One disease – two tragedies: How the mental issues of an individual can affect an entire family
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it hard to tell the difference between what is real and not real. It becomes difficult to think clearly, have normal emotional responses and act normal in social situations. It is not unusual for a person suffering from schizophrenia to believe people are plotting against them and spying on them. They hear voices telling them to do things or accusing them of other things, sometimes the voices talk to each other. It’s been the plot of many films and dramas, but for one family, the imaginary became very real.
Journalist and author Mac McClelland tells the story of her third cousin, Houston Herczog. He had been attending Santa Rosa College and at age 21 began displaying symptoms of withdrawal and depression. He slept all day after his band had broken up. Houston’s dad Mark who had once struggled with substance abuse and depression but is now fully recovered and his mom Marilyn tried to help. They took Houston to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed possible schizoaffective disorder and put Houston on various anti-depressants over the subsequent eight months. Houston began stealing his mom’s Adderall and was fired from multiple jobs. His mom kicked him out and he moved in with his dad.
Houston began having violent outbursts; he broke furniture and tossed his mom across a room. His desperate parents called the psychiatrist who advised them to call the police. McClelland called David France, Deputy Director of Sonoma County’s National Alliance on Mental Illness and asked him about options available to parents of adult children with mental breakdowns. She was told, “The police can activate resources like an emergency psych bed in a regular hospital and admission to a psychiatric hospital in a county that, unlike Sonoma, has one. But only if the police decide your child is a danger to himself or others can they arrest him with the right to hold him for three days, what in California is called a 5150 after the relevant section of state law. Otherwise you can be turned away for lack of space even if your loved one is willing to be admitted, or be left no good options if they’re not.”
In November, 2011 Houston came home from the gym and stabbed his father 60 times with two different knives. When Houston’s sister Savannah discovered him, he was attempting to behead his father. Houston later told his aunt Annette he’d been having delusions, something about telepathic communications and aliens and wireless circuits. Something about his mom and dad, who’d been divorced for a long time and teenage sister, Savannah, being in an incestuous sex ring. Something about an invisible friend, Devon and also that he’d been cutting himself to exorcise the evil and that Mark was poisoning him with lead and was the source of the evil.
On the one year anniversary of her brother’s death aunt Annette has this to say, “There was no facility, no support. There was nowhere to take him; there was nothing to do but call the police.”
McClelland visited Houston in jail and said, “He wasn’t much taller than me, if at all and was slight of frame. On the other side of the visitor’s glass, he looked surprisingly small, young for his 22 years. The much more remarkable thing about him turned out to be his vocabulary, vast and lovely, lyrical almost, until it came to an agitated or distracted halt. In any case, all things considered, he seemed altogether extremely unlike a person who had recently murdered someone.”
Mental health disorders require diagnosis and treatment by a psychiatrist, psychologist or other qualified clinician. The earlier in the disease process treatment begins, the better the outcome. Medication can help stabilize a patient’s condition and allow for a more normal life. Residential treatment, like the kind Sovereign Health offers, allows time for the therapy and the medications to become effective and improve a patient’s overall mental health; which in turn facilitates a quick return home and a more stable life.
Written by Sovereign Health Group writer Veronica McNamara