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CBS 58 Investigates: The battle with mental illness and the free resources that can help

MILWAUKEE, WIS. (CBS)-- Nearly 44 million people across the country experience a mental illness, and it can be difficult for people with an illness, and their families, to find help.

Earlier this month CBS 58 Investigates reported about the shortage of mental health services for children in Wisconsin. After the story aired, organizations reached out to CBS 58 to talk about the challenges they’re facing and the help they can offer to families. CBS 58 also heard from parents, grandparents and friends of people with mental illnesses, sharing their own stories and struggles to get help. One mom says she called CBS 58 because she feels like she’s out of options.

“It’s like banging your head against a wall without a helmet, every single day,” said Kim, a Walworth County woman who called CBS 58.

Kim says for the last eight years she’s watched her son battle mental illness. It started when he was a teenager and forced in to mental health treatment by the courts after being expelled from school for making threats.

“He [said he] was going to kill his father and that he had guns at the house and at school, and he was going to take everybody that hurt him,” Kim said.

But ever since the court ordered commitment ended last year, Kim says her son, who’s now 22, is spiraling.

“It’s scary,” Kim said.

 It’s a struggle people at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, know all too well. The non-profit group provides support and resources for people with mental illness and their families.

“To be honest part of you wants to think it will just go away,” said Bonnie Hardt, a volunteer at NAMI Waukesha.

Hardt watched a grandchild struggle with mental illness. She reached out to CBS 58 Investigates, after seeing a story about the shortage of children’s mental health resources.

“The young mother you had on, she said everything I felt, that my daughter felt,” Hardt said.

Hardt wants people to know there’s hope. She teaches a free class at NAMI Waukesha for parents of kids with mental illness.

“When they come in to the class they do get the knowledge that gives them strength,” Hardt said.

The six week course covers everything from how the brain works to the different medications available to how to work with your children’s schools. NAMI Waukesha also offers a similar course for family members of adults with mental illnesses.

“They get to learn about each other and learn that they’re not alone,” said Denise Fischer, a family advocate and program coordinator at NAMI Waukesha.

One of the challenges NAMI helps families deal with is loved ones who don’t want treatment

“One of the symptoms is that they don’t recognize that they’re ill and it can be the reason families need that support,” said Mary Madden, the executive director of NAMI Waukesha.

Kim says her son refuses to get help, and is often violent. She says she’s called police and Walworth County crisis intervention dozens of times but neither will remove her son from her home.

“That’s what they all keep saying, he’s not in immediate danger,” Kim said.

Carlo Nevicosi, the deputy director for Walworth County Health and Human Services, says for someone to be taken in to custody involuntarily, there are legal requirements that have to be met.

“There needs to be some element of danger,” Nevicosi said.

But Nevicosi adds when someone calls crisis intervention, the county has a lot of mental health services available. Families can also file a petition with court  to force someone into treatment.

“We give them information about the legal process if they need to start a three-party petition,” Fischer said.

Kim is in the process of filing a three-party petition in Walworth County, but it’s not an easy process. Three people, who have direct contact with the person have to give sworn statements to the court, proving the person has mental illness and is dangerous.

 Nevicosi says the county has about 1500 people utilizing mental health services every day, but only has about five three-party petitions a year.

“Sometimes their concerns don’t align neatly with what the statutes say someone needs to prove in court,” Nevicosi said.

The problem is sometimes you don’t know someone is a danger, until they’ve hurt themselves or someone else.

“There’s a fine line between the right of the individual to not have treatment and the point where they become dangerous,  and I think one of the issues we have is predicting that dangerousness,” Madden said.

Kim says she worries for her safety and her son’s every day, and is hoping the court will grant her petition so he gets help.

“This is not my son,” Kim said. “This mental illness has taken over his soul and his mind. It’s horrible.”

Most counties have their own NAMI affiliate, but only NAMI Waukesha and Washington Counties offer the free classes for parents. Even if you don’t live in those counties, you are welcome to take the classes. To get more information about the class for parents click here

To get information about classes for loved ones of adults with mental illness click here.

If you are dealing with a mental illness and need help click here.

If you want more information about other services offered by NAMI or to find the NAMI in your county click here. 



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