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Father walks with son through a life of mental illness

Subject_Zero

Subject_Zero

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Posted: Monday, December 8, 2014 12:00 am
BY GINNIE GRAHAM

Steve Lyons looks around the bare, west Tulsa house and explains to his 43-year-old son that some rules must be followed for him to stay.
Lyons bought the house about two months ago out of desperation. His son, Dustin Lyons, has treatment-resistant paranoid schizophrenia and was arrested Aug. 12, while he was homeless, for drug possession. For 20 years, he has bounced between evictions and homelessness because he is unable to manage the violence caused by his disease.
As he sat in jail, his dad found a cheap house a few feet from the railroad tracks. It's a last-ditch effort at keeping his son off the streets.
"This is a trial, son," Lyons said as they sat in the home. "If this doesn't work, you are out of options. You are back on the street."
"I'm not doing anything wrong, sir," his son said.
"A rule is you have to take your medication every day. Did you take your medicine this past week?" Lyons asked.
"Most of it. Not all of it. I just forgot sometimes," his son said.
"You can remember coffee and cigarettes. You have to take your medication every day," Lyons said.
Dustin Lyons is among the more than 633,000 Oklahomans with a mental illness. Oklahoma is second in the nation for the percentage of people with a mental disease, trailing only Utah. When it comes to severe mental illness, Oklahoma follows just West Virginia, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Yet, about 70 percent of Oklahomans needing mental health treatment are not getting the appropriate services, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
"Multiple issues play into that 70 percent," said Terri White, director of the state agency. "Some mentally ill people don't have access. Stigma is also a part of it. The reality is, a lot of people need services and are not getting them."
Those with mental health needs are not alone. Each Oklahoman with a mental illness has parents, siblings, spouses, children, neighbors, co-workers and friends struggling along with them.
"If you have a loved one with an untreated, undiagnosed mental-health need, the whole family is affected," White said. "If you are an employer with an employee struggling with this, that will increase absenteeism and lower productivity."
It's a community issue.
Coming to grips
It was an evening 20 years ago when Steve Lyons got a frantic phone call from his son's girlfriend. The father was a longtime cop in Houston.
"She said Dustin was acting crazy, seeing things and hearing voices," he said.
On the job, Lyons had seen the worst in people. He knew his son drank, and he suspected that he smoked pot. But his son had never exhibited symptoms of mental health problems, had earned a bachelor's degree and was starting his career in restaurant management.
"It wasn't anything that a lot of college kids don't do," Lyons said. "I thought he was an alcoholic. I thought if he sobered up and stopped doing that, it would be fine. It wasn't."
In the past two decades, the father has been with his son as he went through more than 100 hospitalizations, countless evictions, frequent homelessness and now criminal convictions.
"He was a good kid," Lyons said. "He did well in high school and got a degree. He had a girlfriend and was working. By age 24, it was like he disappeared from the planet. He wasn't there anymore."
Even the tent community of homeless people by the Arkansas River kicked him out for his violent behavior.
"I love my son, but I don't like him. He's not that pleasant to be around," Lyons said. "But no matter how difficult it is for me, it's a lot worse for him. He didn't ask for this. If he had cancer, would I leave him alone? No.
"His life has been stolen from him — his chance for an incredible life taken from him."
Steve Lyons went through his own cycle. At first, there was denial, then acceptance. For a decade, he believed that his son could control the erratic behavior and continue to work.
"Finally, the realization came that he would never be able to work again. Just looking how at home it was a struggle for him to make it through the day," he said. "With everything in mental health available, there is nothing for Dustin. There is nowhere for him."
Not enough services
Community-based services were supposed to take the place of long-term care institutions, which were closed starting in the 1970s through the '90s after evidence and research found abuses and subpar treatment in institutional facilities.
Community programs have progressed in offering a variety of styles and types to meet different levels of needs, said Mike Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association Oklahoma.
The problem is that not enough community services were developed to handle the need, Brose said.
"People in an untreated state of mental illness will have bad outcomes," he said.
Cuts in crisis beds in 2009, during the recession, made things worse, Brose said. Some hospitals and service providers have space for crisis care but no funding for services.
This has placed the burden of mental health treatment on law enforcement officers, jails and prisons. When a person in crisis is picked up, finding a bed becomes a chess game.
Where to go for help depends on a person's health insurance coverage. For the privately insured, each plan is different.
For those without insurance, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has 14 community mental health service centers statewide. Four are in the Tulsa area. The centers will provide a free assessment and can determine whether a person qualifies for services.
"Unfortunately for some people, that's the gap," White said. "For some people, if they are not ill enough for crisis intervention, they will not have anything."

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AliceinWonderland

AliceinWonderland

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Thanks for posting Subject-Zero, and :welcome: to the forum.
 
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