Local News

May 22, 2014 9:30 PM by Keli Moore, KSBY

KSBY investigates: Navigating the mental health system part 1

There are more than 7 million people in the United States living with severe mental illnesses and 3.3 million of them are untreated at any given time, according to a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center. The number of untreated continues to rise.

KSBY met a Paso Robles family who is close to this issue. For more than a decade they have dedicated their time to helping their son and others who are faced with severe mental illness.

"It's one of the hardest things in the world, to watch your son lose his mind," said Lisa Kania.

Her son, Joseph, has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

"He got diagnosed in college when he was 19," said Mrs. Kania.

Symptoms can be diverse. Joseph has extreme moods swings, gets paranoid and often doesn't know what is real or not.

"If you are not taking the proper meds there is a chemical reaction in the brain, so your thoughts get distorted," said Mrs. Kania.

Many stigmas are associated with mental illness, words we often see in the media: shooting, mass shootings and violence.

"As long as you have proper medication, therapy and guidance, you can live a normal life," said Mrs. Kania.

Treating someone who is severely mentally ill takes a team of medical professionals, and it's costly.

According to the California Hospital Association, hospitals across the state have been closing psychiatric units. The amount of beds for patients who need acute inpatient psychiatric care decreased from 1995 to 2011 by 3,000 beds.

The data is only county beds. It does not include the seven large state facilities like Atascadero State Hospital and Coalinga, "where the patient population is mentally ill inmates, mentally disordered offenders, patients who have been found incompetent to stand trial and patients who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity."

"Trying to navigate the mental health system is a difficult thing to do. Joseph has been 5150 four times," said Mrs. Kania.

"5150" means a person has a high risk of suicide or violence and can be put on an involuntary psychiatric hold.

"Everyone seems to be on board when he gets there and as soon as he gets to the stable point, It's time for him to go," said Charles Kania, Joseph's dad .

San Luis Obispo County has 16 beds at the Psychiatric Health Facility referred to as the PHF (puff). It's the only facility in the county. The closest alternative is in Santa Barbara, also called the PHF. It has 16 beds too. Of the 58 counties in California, 26 do not have any inpatient psychiatric services.

"It's not just give him some drugs and send him back onto the street. That doesn't fix anyone. He needs follow-up appointments, he needs doctors who are going to stay with him," said Mr. Kania.

"As a parent you are supposed to be able to fix your child, you are supposed to be able to put a Band-Aid on anything. I cannot put a Band-Aid on it and kiss it and make it go away," said Mrs. Kania.

There are other ways to get inpatient care in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara countie with private insurance. Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara is the closest to San Luis Obispo.

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