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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38 Responses

  1. LovestoEat says:

    You certainly have brought up valid points dealing with your ill son and the resources available to Shasta County citizens. Believe me, you are not alone in your frustration and realization that the system is broken. As a parent can feel helpless and alone dealing with a child (or children) suffering from mental illness there are others who share your same feelings. If you haven’t checked out the Shasta chapter of NAMI here locally, I strongly suggest you seek their fellowship and resource direction. Find more info at: http://www.namishastacounty.org
    God bless and good luck.

  2. Valerie Ing says:

    What a story. I grieve for this family, and know there are so many other families going through this as well. There is a young homeless man with Tourette’s (and a host of other medical and psychological issues that I can’t diagnose from afar) who often stands outside my office yelling his head off or banging his cane repeatedly against the wall outside my radio studio. Then he’ll disappear for a few weeks or months, and then show up again in the same condition. This has been going on for several years. Sometimes I wonder what his family has gone through, because it can’t be easy. I wish not only Shasta County, but the entire country could get its mental health act together.

    • LovestoEat says:

      I just want to let you know, it is NOT easy for the family at all when one member has mental illness. I, lived in fear of what that next phone call could be…crime, break-down or worse yet, suicide. This is a disease that can certainly take it’s toll on everyone who loves the ill member.
      But, with the right meds, therapy and a strong family, strides can be made and many people can live fulfilling, productive lives. Hope is our best friend!

  3. Shelly Shively says:

    Gerri, I am shocked and saddened, but not surprised, to hear the heart breaking account of your son’s life, that also represents untold numbers of others much the same. Shasta County has obviously serious, appalling gaps in the system of mental health diagnosis and treatment. To think that your son sits in jail, instead of being helped for a disorder, is a tragedy.
    I recently heard an encouraging feature on NPR of a town in Texas that has implemented a program where police are trained in discerning mental issues from drug/alcohol effects. The police on this beat are dressed casually, and treat the mentally ill with kindness and compassion: brought to a clinical setting, staffed with mental health professionals, where there is diagnosis and treatment, instead of being taken to hospitals or jails.
    This town in Texas found that money was saved, instead of wasted, with this program.
    I hope and pray that your speaking out may have an effect to bring change. Don’t give up your fight…you are not alone.

  4. cheryl mancasola says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Gerri ? I have felt your pain. My younger Dave suffered for years from mental illness. My parents struggled to help him but after they both past away he became my responsibility. I tried so hard to get him the help he needed. There were a few people that offered help at Empire Recovery and Promise Homes a faith based safe home. But in the end I lost my brother to his addictions. I will never look at the mentally ill the same way. A lot of people wonder why they don’t ask for more help, but the world is a confusing place for them. My brother could have never even filled out the paperwork he needed to get help. I never look at a mentally i’ll or homeless person without realizing they are somebody’s loved one.

  5. Canda says:

    This heartbreaking story written by a loving mother was very emotional to read. Gerri, my prayers go out to you and Colby. It saddens me that Shasta County is so poorly equipped to help our mentally ill citizens. I’m so glad you told your story on anewscafe. As we sit feasting with our families tomorrow, we need to be reminded of the numerous families who are torn apart by mental illness.

  6. Pam Dahl says:

    Hello Gerri,
    My heart goes out to you and your family. I have been in a somewhat similar situation with my son, following his return from military service in 2010. Unfortunately, he lost his battle last month. If you would be willing to contact me I would like to offer some suggestions and try to help. I can be reached at paminredding@att.net or 530-227-seven eight 0 eight.

  7. Roy Reddin says:

    Thank you for this powerful, deeply personal story, Gerri. I remember Colby fondly from his middle school years, and it is sad to hear of his illness and your family’s struggle to help him find adequate treatment. Of my six siblings, two are disabled with bipolar conditions. They live with our mother in an very affluent county in Southern California. There are minimal to non-existent public mental health services for them, even in a place that glitters with wealth. It seems to me that we as a society need to be clear about what we value, and then direct our resources to foster those priorities. The health and dignity of people should come first, and the most needy among our fellows ought to be first in line. And yes, public agencies can make the difference with mental health treatment, addiction treatment, solutions for homelessness, job training, adult education and other strands of the social safety net. Good people, well-trained and professional, with adequate resources, and with a clear mandate from our local community, our state, and our nation, would be able to help people like your son and my sisters, and hundreds of thousands of Americans in similar straits, rebuild their lives. The richest country in the history of civilization could do this if we decided to, and if we then elected representatives that legislated for the least among us instead of protecting the interests of the well-off. It is an honest and heartbreaking story like yours that helps to open people’s hearts to the truth that we all have the responsibility for your son’s well-being.

