Bay Area father feels powerless trying to help schizophrenic son

Bay Area
Photos of Travis

CONCORD, Calif. (KRON) — Looking at Travis’ senior high school photo from Antioch Deer Valley High School, he seems confident, ready to take on whatever challenges life throws his way.

Today, he lives under a bridge and doesn’t trust anyone. Travis was diagnosed with schizophrenia around his 22nd birthday.

Thomas Miller described the “living hell” his family has gone through trying to find a place and program that can treat his son’s mental illness and keep him safe. Every direction they have turned in Contra Costa County’s mental healthcare system have led to dead ends, and they don’t know what else they can do to help, he said.

Travis’ senior high school photo

Contra Costa Health Services did not respond to KRON4 requests for comments for this story.

Travis, 29, is one of many people suffering from schizophrenia who feel like the only place they fit in society is on the streets. Miller said his son doesn’t believe that he has a mental illness. He lives behind tarps draped next to an I-680 overpass in Pacheco because it’s the only place where he can “just be Travis,” he told his father.

“Travis was a very hug-able little kid. Very rambunctious. Very energetic,” Miller said.

He was doing OK until he turned 21. That’s when he became paranoid about food and refused to eat anything except nuts. Travis became severely thin, and he was admitted for the first time into a psychiatric hospital. A doctor who evaluated Travis at the time wrote, “Unable to communicate, lack of any motivation, unable to follow house rules. Delusional, warped sense of reality and inability to remember the past accurately. Delusional belief in conspiracy theories of aliens and government surveillance and injustices. Sees UFO’s flying over house.”

Travis

Before he became homeless, Travis tried living in various places. He lived with various family members, but his aggressive behavior always led to him being turned away. He tried living in group homes with other adults suffering from mental illnesses, but those living situations didn’t last long either because there was little supervision, Miller said.

Travis spent time in multiple psychiatric hospitals after being placed under “5150” involuntary holds. His family had a glimmer of hope after a 4-week hospital stay in 2017, when Travis responded well to psychiatric medication. He even got a job delivering pizzas.

But his moment of stability was short-lived. Like many people with schizophrenia, Travis did not like the medications he was prescribed. He told his family that he preferred to “self medicate” with marijuana and alcohol.

“He started taking marijuana again and he completely went off the deep end. He attempted suicide. He stabbed himself. And he went back into the hospital. And he’s never been the same,” Miller said.

Now Travis has stopped talking to his family almost entirely.

Miller said the only thing he can do to help his son is by leaving things like water and clothing on the doorstep. He feels like he’s taking care of a “stray feral cat.”

Family photos of Travis

The mental healthcare system “is set up for failure,” when it comes to patients like Travis, Miller said.

Miller told KRON4 about what he thinks the county needs to do to help young adults with severe mental illnesses who can’t help themselves, or are not willing to help themselves.

“The way it’s set up here, they have a lot of voluntary inpatient facilities. So if you’re sick with schizophrenia and you know you have schizophrenia, you know you have problems, there is a lot of help (available) for you. But if you are a schizophrenic and you don’t think there is anything wrong with you and you don’t trust the system, the streets are your only option,” Miller said.

“I, the parent, do not have the ability to order medication for him because Travis does not give me that authority. So I can’t talk to a doctor, I can’t get a prescription for him. All I can do is look at my mentally ill son and listen to him rant and rave and tell him, ‘Please go see a doctor so you can get your medication.’ Because his mind is broken, and because he’s over 18, I can’t do anything (legally). I can just watch my son deteriorate,” Miller said.

“The county will only … medicate him for 72 hours, get him to a baseline, and then let him go. That’s all they can do,” Miller said.

“If there is one thing I could change in the mental health industry, it would be (creating) a clear pathway for someone with schizophrenia who doesn’t accept help voluntarily (and) can’t seek help for themselves. The family should be allowed to come in and help support that patient. Make it much easier for families to be brought in to help get their loved one more consistent therapy and long-term therapy. That may be involuntary for a patient if that patient shows they are repeatedly at-risk. Decisions need to be taken out of the patient’s hands.”

Miller said the mental health system is so broken, he’s concerned Travis will not get the help he desperately needs and save him from going down a darker path.

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