December 16, 2012
Dear President Obama, Vice President Biden, Governors, Congressmen and Congresswomen, Senators, and NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness),
My name is Leisl Stoufer and I have a son, Cody, who is turning fifteen today. Cody’s father and I adopted Cody at birth and we were thrilled to become his parents. Unfortunately, when Cody was approximately eighteen-months old, he began exhibiting odd behaviors and raging fits that were uncontrollable. He did not sleep, he was destructive, and he would easily become violent. He was also adorable, smart, compassionate, incredibly mechanical and very loving. His moods would shift quickly, almost like flipping a switch. One minute everything would be fine and the next he was throwing things around the house and coming after me with a knife.
I want to share some positive things about Cody. Cody is NOT a monster and Cody is NOT evil! Cody is a loving, compassionate, caring kid. He loves God, he participates in church and Christian activities, and he loves to have me pray for him at night. He is kind. He is polite. He loves remote control cars, anything mechanical, and anything fast and loud. He can name airplanes as they fly overhead and he is fascinated with birds and nature. He plays on the high school football team now and yes, he is interested in girls. (Lord, have mercy!) : ))
Cody was hospitalized in a mental hospital for the first time at the age of five. This is not what a parent dreams of for her child. Five year-olds should be on the soccer field or playing little league. My son could not play sports because we feared he would hurt somebody. Cody is a good kid, but Cody is mentally ill.
As Cody has grown into the handsome young man he is today, he has been hospitalized four more times and he spent two and a half years in a residential treatment facility. He lived there from ages eleven to thirteen. Sending a child to live somewhere else at such a young age is absolutely devastating, but the horrors that were taking place in our home were no longer tolerable. Cody’s tantrums grew stronger; he became increasingly violent; he hit me, threatened me, and eventually tried to strangle me. I have actually had to call the police on my own child. When the fits were over, Cody was apologetic, remorseful and overwhelmed with tears and grief. Cody is not evil and Cody does not want to behave this way. Cody is sick.
Cody has a diagnosis of Bi-Polar Disorder, A.D.H.D, Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Sensory Integration Dysfunction. He is on several anti-psychotic medications and he has been through countless hours of therapy. I can honestly say we have tried everything. He is easily angered, easily frustrated, he has poor social skills and he is brilliant. His illness is devastating. It is devastating to him, to his family, and to our friends. It is devastating to me.
A few months ago when the shooting happened in Aurora, CO, the images of the gunman came across the television screen and psychologists and psychiatrists offered their input as to why these events took place. All I saw was the possibility that one day that could be my son on television. Now, after the Newtown, CT tragedy, I am once again sleepless as I fervently pray that my beloved son will not commit such a horrific act.
Our country is faced with countless problems right now. I understand the financial crisis we are in, the high unemployment rate, the problems in the Middle East and around the world, the overwhelming number of people on food stamps and welfare, the healthcare issue, and now there is this. However, the issue of mental health absolutely MUST be addressed. I do not claim to have the answers, but I believe that a healthy dialogue must begin and changes must take place. Mental illness, as we have all become aware, can be a life and death situation.
The greatest problem a parent in my situation faces, is that without being on welfare, or in my case, medi-cal, we do not have access to the programs our children require. I make approximately $40,000 per year, I work in a church, I have insurance, I am in graduate school, I am starting my own speaking ministry and I am a single parent. I am a hard working, productive, tax-paying citizen, but when it comes to my child’s mental health, our treatment options are almost non-existent. Even with insurance, there are no options. A child like Cody will undoubtedly need more care than what can be provided in the home. He requires structure and stability and a place to keep himself and others safe. No middle class person can possibly afford that kind of care.
When Cody becomes an adult, the problems will increase. It is common for mentally ill adults to begin feeling “well” and stop taking their medication. In some instances, individuals do not have the self discipline to remember their medication; they require supervision. Once they are eighteen, they have rights and no one can force them to take their medications. In addition, there is the issue of privacy acts. Once a person is eighteen, legally doctors cannot provide information to the parents. They are treating mentally disabled people but because of the patient’s rights, a responsible and sane adult does not have access to the information. From accounts I have heard from other parents (not from personal experience) the only way a doctor will consult a parent is if the parent is in danger. This is a serious problem and it is a problem I will be faced with in three short years!
In the state of California, we had Appellate Bill 3632 that provided funding for mental health patients. Through AB-3632 and through the special education program in the school district, we were able to get Cody placed in residential treatment. While Cody was there, although he hated it, he thrived. I have never seen him so healthy. Once he was discharged, within just a few months he began to decline. A year later he began to threaten my dad and me again, we had to call the police, and he ended up back in a mental hospital.
When admitted to a mental hospital, the treatment is very short term. They typically put the patient in on a “Three Day Hold”, which will likely turn into a stay of about five to seven days. That kind of treatment provides a brief respite for the family, but it in no way solves the problem. It’s like putting a band-aid on cancer. The AB-3632 funding has been cut in our state, so we no longer have access to those services. Knowing that he could no longer live safely in our home, we moved Cody in with his dad. He is presenting the same problems there.
I know that I am not the only parent struggling with these issues. We must begin a dialogue to address the increasing problem of mental illness in our country. I do not want to be the mother whose beloved child’s face comes across the t.v. screen having committed such heinous acts as the ones we have seen so recently. I am scared.
I pray that you would hear my prayer, invite me in to be a part of the solution, and listen to what parents just like me have to say. We must make changes for my child’s safety and for other innocent people who may be at risk because of loving people who unfortunately are mentally ill.
I sincerely appreciate your time and I look forward to working with you to come up with reasonable and safe solutions for this growing problem.
Blessings to you,