  8. Carla Clark says:

    Dear Gerri,
    I have also been traveling the same road with my son for many years. I think our mental health models are insufficient to deal with mental illness that is complex (and eventually its all complex) because so many other issues are involved besides just the initial diagnosis, which as you demonstrated, can vary widely according to whom you are talking. There is a lot of emphasis on medication, which is at best a blunt instrument and has problematic, life altering side effects. Our “system” is fragmented, difficult to figure out and enter and just flat out doesn’t work.
    Thank you for posting those beautiful photos of your son.

  9. Ann M. says:

    As a social worker in the psychiatric care field, I can totally relate to this frustration. I do not work for the county, but in the private sector. I have been in the mental health field for 15 years and have worked for another northern county. The system could not be any more dysfunctional if there was a concerted effort to make it that way. I have to discharge my inpatients to the homeless shelter when I know they will not make it there, but there is simply nowhere else for them to go. As recently as 5 years ago, county mental health plans would temporarily house people in these situations who agreed to cooperate with outpatient services. Now, they tell us there is “no funding” and nothing they can do. (I would like to know where all the Prop. 63 money is going??? It was supposed to be mainly for housing). When there is a fund source to send a patient to a long-term placement, the next obstacle is that there are not enough beds. So again, back to the shelter. I often come home demoralized and heartsick because I have few resources with which to work. The whole system needs to be changed, and I am going to write a book!

  10. Jesse lane says:

    I am extremely saddened to hear the story I was friends with Colby actually quite close with Colby for long time till we got out of high school. I will completely agree Colby was a great guy. Shasta County’s mental health system is broken Shasta County is broken I have a brother into the same addictions and it seems this county has no help. There is power in numbers and if I can be any assistance I will join in trying to help to better this community

  11. Traci says:

    Sad….I know this mothers lonely road all to well. It saddens me even more because Shasta County Is my home. I was born and raised in this great county yet I’m forced to travel out of the area to seek medical care for my daughter who suffers with a mental illness diagnoses. Shasta County we need to do better. Our Shasta County citizens (mothers, fathers, sons, daughters) who live with this debilitating illness need better care. They deserve local services while they’re unable to care for themselves. Shasta County Jail and local hospital emergency rooms are not justifiably places for treatment or care. Gerri thank you for sharing Colby’s successes and illness. I’m sorry he is Ill with such a debilitang disease.

  12. iliveinmyinbox says:

    Have you thought of moving to an area that takes mental health seriously? It would be worth the move.

  13. Kay Beck says:

    Having a mental illness, is NOT an addiction. It is a medical condition which, it is thought, although no one knows for sure, to be an imbalance in brain chemistry. Sometimes related to hormone imbalances. Sometimes there are tumors on the brain. Sometimes there is damage to the brain due to head injuries. It is difficult to diagnose. One thing is certain, if you ignore it, it will NOT go away.

    Regarding “moving to an area that takes mental health seriously” where would that be, exactly. I have friends living all over the US. This is a problem everywhere. And leaving jobs to go in search of good mental health areas might insure that the whole family ends up living on the street. Most jobs these days pay minimum wage. Try to live on that. Perhaps you should come out of your “inbox” once in a while, look around, and see what is happening around you. That post was cruel.

  14. Pam says:

    Gerri, get my contact information from your sister or daughter and contact me. I would love your input for the nonprofit we are creating. As the parent of an addict I know all too well the anguish of being told “sorry we can’t help you”, “his crimes aren’t bad enough for prop 36”, “he doesn’t qualify for AOP (the addicted offender program” or “your son isn’t ready”.

  15. Alicia says:

    I am sad to hear about Colby. I thought you should know that they are also doing the same thing to Lee (who is in wheelchair). I have went to her meetings and did everything I could to get them to understand and it is seriously like Mental Health does not care!! I hope you get some help for Colby and I will also continue to fight for lee. Best wishes!

