Dad of dangerous, mentally ill child says mental health care system is broken

Dad: Cheaper to medicate than to treat

BRIGHTON, Colo. - A Brighton father who has struggled for 11 years to raise an adopted daughter diagnosed with mental illness says Colorado's mental health care system is broken.

Don Thompson says he adopted his sister's three children after they'd been in a series of foster homes.

He says the youngest child continually cried when she was two years old and that he and his wife couldn't calm her down.

Over time, he said, her tantrums grew worse.

"We had to take her out of day care because she was hitting other children and biting people," Thompson said.

The frustrated father told 7NEWS that they took the girl to their local hospital and it took 10 hours for the emergency mental health people to show up.

He said she was eventually diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and an attachment disorder.

"They put her on six different drugs," he said. "She had a reaction to one of them."

Thompson said one of the drugs made things worse.

He said he told the doctor that his daughter was exhibiting aggressive behavior.

"(The doctor) said, 'We can fix that.' I thought he meant therapy," Thompson recalled.

Instead, the doctor prescribed another drug.

"She was already on six different medications and was 6 years old," he said. "The next morning, she was in the corner drooling. She couldn't move. That's how he fixed it."

Thompson said he took his daughter off the medication and sent a letter to the Board of Directors of the community health group and finally got help.

"She went to a residential treatment facility and was diagnosed as bi-polar," he said. "They detoxed her and put her on the right drugs."

Thompson said that within 30 days community outreach center personnel came in and said, "She doesn't need to stay here."

He said they sent her home and that within two weeks the violent behavior began again.

"I met with two senior executives," Thompson said. "They said the best thing you can do is rescind your adoption, because the state can do more."

That outraged Thompson.

"To this day it's hard for me to believe that these people are even in the mental health field," he said.

Last July, things reached a peak.

Thompson said his daughter lifted a vacuum cleaner over the upstairs banister and tried to drop it on his head while he was sitting on the sofa.

He said his other daughter caught the vacuum before it fell.

At one point, the now-13-year-old daughter said, "I'm going to hurt you, Daddy, if you don't leave me alone," Thompson recalled.

"And she said it in a voice that scared me…And I'm an ex-cop, not a lot scares me," the father said.

"She was getting more violent. We called police," he said.

He said instead of taking her to the local hospital, his attorney demanded that the girl be taken to Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora. He said a doctor there determined that she needed reassessment.

"Now, she's getting the help that she needs," Thompson said.

Thompson's attorney, Patti Fredrick, says mental illness is an underground issue, one that involves a great deal of stigma.

She says the mental health care system is money driven and that there are limits on the amount of help available.

"I think it's a system in which there are huge turf wars about who does what and where they do what," Fredrick said.

When asked if there are mental health professionals who don't know what they're doing, Fredrick said, "I don't know the answer to that."

"There are well-intentioned people in the system, but residential care is very expensive and drugs are not as expensive," Fredrick said.

Former state senator Maryanne "Moe" Keller says Colorado needs to focus more on early intervention.

"We spend an inordinate amount of money dealing with mental health on the reactive end," Keller said. "We spend millions providing mental health service to people in prison and in county jails."

Keller said parents have been frustrated by the fragmentation in the system.

She said there's a separate mental health system for juveniles, one for adults and that schools have their own system.

"They don't work together," she said. "It's especially frustrating for parents with adult children because they have no authority."

Keller, who is now vice president of Public Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Mental Health America-Colorado, told 7NEWS, "We need to have early childhood intervention for families."

"We need to have day treatment programs," she added.

Keller said families often have to wait days or weeks for an appointment with a mental health professional. She said there should be a system in place for same-day service.

Keller also said that while Colorado and other states have closed down psychiatric beds and homes for the mentally ill, they haven't spent money to provide alternative homes, transportation or a medication-monitoring system to make sure that patients are taking prescribed drugs.

Keller said Colorado is taking some steps in the right direction. She said Gov. John Hickenlooper will announce plans on Tuesday to revamp Colorado's mental health care system.

She also said that several bills will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session to deal with mental health issues.

She drew attention to several recent high-profile cases involving mentally unstable people killing others.

"How do you determine when to break confidentiality and report concerns to police?" she asked. "We have to have a discussion."

Monday, Gov. John Hickenlooper asked Colorado lawmakers for $18.5 million to expand mental health services. His office proposed some of the money would be spent on opening five 24-hour walk-in centers for mental health care in Colorado and establishing a statewide mental health crisis hotline.

The proposal will be discussed Tuesday morning.

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