December 14, 2012

Families mostly powerless when mentally ill adult resists help

Legal protections make it difficult to force treatment, but one man's personal tragedy has led to changes.

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

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Joe Bruce, whose wife was killed by their son, helped to enact a state law that allows family members and law enforcement to initiate outpatient treatment for those who are mentally ill.

Jim Evans/Staff photographer

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Members of the Bruce family posed for this photo in their Caratunk home several years before Willy Bruce killed his mother in a psychotic rage in 2006. Amy and Joe Bruce are seated in front, with Willy Bruce and Amy's mother, Gladys, behind.

Courtesy photo

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Amy Bruce's letter to her son Will

NAMI, in particular, will receive $2.8 million in state and federal funding this fiscal year to provide contracted services for mentally ill people and their families, including $340,000 for family support and public education, according to DHHS.

Carothers acknowledged that, for families, NAMI's role consists of providing information and referrals to available resources.

"My business is to provide information," Carothers said. "Many families don't know what resources exist."

Bruce said information offered by NAMI and other agencies isn't enough. He believes the state should provide family advocates, similar to those provided for psychiatric patients, to help families navigate the often confusing legal and medical hurdles of the mental health care system.

"There's a big difference between providing information and advocacy," Bruce said. "Information is nice, but a lot of people don't even know where to go or what to ask. We went to NAMI meetings. We met a lot of people like us. That didn't really help us much."

Few people have the legal or medical background necessary to advocate successfully for a family member in psychiatric crisis, Bruce said. Families need advocates to help them get the best care for their loved ones, even when their loved ones fight it, he said.

Family advocates, he said, would help others avoid his experience.

"I never should have come home to find my wife slaughtered," he said.


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