Judge comments on problems of mentally ill

Somebody help me!

By Judge Randy T. Rogers
The Journal News

October 10, 2002

“Somebody help me!” cried the eight-year-old boy as he struggled to hold his little brother above the cold water.

On that cool, cloudy day in October 1959, whilefinishing a chore his mother had given him, the boy heard a cry coming from thedeep end of the family’s partially drained pool. Seeking the source of the cry,he discovered his neighbor’s three-year-old daughter floating helplessly on herback in the dirty, leaf-filled water. The little boy raced to the shallow end ofthe pool, slid down a slope into the deep end, then waded through the water tothe frightened girl. Picking her up, he turned to see his three-year-old brotherfloating a few feet away, his face buried in the murky water. He grabbed him,and with the girl under one arm and the boy under the other, he struggled againand again to climb out of the pool. But the slope was too slippery for him toclimb, so he stood there, waist deep in the water, for what seemed an eternity,crying over and over, “Somebody help me! Please, somebody, helpme!”

The help he needed did not come and the boy losthis little brother.

The Butler County [Ohio] Mental Health Board hasplaced a tax levy ( Issue 7) on the ballot this year that will benefit peoplewho need help. In the Probate Court it is not uncommon to hear someone cry,”Somebody help me!” In addition to being the court where people go tohave wills filed and estates administered, trust agreements construed andadoptions finalized, the Probate Court is where people open guardianships andwhere they seek help for family members suffering from severe mentalillness.

Of more than 600 guardianships, at least a thirdinvolve people with mental illness, and on the Court’s civil commitment docketthere are over 100 cases of people found to be so mentally ill that the courthas ordered their hospitalization. These numbers represent only a small fractionof the people the Mental Health Board helps.

In response to a recent survey, the Probate Courtreceived a communication from the mother of a person ordered into treatment sometime ago. This mother was a family member who cried, “Somebody helpme!” and pleaded for the court to order mental health treatment for herdaughter who had been eating out of garbage cans and standing in front of alocal business all night long, night after night, for weeks. She was not adanger to anyone, but she was suffering from a mental illness, an illness shedid not understand she had. Her mother believes that if the court had notintervened, her daughter would have died. Today, after treatment paid for by theMental Health Board, she understands her need to take medication, has a job,sings in a church choir, and is doing well. Her mother is very grateful.

In another case it was a daughter who cried,”Somebody help me!” after her mother nearly blinded her during anexplosive outburst fueled by an untreated mental illness. When the court orderedthe mother into the hospital, the daughter, still seated in the witness chair,quietly sighed, “I just wanted to find someone to help my mother.”After a short hospitalization and with the benefit of modern medication, thedoctor reports that the mother’s prognosis is very good.

Treatment for serious mental illness is veryexpensive, much more than any one family can afford, and it is hard to find.Approximately half a million people were patients in America’s mental hospitalsin 1965, but because of funding shortages and hospital closings, only 60,000people are hospitalized today. Many people who would have been hospitalized hadthey been mentally ill in 1965, are today either living in the streets or injail. The largest institution providing mental health treatment in America todayis not a hospital – it’s the Los Angeles County Jail.

It has been 17 years since the Mental HealthBoard has asked for an increase in funding. My wife and I plan to vote yes onIssue 7. It will cost each of us less than a dime a day.

On October 12 it will be 43 years since this onceeight-year-old boy stood waist deep in that cold, dirty water and cried,”Somebody help me! ” Even though much has happened and many years havepassed since that day in 1959, I have never forgotten what it was like to cryfor help, and have no one come. I can’t vote no.