  16. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thank you Gerri for sharing your son’s story. There is still a negative stigma attached to mental illness, and people around who believe that mental illness is caused by unresolved life issues, erroneous thinking habits, or personal weakness. A common misconception about mental illness is that the victim should be able to just “snap out of it.” Another is that you can “talk it away.” Mental illness is biological. Unfortunately, it’s not as easily to identify as a broken leg, so a valid diagnosis is only possible by a trained medical professional. Mark Vonnegut wrote in his book “The Eden Express” about his own sojourn with mental illness that talk therapy is about as effective for curing the disorder as discussing dreams are in bringing down a fever. There are doctors in Redding who are trained in psychopharmacology. They have special training in mental illness and treatments that actually work. The list I have is many years old so I won’t share it. There was such a doctor at the veteran’s hospital at one time. Again, thank you for this article. Something can’t be fixed unless we really accept that there is a problem.

  17. Lisa says:

    I am in shock. I went to school with Colby and was a year ahead of him.
    I am so sorry for this terrible ordeal you guys have been going through, trying so incredibly hard and instead getting
    This horrible treatment. My prayers go out to you and him. You are a courageous and beautiful mother for what you are doing.
    I agree with a comment above, about moving to a place that takes mental healthcare more seriously. I don’t Shasta county with anything but basic health check ups and flu shots. I have known half a dozen people that when they need something serious taken care of, they have gone else where.

  18. Gerri Brousseau says:

    Thank you so much for the heartening comments.Though moving is not an option I did share the information on “Lauras’ Law” and the information on Bexar Co Texas with the Board of Supervisors.Texas is 2nd from the bottom in funds spent on mental illness.Yet the one county saved millions by restructuring their system.Consolidating all services in one location and having providers actually talk to each other.What a concept.If we can’t see the humanity in caring for our citizens maybe money will encourage the powers that be to make a change..

  19. Kay Beck says:

    Two articles in the NYT about the mysteries around depression. Worth reading the reader comments, too. Many from people who have been/are being treated for depression:


    Op-Talk – Opinions From All Over

    What If We’re Wrong About Depression?
    By ANNA NORTH NOVEMBER 26, 2014 3:24 PM

  20. bill says:

    Thank you. There have to be many others. Everyone knows that anyone who is involved with any of the “systems” needs an advocate. Trying to take care of a friend who had a stroke has been enlightening and incredibly disheartening. The medical system, coupled with the Medicare system and the Medical system and the various insurance systems, make the process impossible even if you aren’t ill.

  21. Janette says:

    Dear Gerri,
    My son is 21, seriously mentally ill, conserved by the State & housed in a locked facility in Redding. It’s the only one I know about in the area. It was a long road….it still is ….if you want some suggestions on how to get him conserved so you can get him into a facility, feel free to contact me. 619-564-0411 I live in San Diego now, but i lived in Redding for 40 years & I also worked at a psychiatrist office in Redding. I’m well aware of the shortage of mental health resources.
    I wish you all the best.

    • Gerri Brousseau says:

      Thank you and I will call…have been seeking this.Appreciate your imput and taking the time.This is overwhelming………..

  22. Susan Pace says:

    Gerri – my heart breaks for you & your family. Your story was powerful & has touched so many people. Having grow up with a mentally ill family member, I know only too well the pain & suffering it causes. Please let me know if I can help. Spacerncm@gmail.com. Blessings.

  23. Ron says:

    Only in Shafta County. No surprise there. Good luck Gerri.your going to need it….


  24. Pam Wysock says:

    My son has had two traumatic brain injuries on the frontal lobe. The first one from an assault caused a whole host of issues……..depression, PTSD, anxiety, memory problems, anger issues, cognitive problems, daily migraine headaches and impulsivity issues. Drug addiction started about 4 months into injury as he was trying to stop the head pain. We tried Shasta County Mental Health a few times only to be turned away. The intake clinician tells me that they cant help him but he needs help with his PTSD problems and that they are very bad. I pretty much lost my cool and told the clinician thats why we are here. Tried to go there again because he wanted help with his addiction and was told that they could not see him for 7 weeks. My son says, “I could be dead by then, are they trying to kill me ? ” I had to agree that was too long of a wait.
    We have been to 2 different pysch doctors and all I feel they want to do is give the drug of the month. I have tried to get him into a rehab but he seems to not fit any of the criteria because of his brain injury or we dont have enough money to afford help for him. Very frustrating and maddening.
    The 2nd brain injury occurred in June it required a crainotomy and he suffered a broken jaw, which still hasnt been fixed. He has yet to have a follow up appointment with the neuro doctor. We are waiting on a referral to come thru at UC Davis.
    Help is not easily found or available for anyone with Mental illness issues, whether they be injury caused or just a chemical inbalance. It is sad and very frustrating for the fasmailes that are trying to help their loved ones

