Testifying for Treatment: A Mother’s Courageous Act of Love

Families with a loved one who is mentally ill are often in a position where they are powerless to get their loved one into treatment. In order for treatment to be mandated, a patient often has to decompensate to a point where they are a danger to themselves or others.

The day Melissa went to court to testify that her son needed treatment was one of the hardest days of her life.

Melissa is the mother of two and has enjoyed successful careers in healthcare as a clinician and administrator.

Today, I am thankful for my strong and loving relationship with my son, “Adam,” who has been in treatment for schizophrenia for five years. Thankfully, my son is doing much better than when he first started treatment. He works full time, writes original music with friends and enjoys spending time with family.

However, while he was in the throes of his psychosis, with symptoms continually worsening, I once wondered if our relationship would be ruined forever.

In June 2017, I was asked by my son’s medical team to testify in court about his need for treatment. This determination would enable his treatment team to force my son to begin antipsychotic medication. It took courage and strength to appear in a court room where my son was present and testify that he was in fact ill, had been for some time, and was in dire need of treatment for his schizophrenia which he was refusing.

There was nothing easy about the ten months when we struggled to support Adam who was struggling with the new onset of some sort of mental illness while a senior in college. As his personality changed and he withdrew from us, our hearts grew heavy. We walked a fine line between keeping Adam safe at school, respecting his wishes for us to stay away and let him continue to live at school while he finished his senior year.

We tried to bargain with him to agree to a psychiatric consultation to no avail, as he denied just how seriously ill he was feeling, and tried to heal himself with a restrictive diet, yoga, and meditation. According to state laws, we could not hospitalize him against his wishes since he was an adult, so we hoped that something would happen that would precipitate hospitalization without our intervention. In late May, our wish came true!  Someone called the police because she saw a young man acting unusual, loitering outside of her home. Police found him uncooperative and disoriented. They called for EMS, who took Adam to the hospital and contacted us. We were so thankful that the process of getting the medical help he so desperately needed was finally beginning.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way we had expected, since for three weeks Adam refused all medication. The medical director said they could not convince him to comply, and they could not force him to take medication that he refused without a court order. The doctor explained to me that the next step was to go before a judge, to request a court-imposed order to medicate him. She also asked if I would testify. I immediately got to work preparing a statement that I could read in court and tried to emotionally prepare myself for this task.

Nothing that I had ever experienced could have prepared me for that morning. The court was located in the ground floor of a state mental health facility, which is not a welcoming environment, to say the least. My son shuffled in, with his escort from the other facility, and a completely vacant look in his eyes. An attorney introduced himself as the court-appointed patient advocate. I told myself that was a good thing, that the state tries to have someone on the “patient’s side” looking out for their interests, but I wondered if this could possibly get any worse. I didn’t like the feeling of “me vs. my son” at all, as we never had a contentious relationship before this illness.

I will never forget the details of that day, surely one of the hardest of my life. Before I addressed the judge, I looked straight at Adam and I told him that I apologize for anything I may say that hurts his feelings, and that everything I say was to help him, even if he couldn’t understand it at that moment.  I told the court that Adam had been suffering for many months with mental illness and was not able make responsible health decisions for himself.

The judge ruled in our favor, granting the hospital the right to forcibly to treat Adam’s psychosis.

Going to court, which was a very difficult and scary experience for my husband and I, actually was the catalyst for Adam’s road to recovery. We are so very grateful to the state and the judge who were able to give power to the treating doctors so that they could help our son. My son is doing very well now, and we have hope that he will continue to feel even better in the future.

Today, Adam understands that my testimony was an act of love.