Parents of mentally ill 16-year-old daughter struggle to find help

Published 1:07 pm Monday, September 28, 2015

On Sept. 16, an angel-faced 16-year-old girl, shackled and handcuffed, turned from her seat at the defendant’s table in Warren County Youth Court and looked at her parents with a thousand-yard stare.

“When I get out of here, I’m going to kill y’all because you shouldn’t have called the cops on me,” her father remembers the girl saying for what seemed like the millionth time.

Though she had tried to kill herself, her mother and at least half a dozen hospital personnel in the past month, the state’s mental hospital for children and adolescents five days later concluded she was ready to go home.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

In addition to her homicidal and suicidal tendencies, the girl also suffers from crippling seizures.

“They called me Monday and said they wanted to discharge her. They said they can’t treat her mental case because of her medical case and we need to take her to Blair E. Batson. Batson doesn’t want her because she’s assaulting nurses and she’s assaulting doctors because of her mental illness,” the girl’s mother said.

Such has been the struggle for the past four years for this Warren County family whose daughter once so full of genius and promise seems all but destined to bounce from hospital to hospital for the rest of her life.

“I want somebody somewhere to listen and step up and maybe form some sort of coalition and make a place where these people can go whether they are children, adolescents, adults or seniors,” the girl’s mother said.

Youth court proceedings are heavily cloaked in privacy under state and federal law designed to protect the identity of children in the system. The Vicksburg Post has chosen not to identify her family because it would also reveal her identity. The problem, authorities said, is widespread, though because of youth court rules, few cases come to light.

“I feel like there’s just no place for these people. I know my daughter’s not the only one,” her mother.

The family is hardly alone in its struggles to find long-term treatment for their daughter.

“One of the biggest shortcomings with the criminal justice system is mental health,” District Attorney Ricky Smith said, adding that defendants ruled incompetent to stand trial are often released from state facilities with a letter saying the state can offer them no further treatment.

Options are even more limited when the mental patient is a juvenile, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

“When law enforcement responds to a call, many times placed by a parent, and witness a juvenile acting out in a violent, criminal manner, we actually only have one option at our disposal and that is to place the child in juvenile detention,” Pace said. “This is not only to provide safety for the family and the public but for the child as well.”

Detention center officials do a great deal of counseling and seeking mental health care for children in the youth court system, but every public program in the state is short-term, lasting at most a month

“The only way a child can be placed in even short-term mental health care is by court order,” Pace said. “Even when the courts become involved and a child is court-ordered into a mental health facility, many times there is a waiting list for an opening in the facility.”

Warren County Judge Johnny Price issued an order Tuesday preventing the hospital from releasing the girl.

“[The girl’s initials redacted] shall remain at Oak Circle until such time as a qualified medical professional who has treated this child shall appear in the Youth Court of Warren County, Mississippi, to show evidence of why this child is not a danger to herself or others and should be discharged,” a portion of the order says.

Price and his court are prevented by law from releasing the order to the public, but family members were able to provide a copy of the order to The Post.

Oak Circle, which is part of the Mississippi State Hospital, is the sixth mental institution that has treated the girl.

“They’re not taking care of them the way they should. My daughter has been pushed so far to the side because she’s bad. They don’t want to help her,” the girl’s mother said.

Before showing signs of mental illness, the girl appeared to be a genius. She held full conversations and exhibited a crystal clear memory before she was 2. In school, she made A’s in school without every cracking a book. By age 10, she had perfectly laid out the blueprints to a house in her bedroom one evening.

Such budding genius is commonly associated with children who will later exhibit mental illness, specifically schizophrenia. The family believes the girl’s illness could be related to a brain tumor. A growth was discovered on her brain stem, though because of her hospitalization she had missed doctor’s appointments to confirm it is the cause of her behavior.

After the death of one of her grandmothers in 2011, regardless of the cause, mental illness began to appear.

The girl started sneaking out in the middle of the night with a man 10 years her senior, who after being arrested and charged with statutory rape, committed suicide.

“After that happened, she went way out there in the deep end with the homicidal and suicidal thoughts. She got to the point where she would look you straight in the eye and say ‘I love you’ and swing a knife at you at the same time,” her father said.

She also began a pattern of self-harm by cutting her arms and legs. Between 12 and 23 percent of all adolescents exhibit some type of self-harming behavior, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Her case was severe and she’s got scars “from wrist to armpit” on both arms, and from her knees to her hips on both legs, her father said.

“She’s stabbed herself I don’t know how many times in the chest,” her father said. “It was with the blunt end of a meat cleaver. It’s lucky that she dropped the butcher knife.”

Her father suspects the girl will need years of treatment, which is far more than the 14 to 30 days she has ever stayed in any mental health facility.

“I’ve always said I’d rather have her instituted and alive than free and dead, but I want my child healed so she can come home,” her father said. “Nobody seems to want to help.”

Children who are released from a mental health facility are returned to their families, who they have often threatened to harm, Pace said.

“Following the child’s release from the mental health facility, the family often has no other choice than to place the child right back in the home where they were to begin with,” he said.

If the girl is released, her mother and father worry she will kill herself or one of them.

“I might not be able to get the help for my child that my child needs. There might be a chance my child dies before she gets the medical help she needs,” her father said. “But if they can save somebody else’s life because of how my child fell through the cracks, some good would come from this.”