Eric Smith

My name is Eric Smith. I am a musician, composer, and a loving family member. I am also a recent graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio in psychology, magna cum laude. I am currently beginning my master’s degree in social work.

But years back, while struggling with bipolar disorder (later misdiagnosed as schizophrenia) my medications had bad side effects and were not working. It appeared I would never rebuild my life, let alone recover.

Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), along with clozapine, helped save my life.

In 1997, at age fourteen, I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In hindsight, it was clear I needed medical care for my mental illness, but neither I nor my doctors realized how serious my illness was. Able to function well enough, I convinced my doctors that hospitalization was not necessary. In my mid 20’s, I experienced an extreme manic episode. At that point, I was hospitalized for the first time.

For years, I was on the receiving end of much trial-and-error, exemplified by a long list of failed medications. All of the other anti-psychotics, benzodiazepines, anti-depressants, SSRIs, and other medications had failed to treat my diagnosed disorders. In 2011, while I was hospitalized, and as a last-ditch effort of sorts, my doctor prescribed clozapine.

Clozapine may not work for everyone, but for me, it felt like nothing short of a miracle. Today, it is now the only psychiatric medicine I require. I have been in full recovery from bipolar disorder on clozapine for almost eight years.

I was discharged from the hospital (for the third and final time) on clozapine, and then entered into San Antonio’s groundbreaking Assisted Outpatient Treatment program (for the third and final time). The program required me to meet with a judge a few times per month to track my progress, as I continued to build on my recovery. The goals of these hearings included ensuring I was taking my medication as prescribed, and evaluating my mental health, confirming that I still no longer required hospitalization.

Today, I credit the AOT team with enabling me to regain my health and life. The complimentary, symbiotic relationship between the judge, doctor, and the rest of the AOT treatment team completely changed my view of managing mental illness. This was the beginning of my realization that I should take ownership of my treatment. The way the AOT treatment team cared about me, and the fact that I finally found a medication that worked made me want to follow through on my medical care without needing to be court-ordered to do so. My AOT treatment team went from being a champion of my mental health and well-being to teaching me how to be my own champion.

In the days leading up to my first psychiatric hospitalization, I was incarcerated for an entire month because of non-violent behavior stemming from an acute psychotic episode. While I was in jail, I was denied mental health treatment. I did not receive needed care for my mental illness until I was finally transferred to a hospital as part of a court order.

In jails and prisons, persons with serious mental disorders often do not get any treatment at all, which was my experience. But I also believe that this type of care should not take place in jails and prisons, but in the community, and/or in hospitals. Jails and prisons are not designed to be providers of mental healthcare, nor should they be. Being mentally ill is not a crime. I see the real crime as the act of incarcerating those who need treatment for serious mental illness. Often times, these individuals would never have been jailed had it not been for behavior stemming from the illness.

The beauty of AOT is now something I have the capacity to more fully appreciate. Without AOT, I would, at best, be living under a bridge somewhere, consumed by mental illness, but perhaps more likely than that, I would probably be dead. (Death is a tragic reality for many people suffering from serious mental illness who do not receive the life-saving care provided by programs like AOT, and medicine.) AOT and clozapine took me from a path of delusion and danger to becoming an accomplished, habitual honors student.

Today, as I continue my pursuit of becoming a mental health professional, I hope to give back to the community. I am thankful for the second chance at life afforded to me by AOT and clozapine. Additionally, I thank the Treatment Advocacy Center for its role in promoting and strengthening AOT-related programs and laws, and I thank the CURESZ Foundation for championing AOT and clozapine.

Eric’s interview on NPR