Some years back, I lost my son, Sean.
There are a hundred different ways a person can die, and while death is horrible, the death of a human mind is a different type of personal tragedy.
The call came just as I was drifting off for the night. Sean had been committed for a psychiatric observation, he had been playing chicken with traffic on a major Interstate.
Just like that, a switch turned, moving Sean’s sense of reality from one world to another. One day a normal nineteen year old, the next morning, a strange, weird person possessed my sons physical body.
This person with a blanket cape, bawking like a chicken, talking to the universe about psy-balls and imaginary girlfriends was not my son.
Except he was.
And I should have seen what was coming, and so should have others.
When Sean was in High School, he was labeled a pot head, a class clown, disruptive. Not on a daily basis, but on an ongoing, substantive basis where he wasn’t even able to graduate.
Thing is, all those labels were red flags, red flags that no one, including myself and my wife, were aware of.
Sean’s last year at Sauk Rapids Rice was 2008.
I have another son who clearly has anger issues. I believe that anger is based in what happened to an older brother he was close to, and based in a fear that he too might wake up tomorrow morning a different person than who is is today.
Like Sean, my youngest son attends Sauk Rapids-Rice High School.
My son had an aggressive incident where his anger took over and became an obscenity fueled rant. There was no physical altercations involved. It was verbal, and it was posturing.
It was also unlike him, and also unacceptable.
I recently attended a ‘manifestation’ meeting to discuss if his learning disability was a cause for his behavior.
I had asked for a mental health professional to be present, knowing that Sauk Rapids had recieved a Department of Human Services Grant for School Linked Mental Health services. One of the targets of this grant, to ‘Improve identification of mental health issues for children and youth’.
The reply to my request from Erich Martens,
‘In regards to mental health services in our District, we do not have an on staff mental health worker and our services are co-located one day a week. This means that this service is provided by a licensed provider working in our building from another agency and students and families use their insurance to cover the service. Therefore, there will not be a licensed mental health provider attending, however information can be shared with you regarding options in the area to address needs that C**** may have’.
At the last minute, the School Psychologist had an opening in her schedule and was present for the meeting, and had valuable input not into my son’s behavior, but into avenues of testing that’s available within the District.
I was very forceful in this meeting, after all I am fighting for my son. I was extremely forceful in reminding Erich Martens how we had failed recognizing the red flags with Sean, and as painful for him to hear it, he owns that failure, as I and my wife do.
After the meeting, Erich shared with me that he had vivid recollections of conversations with me regarding Sean’s behavior, and that Mental Health was never mentioned.
I threw my hands up in the air, exclaiming, EXACTLY!
Perhaps, if there had been a trained mental health professional on staff my wife and I would have been saved a parcel of the grief we have experienced.
A son who went missing after a med switch, and was found three days later, mid January, without shoes or shirt, wandering fifteen miles from his group home.
Or visiting my son in a County approved Facility where there’s no staff to be seen, and drugs are sold freely.
Or spending our weekends traveling to Mankato, Wilmar or Fergus Falls or wherever the County was placing him for the next few weeks or months.
Or stopping to visit only to find he had been moved, and no one knew where, including the County.
I wonder how many young adults just like my son have passed through the locked, secured doors of Sauk Rapids-Rice -High, because this is the thing. I know at least two teachers on Staff who confided in me of their struggles with their children and severe mental Illness, as well as a close friend who has a daughter with a severe mental illness. I’m talking Schizophrenia in all three cases. All in my small world of friends and associates.
As a community, we don’t talk about it, and when we do, it’s in muted whispers. It’s an embarrassment.
Eight years since Sean left the High School, and I ask, what has changed in assessing those who need Mental Health assistance.
That DHS grant I mentioned, Erich Martens was googling it during our meeting, a meeting where Erich Martens and other professionals didn’t want to hear about how this district failed my son eight years ago, and how it wasn’t going to happen again.
But to their credit, after two and a half hours, they listened.
It should not have taken 2 hours of verbal tension, fist pounding and few outright F-bombs to get my point across that Anger such as my son displayed is indicative of a mental health issue. My youngest is not displaying schizophrenic tendencies, but he is sending out red flags for help. My wife and I will do our part, and the district will do theirs.
Mental illness cuts across social, racial, political, economic, & religious barriers. It doesn’t much care about the color of your skin, or who your God is, much less who you’re supporting in the next election. They are our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Our mothers, fathers, relatives, and our friends. We should be aware, we should be doing a lot more.
Mental illness is a community problem. It is our problem. One we should be paying a lot more attention to because it is my firm belief, and god forbid if an actual shooting were to take place at our High School, a locked door and a camera isn’t going to stop it.
It’s going to come from a kid with a gun in his backpack that’s been sending out red flags.
And the real tragedy is, the day after such a shooting, the question will be asked, ‘What more can we do?’.
The answer is already there.