Many times in the past few years, the sensationalized story of a starlet or performer has splashed across national or international television and newspapers . . .“Young woman found under the influence, paranoid, unresponsive, delusional, mute, rebellious and reckless . . .” However this story is of a Bakersfield native who rarely ventures far from her neighborhood or home. The story is familiar to mental health staff; every day the young and not so young enter the system of care unable to accept the fact that they have a mental illness diagnosis of Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. The first confirmed symptoms may appear or be masked by substance use – it’s the chicken and egg dilemma – which state occurred first, substance abuse or the mental illness. Are the individuals self-medicating to alleviate the symptoms that interfere with the life they once enjoyed? Teasing out a mental illness diagnosis takes time; trained doctors, mental health therapists, mental health specialists, social workers, and nurses are challenged with observing, monitoring, collaborating, and determining their findings in such a manner that helps the individual accept the care for the relief of the symptoms that interrupted their life.
It’s June 2007, Ashlyn had just turned 21, she was of average intelligence; she completed high school on schedule and worked at a part-time job. Recently, she was consuming large quantities of Red Dawn (a legally obtained substance that chemically mimics Ecstasy), smoking marijuana, and drinking alcohol. Her father who was desperately trying to help his only daughter brought her to the Mary K. Shell assessment center. Her father knew there was something wrong, she was different, he knew his daughter better than anyone. At the insistence of her father, she was voluntarily admitted to KMC 3B where a psychiatrist started her on psychotropic medications. Upon hospital discharge she didn’t want help, didn’t meet criteria for care with KCMH and was quoted to say, “I don’t need to be here.” A few months of psychotropic medications and she was gone from site. Now she recalls that period of her life as, “I was in party-mode.”
One year later she is back, her symptoms are more debilitating than the prior year, this time there is no significant substance use. Once again her father pleads for help. She has not eaten in weeks; she is delusional and paranoid – the law clearly defines her as gravely disabled and she is placed on temporary conservatorship. Ashlyn is now able to receive the help she needs to get her back on track for a productive and meaningful life. Months of intensive treatment, medication adjustments, keen observations, and psychiatric care occur until Ashlyn learns to trust her doctor and specialists. She begins to accept that taking psychotropic medications and abstaining from illicit substances is a way of life that will stabilize her moods and mind. Fast forward two years to June 2010: Ashlyn has completed two semesters of academic courses at Bakersfield College and is registered for her second year of community college courses toward her goal of becoming a CPA.
Ashlyn’s story is repeated every day in the lives of thousands of individuals whose lives have been interrupted by the onset of a mental illness. However, her story is unique because her father was unrelenting in his efforts to help her. Her motivation to change was there; she had what she needed, a father’s love and determination to help his child regain a life interrupted. Although her father works full-time in the oilfields, he would often drive her to and from classes at Bakersfield College. He works in Los Angeles now, but is home every night to spend quality time with her; she has the support and encouragement of a loving father. Ashlyn attributes her mental health recovery success to effective psychotropic medications, Dr. Richard Feldman, and other KCMH staff who have positively impacted her recovery. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed; Dr. Ravi Goklaney and NBA RAWC recently nominated Ashlyn for the Golden Duckie Award to acknowledge her successful recovery from substances. Ashlyn is a success story, which we hope will be repeated in the lives of others we serve.