He was awarded the Herring Gas Co. scholarship, and he graduated from Copiah-Lincoln Community College as a nurse in 1990. He was employed at the G.V. He worked at the G.V. Montgomery VA Hospital in Jackson. He rotated shifts in his free time between Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and Merit Health Region in Vicksburg. Thomas says, “I was saving money for my mama to buy a house.” Thomas, the fourth child of nine, was also financially supporting his siblings. His job at the VA hospital was putting a strain on his mental health. He says that many of the people he dealt with were Vietnam vets. “I listened and tried to help as many people as possible. It got to me, being compassionate. His maternal grandmother, Irene Mitchell died around the same time. Thomas moved in with his grandmother at the age of 3. He says, “She was like the music in my life –the wind beneath my wings.” Thomas left his job in 1994 after he lost his wife. Thomas stayed in his mother’s room for most of his life, only getting out to eat and use the bathroom occasionally. Thomas says, “It was a gradual process.” “I would have these tears for no reason. He wouldn’t speak to anyone.” His mother intervened along with one of his sisters. They took him to King’s Daughters Hospital, Brookhaven. He was quickly transferred to UMMC, where he was later diagnosed. After 14 days, he began to take medication and was eventually released. His life was transformed. Thomas was able to go from working in four hospitals to receiving disability checks within a matter of weeks. He was able to function better with the medication. The crying stopped. Thomas said that he had “began experiencing problems at home” in 2000. Five of Thomas’ siblings were living with Thomas’ mother and couldn’t understand his decision to stop working. It was affecting their finances. Thomas was more irritable than his siblings. Depression returned. His mother did not wait for him to get better. He was taken to UMMC by an ambulance after his mother called 911. He was transferred to Whitfield State Hospital. Thomas was quickly stabilized by doctors who adjusted his medication. He was released, but he continued out-patient treatment. He was doing well up until 2008, when he had his first encounter with police. He described his time in jail as ‘horrible’. This is where things get fuzzy. Thomas claims he was taken into custody at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department and then transferred to Franklin County jail. Thomas claims that someone posted an extramarital affair between two Franklin County residents using his computer. Thomas claims he doesn’t know who posted it. Thomas believes that the subject of the post was responsible for him being arrested. The Facebook post has not been confirmed by either the sheriff’s or police departments. According to records, Thomas was taken into custody on that date. The reason was simple assault on a police officers, which is considered a felony. Later, the charge was dropped. Thomas does not recall any physical skirmishes. Thomas does recall his ankle being chained to his cell’s bar. He also claims that he was denied his medication. His mother took him to jail. It is not clear what exactly happened. Talks with people from the court system and the mental health sector revealed that when a patient is acting strangely, they run out of medication. Family members then call the police or the hospital. A patient suddenly finds himself in a cell without medication until the State Hospital can find a room. Thomas spent eight weeks in the State Hospital after spending four days in prison. Thomas was again admitted a month later to stay for another two weeks. Thomas remembers being in prison as “horrible.” He said that voices returned. I believed someone was trying to take me out again. He said that it felt like bugs crawled on him. “I still don’t know why I didn’t get my medicine,” he says. There are many things Ladner isn’t quite sure about Thomas’ arrest. Brookhaven’s Crisis Stabilization Unit had just completed its second year in operation in 2007. Units can be found in 13 locations throughout the state. Patients can be taken there for up to 14 days instead of being sent to jail or the State Hospital. The units are managed by the 14 state-run mental health centers. They work in partnership with law enforcement agencies and local mental health communities. Important note: The Brookhaven State Hospital ran the unit in 2008. It was taken over two years later by Region 8. “I don’t know why Bobby wasn’t taken there. Ladner claims that he could have received his medication there. These units are crucial because of that. “That’s why the system failed Bobby.” Thomas was admitted to the State Hospital three more times — four weeks in 2009 and two weeks in 2011. One week in 2013 was his last. Thomas states that he has been doing much better recently. Thomas sees a psychiatrist on a regular basis. He receives a Haldol injection every 30 days. This medication is used to treat different types of mental illnesses. A side effect of Haldol is hand tremor. Thomas smiles and says, “I can live without a little shaking.” He lives with his mother, and one of his younger brothers. Both of them have been diagnosed bipolar. He’s currently fighting new battles, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and declining vision. Thomas discovered that certain music can help him to stay calm. “I listen to the Mississippi Mass Choir every day. He says he has all of their CDs. Thomas says he listens to Whitney Houston and Kenny G. He doesn’t hesitate to answer if asked if he’s happy. He says, “Very happy.” “I know God is with me. “I’m grateful that I’m still alive.” I am aware of how my time in prison without medication has affected me. I hope that people will take my story seriously and that no one else has to experience what I went through. Everyone deserves their medication when they are sick.”