Will the System Fail Again?


What does a twenty-two year old college student do when he is estranged from his family and is suffering from mental illness? Like thousands of his peers, he does not have health insurance because he ...

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What does a twenty-two year old college student do when he is estranged from his family and is suffering from mental illness? Like thousands of his peers, he does not have health insurance because he cannot afford it. The university he attends offers an inadequate plan, for a nominal fee. There are exclusionary clauses that indicate what they will pay for.

PJ was born into privilege and opportunity. As a teenager, he wanted for nothing. His parents gave him everything money could buy. Unfortunately, when he was fifteen, his parents lost everything. In an instant, they went from a family of tremendous means, living in a large house in an affluent North Shore neighborhood to living in a rented house with one bathroom and four boys sharing one bedroom.

To make ends meet and keep their children in private school, PJ's father worked two jobs. PJ's Mom who had never worked, started her own house cleaning business, doing six days a week what she used to pay others to do.

As the oldest, PJ was expected to come home right after school, help his younger brothers with their homework and get the dinner started. By the age of sixteen, PJ had become very resentful. He felt like his teenage hood was being stolen from him. Every time he tried to express his frustration to his parents, they shot him down and accused him of being very selfish and self centered.

Financially, things improved in PJ's home, but they never returned to the life he once knew. His parents continued to make demands of him. He started to act out. He became verbally very abusive and threatening. He was constantly being adversarial with his brothers. He started cutting class and staying out all night.

Unbeknownst to his parents, PJ started drinking and smoking weed. By the beginning of his junior year, his parents had had it with his out of control behavior.

Initially, they tried counseling through the school, through their church and through a private practitioner. In each circumstance, PJ refused to cooperate. He told every therapist that he did not have any problems, but rather his parents were nuts and they needed help.

After months of going back and forth with a variety of mental health professionals, PJ's parents dropped their son off at a shelter for runaway teens. They told PJ that he could come home when he decided to live by the family rules and showed a desire to be a part of the family.

Shocked by his parents latest strategy to force his compliance and cooperation, PJ only became further angered and enraged. He became increasingly more violent and non-compliant.

He stopped talking to his parents and was determined to finish high school and move on to college without their help.

Just before graduation, PJ called his parents to let them know that he was graduating from high school. He humbled himself and invited them to attend. They came and to purposely upset them, PJ violated the dress code and wore cutoffs, a t-shirt and sneakers under his graduation gown. As he received his diploma from the superintendent, he pulled up his gown so his parents would see very clearly how he was dressed.

Needless to say, they were mortified. They are traditional parents and PJ effectively embarrassed them. His whole purpose was to let them know that he had gotten his high school diploma on his terms.

His senior summer was wild. He lived at the beach and at any house that would welcome him. By the time he graduated, he had mastered the art of schmoozing people. Most people who knew PJ thought he was the most abused child since Oliver Twist. He effectively convinced anyone who would listen that his parents were horrible, abusive human beings.

Most people never tried to hear the other side. They took PJ at his word and automatically dismissed his parents as being irresponsible and horrible people.

By the end of his senior summer, PJ was able to save up enough money to enroll in Suffolk Community College. His goal however was to attend an Ivy League school. When he realized the cost, he decided to settle on a SUNY school.

His first semester at Suffolk was a challenge. He thought he could talk his way through his classes and do no work. Keeping pace with his studies, working and having a place to live became very stressful.

To cope with his stress, PJ began to medicate himself with alcohol. It started first on the weekends and eventually became an every night affair. The highs and lows in his personality were becoming very disturbing.

By the mid semester of his freshman year, PJ started talking to his parents again. The tension between them was still intense, but everyone was making more of an effort than had been made in years.

At the end of October, PJ and his Dad had a major blowup. PJ was allowed to stay over as long as he left early the next day. PJ agreed. His Dad left the house every day at 5am to go to work. PJ thought leaving at 6am would eliminate any possibility of conflict, since both he and his Dad are stubborn. PJ got up before 6am, walked out the front door and saw his Dad in the car with the engine running. He approached the car to thank his Dad for his hospitality and saw his Dad slumped over the steering wheel. He had had a massive heart attack and was dead. The next week was a nightmare. Any hope of reconciling with his mother was dead. Although she never accused him of causing his Dad's death, PJ felt that is what she believed.

It really didn't matter one way or another, as PJ felt responsible for his Dad's passing. After the funeral, he became even more withdrawn and depressed. The drinking and drug use increased. He went back to school to finish the semester. He took three years to finish Suffolk and receive his associates' degree because he had no fixed address. However, he did it and was very proud of his accomplishment.

At age twenty, PJ applied to one of our Ivy League SUNY schools. He had been saving for this moment. Between financial aid and the money he had saved, he was able to pay his junior year's tuition and a year of off campus housing. But that's all he had. He lived on peanut butter and jelly and whatever he could grub off his friends.

Emotionally, that year was a disaster. He only left his room to go to class and that was sporadic. He continued to drink and use whatever street drugs people would share.

Finally, the burden became too much to bear. Due to an intervention, PJ ended up in a local ER on a long holiday weekend. For the first time since his negative feelings had surfaced a few years ago, he admitted that he was deeply depressed and suicidal. His greatest fear was that he would be locked away forever.

The psychiatric unit's staff did an excellent job in stabilizing this young man. According to PJ, the medicine they prescribed seems to be working. He feels better than he has felt in years. He understands that it is a long road back to total wellness. He's gone back to school with resources for therapy to support his process of recovery. The unfortunate piece is that he is being set up for failure. He was given a limited supply of medication upon his discharge. He was given erroneous information that he could go to the local Department of Social Services and apply for emergency Medicaid and would receive a voucher for medicine. He attempted to do that but was denied and no assistance was offered.

A local mental health center paid for his first full prescription. He went back upstate to finish the semester. Hopefully, the system will not totally fail him.