  25. Pam Wysock says:

    oops…… It posted before I was finished correcting my typing errors. Dang it !

  26. Gerri Brousseau says:

    Ron Henninger from the Mental Health board is interested in any other stories in regard to Shasta Co Mental Health Dept. and can be reached at 242-0694.

    • This is a hopeful sign, Gerri. Thank you for spreading the word. I will do the same.

      • Gerri Brousseau says:

        The letters I sent certified mail to each mental health board member were not delivered to them.Received a call from a board member who was quite upset…next mental health board meeting Jan 7th, 5:15 pm.Time to pack the halls and demand better.

  27. Jessica Ferron says:

    I was once very close with Colby and I love him like a brother. He lived with Brooke and I while he was in the Marine Corps. I lost contact with him about a year ago and have wondered where he was. I have been very worried because I knew he was suffering and didn’t know how to help him. This news breaks my heart. Colby is a great guy. He has a heart of gold and always had my back. He protected and loved me like a brother should and I knew during conversations with him that someone needed to pay attention to him and help him. I can’t believe that in the great state of California they can’t give him better help. You are definitely correct when you say he can be very convincing. He would tell me he’s having problems with this thing or that person but after reading your post I realize now exactly how much he was telling me and I am so sorry I couldn’t help him more. He’s been a very good friend to me for 14 years and I truly miss him. I can only imagine how you feel and what you are going through. My heart breaks for you and the rest of Colby’s family. I would like his address if possible. I would love to write him and let him know he still has me to talk to. I know he would love that. He and I could always have talks for hours about anything. I will give you my email address if you can give me his address and I thank you so much. You and yours will be in my prayers and I will pray extra hard for Colby.

  28. Bobolie says:

    All I can say is you have the love and wherewith all of a mother bear! I know the countless hours and sleepless nights of a mother with a child who needs help. I have the greatest respect for your love and willingness to fight for your child. You are an inspiration to all mothers. I hope your journey through the mental health system strikes a cord and begins to create dialog and action that effects change. Please take good care of yourself in the process.

  29. Stacy Watson says:

    I applaud your courage to share your son’s story. I too understand your pain and frustration with the fragmented care, I too have a child that has is now involved in the legal system and I feel we tried and tried to get help and kept running up against local barriers. And once they get on probation they can’t leave the area to get care & treatment. It is unbelievable how many people needing treatment are in the criminal justice system , and they are tossed away. It breaks my heart.I understand approximately 45 percent of offenders in state and local prisons and jails have a mental health problem co-morbid with substance abuse or addiction. The chances that these people while incarcerated will get adequate treatment services for both drug use disorders and other mental health illnesses is slim to none. I will pray for your boy and your family and continue to pray that adequate appropriate services will be allowed to come into this county for mental wellness & drug rehabilitation. Thank you for sharing the date of the next MH meeting Blessings

  30. Gerri,
    As heart-broken and frustrated as you are, I applaud your strength and resilience. Thank you for speaking up and not only letting people in our community know about the struggles you are having getting your son help, but also admitting your son has a mental illness. His mental illness is as real as any other physical illness. After all, mental illness and addiction are brain diseases and the last time I checked, our brains were considered part of our physical bodies. By speaking up and sharing your story, you help our efforts to reduce the stigma and discrimination that keep people from talking about this epidemic.
    Yes our system is flawed, but you have the right idea about getting involved. I worked in education for the past 20 years, most of that time as a counselor for at-risk youth. I now run my own business, The Lotus Center, that is quickly becoming the desperately needed “connection” between youth & families and schools & behavioral health (mental illness & addiction) providers. I also volunteer on the Shasta County Mental Health, Alcohol & Drug Advisory Board so I will look for you at our up-coming meeting.

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