Saturday, December 15, 2012


Marion Pellicano Ambrose


Let me start by saying, I write this article , not from reading other articles and writing my interpretation, but from painful, personal experience. Those of you who have not lived with a family member suffering from mental illness, may be able to empathize to a certain extent, but you can’t really grasp the hellish existence we must endure.


The senseless killing of 20 innocent children and 6 adults has caused people to cry out for gun control, better security in schools and bans on automatic weapons. The real need, my friends, is for BETTER MENTAL HEALTH POLICIES in this country. Families with mothers, fathers, sons and daughters suffering with mental illness, like Bi-Polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Depression and countless other illnesses, struggle on a daily basis trying to get help and effective treatment for their loved ones, but it just isn’t there for many of us.


“Simply put, treatment works, if you can get it. But in America today, it is clear that many people living with mental illness are not provided with the essential treatment they need.”

—Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of NAMI National, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Grading the States 2006, Arlington, Va.


Parents with children who are violent, abusive, or destructive have few options. If we act to keep our children and others safe, we are accused of child abuse or endangerment. For example, my son was violent and would kick out his windows, run outside and try to climb onto the roof to jump off. We put plexiglass on the windows and he kicked those out. We finally had to put grating on the windows, to keep him from getting out and to protect him from shattered glass if he did shatter the window. A social worker said we were breaking the fire code and endangering his life and that we could be reported to DCF. I stated that if we took the grating off, he was in much greater danger. I also asked her what she would do in this case. Her answer was “Well, I certainly wouldn’t put grating up! Take it down.” And that was it. No help or advice. She went home to her normal, safe family and left us to deal with our situation alone.


I was forced to Baker Act my son several times. This means, he was a visible danger to himself or others and police can be called to take him to a mental health facility to be evaluated. In every single case, he was drugged into a catatonic state, and of course, his incidents of violence stopped. The longest he was held was 72 hours and then released back home where, of course, we wouldn’t keep him drugged until he was like a zombie. A day or 2 later we were right back where we started. Back to living in hell.


Who knows what the mother of this young man who killed so many has lived with. No one can judge her until they know the circumstances of her life. It could be that she was an abusive mother, or that she neglected her son. But it’s also very possible that she struggled for this young man’s entire life, trying to get treatment, medication, counseling, and support for him and her family. I’m not surprised that her son murdered her. My son attempted the same thing on several occasions when he was younger, especially when he was going through puberty.


Please don’t misunderstand. I love my son. I did everything on God’s good earth to get him help and treatment. I traveled all over the state and farther to find the best psychiatrists and psychologists. I had a behavioral analyst, social workers, nutritionists, an more working with me. I went for training on how to safely restrain him, how to try and defuse his fits, how to use conditioning, reinforcement, how to protect myself , my daughter and my husband. All this because I INSISTED that I be trained!! Only one of the many, many mental health professionals encouraged me in this. For this reason, I will always be grateful and hold in the highest regard, Doctor Humberto Nagera of the University of South Florida.  He met with me won a weekly basis and gave me advice and strategies to deal with my son. The others were annoyed and labeled me a “difficult parent” because I fought for help. Dr. Nagera was also the ONLY one who was concerned about the effect of my son’s illness on my daughter who is 4 years younger. His care and concern had such an affect on her that she is now in graduate school studying to be an Applied Behavioral Analyst. I wish President Obama would put Dr. Nagera in charge of forging new mental health policies and programs that actually help not only the patient, but their suffering families.

I believe it is because of him , his support and the advice he gave our family, that my son has never been arrested, never on drugs, and not permanently committed to a mental institution. My son is now attending college after getting a GED, has a girlfriend, and lives on his own (with some help from me). He is still bipolar and still has great difficulty with life. He still gets angry but has learned to control it enough to keep from becoming violent. Some days he’ll talk to me and we have a good relationship, and others he hates me and  says I was never a mother to him. I’ve learned not to take it personally and just wait it out. Eventually, he comes around again. I believe that, without the hard work and partnership of me, my husband, my mother, my mother in law, my daughter and my friends, and especially the help of Dr. Nagera , my son would be dead or in prison and I would have been murdered by him.


So when you’re hearing all the calls for gun control or complaints about school safety (even though Sandy Hook was proven to have a good policy in effect and all teachers and staff acted heroically in this situation), PLEASE remember that if parents had access to EFFECTIVE mental health treatment, help with violent and abusive children, and the empathy and understanding of the public, there might not be incidences like Sandy Hook and Columbine.


ALL parents need to look at what they’re teaching their children by allowing them to see violent movies, play violent video games and act and speak disrespectfully. It’s not funny when a child uses foul language. It’s a crime when a young child is permitted to play games where they kill and maim with guns, swords or whatever weapon the game provides. It’s irresponsible when parents allow children to see movies or TV shows where sex and violence are commonplace, causing them to think this is the way it is in real life. THAT’S EXACTLY why it is becoming real life. It’s not adorable to see young girls dressed like sluts or boys dressing like gang members. All these things send a message to our children, and it’s not a good message.


Let me leave you with these facts:


One in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans—

experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives

With a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major

depression or bipolar disorder1 and about one in 10 children live

with a serious mental or emotional disorder.


• About 2.4 million Americans, or 1.1 percent of the adult population,

lives with schizophrenia.

• Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American adults, approximately

2.6 percent of the adult population per year.

• Major depressive disorder affects 6.7 percent of adults, or about

14.8 million American adults.1 According to the 2004 World Health

Report, this is the leading cause of disability in the United States

and Canada in ages between 15-44.

• Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive

disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized

anxiety disorder and phobias, affect about 18.7 percent of adults,

an estimated 40 million individuals. Anxiety disorders frequently

co-occur with depression or addiction disorders.

• An estimated 5.2 million adults have co-occurring mental health

and addiction disorders.4 Of adults using homeless services, 31

percent reported having combination of these conditions.

• One-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14,

three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatments, there

are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first onset of

symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment.

• Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a

diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a

given year.

• Racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to have access to mental

health services and often receive a poorer quality of care.

• In the United States, the annual economic, indirect cost of mental

illness is estimated to be $79 billion. Most of that amount—

approximately $63 billion—reflects the loss of productivity as a

result of illnesses.

• Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk

of having chronic medical conditions. Adults living with serious

mental illness die 25 years earlier than other Americans, largely

due to treatable medical conditions.

• Suicide is the eleventh-leading cause of death in the Unites States

and the third-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 years.

More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a

diagnosable mental disorder.

• In July 2007, a nationwide report indicated that male veterans are

twice as likely to die by suicide as compared with their civilian peers

in the general United States population.

• Twenty-four percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail

prisoners have a recent history of a mental health disorder.

Seventy percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least

one mental disorder with at least 20 percent experiencing significant functional impairment from a serious mental illness.

• Over 50 percent of students with a mental disorder age 14 and

older drop out of high school—the highest dropout rate of any

disability group.

My heart goes out to all the families of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but it also goes out to the family  of this young man who killed his own mother and then himself . His mental illness doesn’t excuse the horrible thing that he did, but it should motivate us to vote for better mental health care in this country and support teachers and others who deal with this issue on a daily basis.


  1. Your statistics are a little old. The numbers are much higher, especially the number of inmates that are mentally ill. Great post. It needed to be said!

  2. Another great post. I can see banning the sales of assault weapons and armor piercing bullets to police and military, but the 2nd amendment must be protected! I also agree that we need to do much more to help the mentally ill. I read that 89% of homeless people are also mentally ill. It's a sin to ignore their illness!