A Mother’s Plea: Where is the Help for Shasta County’s Mentally Ill?

Colby Brousseau on his high school graduation day. He was an athlete and an advanced placement student. He’s been suffering from mental illness for more than 10 years, and is now in jail. He is 34 years old.

Homeless. Mentally ill. Drug-addicted.

These are words we all see everyday, especially with those problems so affecting Redding at this time.

But do you have a face to put on those words? I do. My son.

Believe it or not he was once an advanced placement student and athlete who loved sports from the time he was a little boy.

You would not know it to see him now. We brought him home off the streets of Texas in April 2013. We took him straight to Shasta County Mental Health. There, the doctor – without taking our son’s medical history – changed his diagnosis from “rapid cycling bipolar” to “attention deficit disorder”.

I sat through the interview, and while I did try to interject, I was not asked a single question.

My son was put in Shasta County’s crisis recovery center for approximately 30 days, and then released with only one of the meds they’d tried to stabilize him on.

He was in and out of the Good News Rescue Mission until his second intake at the crisis center.

We took him home for Christmas where he proceeded to stand sweating, shaking and talking to himself in the driveway. He couldn’t handle one night with the family, and said he didn’t belong, that he should “go back with the rest of the crazy” people.

When I returned my son to the crisis recovery center and told about my son’s symptoms, that’s when I learned that the center had run out of my son’s meds for three days. 

His case worker got him into a program in Eureka for veterans, and although he was released from the military on a less-than-honorable discharge, he qualified.

Colby Brousseau served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years, 11 months, before he was less-than-honorably discharged, making him ineligible for future military benefits.

When I arrived to the crisis center to transport him to Eureka,  I was asked if I wanted to see his case worker before we left. I said I did. The person on the desk did not have the case worker’s phone number so I supplied it, even though they are in the same building.

After a brief meeting with my son’s case worker we headed for the parking lot. Thankfully, I thought to ask if he had been given his meds, and learned he had not. We were informed that staff first needed to count the meds. My son was given his meds in the parking lot.

He talked to himself all the way over to Eureka.

Somehow I thought a system would be in place to do psychiatric intake and assess him once he arrived in Eureka. That did not happen. He was kicked out and sent to Humboldt County Mental Health – I believe on a 5150. There, they did take a mental health history. The Humboldt County mental health workers disagreed with the attention deficit diagnosis given by Shasta County Mental Health, as well as the medications prescribed for my son in Shasta County. The Humboldt County diagnosis was rapid-cycling bipolar with antisocial tendencies, possibly schizo-affective disorder.

Colby Brousseau with his mother Gerri Brousseau, who’s spent more than 10 years trying to get help for her son in Shasta County’s mental health system. Here, Colby had gained 80 pounds as a side effect of a new medication.

He left there against medical advice and the veterans group gave him a ticket back to Shasta County, with no warning to his family.

He showed up that night on my doorstep in the rain. Back to mental health we went.

At Shasta County Mental Health, my son was directed to find housing, get a job and find financial resources. All impossible. He was unable to function, let alone do any of those things.

In frustration, in March of 2014 we sent a registered letter to all members of the Shasta County Mental Health Board and all the department chairs at Shasta County’s Mental Health departments. We contacted and met with the Shasta County Grand Jury. We talked with multiple people at mental health.

Our goal was to help our son by bringing attention to Shasta County’s obviously broken mental health system.

As of April 14, 2014, the only response received was from Dean True, Shasta County Adult Services Director, and a phone call from supervisor Leonard Moty, asking if I wanted to talk about it. I’ve talked to so many people about it, and it doesn’t seem to change a thing.

By now our son was back at the mission or living on the streets.

I went to a counseling appointment with my son through the mission.The counselor saw an entirely different picture after meeting with the two of us, and said it was enlightening.

Sure. That’s because they see so much, and assumed this was just another throw-away kid. He’s not a throw-away kid. He’s my mentally ill son, who’s sometimes delusional to the point where, when asked by caseworkers if he needs housing (which he does), or medications (which he does), or even food, he’ll say no. He can be quite convincing.

He’s extremely high intelligence, so he can sometimes present well, such as during a 15-minute appointment with a Social Security worker to apply for psychiatric disability. His application was denied, because he didn’t “appear” disabled.

After 15 months I went to another doctor’s appointment with my son where I was asked for his history. It was the same doctor as before, but this time he gave a different diagnosis. Back to rapid cycling bipolar.

The doctor did ask my son if he had thoughts of hurting himself, to which my son replied “no”. But he said he had thoughts about  going back to jail. When asked why, my son replied that it would take all the pressure off.

And, no surprise, he now sits in jail after a fight in the park with another transient. That was August.

There is so much more to this story, but I am weary.

Mental illness is difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat. Without family input it seems impossible. I have been interactive in this process and I can get nothing done. I tried to head off the jail sentence and could not seem to make a difference.

If this is how “well” I’ve succeeded in helping my son in Shasta County’s broken mental health system, what happens to the mentally ill who have no advocate?

Society expects the mentally ill to step up and take responsibility for themselves, but that wouldn’t be expected if my son were in an epileptic seizure, or a diabetic coma.

Mental illness is a disability no person asks for, no more than someone would choose cancer. Mental illness is about brain chemistry, something an individual has little or no control of.

I am hoping we become enlightened soon as a culture and community so that the stigma of mental illness would be gone, and people and families wouldn’t feel ashamed to “admit” mental illness.

But until then, for my son, his situation is reaching a critical stage. I am fearful for my son and the community. Where in Shasta County are the seriously mentally ill supposed to go for real, significant help?

Gerri Brousseau lives in Shasta Lake City.

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