"So Maybe You're Not Bipolar"

August 6, 2013

Seek Treatment. That's what we hope people with mental illnesses do. We want them to feel free to acknowledge their condition and seek treatment. Talk to a therapist. Try medication. Follow a doctor's plan to treat your illness. "You can feel better if you seek treatment." Isn't that what we say?

Well, that's what my 21 year old son has done. Finally. After over two years of ignoring his diagnosis, he's finally acknowledged it and sought treatment. In prison.

See where it's gotten him.

He is currently incarcerated in our state prison. Inside, he has had to convince the DOC psychiatrists that his Bipolar Disorder is real. The psychiatrists on the payroll who are expected to treat inmates for mental illnesses have been less than helpful.

All this time, while my son has been in prison, he's been trying to tell them he's "Bipolar". At first, they believed him and gave him a generic anti-depressant and a low dose of a mood stabilizer. Not the meds he'd been on in the past, but at least they were something. Then he was experiencing bad side effects so he reported them to the psychiatrist making her rounds on his tier that day. This was her response:

"So maybe you're not Bipolar!"

You can imagine my shock when my son told me a medical professional said this to him. Isn't it her job to diagnose and treat mental illnesses? Yet she can speak to a patient like this?

But the worst part was what she did next.

She took him off the anti-depressant completely. She told him that in order to receive any more treatment, his doctor needed to contact her and inform her of his Bipolar diagnosis. She left him on the low dose of mood stabilizer which he said did "nothing". Subsequent visits from her and other psychiatrists doing their rounds on his tier did nothing to improve the limbo in which he'd been damned.

So for the last several months I've been trying to acquire all of his records to prove that he IS, in fact, Bipolar. First, I called his regular doctor who was unable to call the doctor at the prison- this is because the diagnosis did not come from his regular doctor, it came from a psychiatric hospital. Makes sense.

So then I went the route of requesting his medical records. Sounds easy enough. But consider the fact that he's 21 years old. This means every single medical professional he saw in his lifetime required a separate release form signed by my son. So, through snail mail, I began my quest of accessing the forms, sending them to him to be signed, having him send them back to me, and then sending them to the correct establishments in hopes of receiving the records. This was a nightmare. Thankfully, the nurse at his regular doctor's office helped me with this and eased the stress considerably.

We were almost home free when we realized that the release forms we'd been using were not accepted at certain mental health facilities. 

Back to the drawing board.

Thankfully, at this point our attorney stepped in and worked his magic to acquire the records more quickly. It's amazing what attorneys can accomplish. What took us months took him less than a week. So now, we may have finally struck gold. The last of the records have been acquired and presented to the prison mental health ward director along with a personal note from our attorney.

After FIVE MONTHS, my inmate son may finally be given the proper medication for his Bipolar Disorder.

So Maybe he IS Bipolar like he's been saying all along.


  1. In a prison, he won't be recognized as he would in a hospital. So contact nami.com. Ask if there are advocates for prisoners in your state or that prison..or a volunteer advocate. Speak with your county councilman..even if you DID NOT VOTE FOR THEM. Get things moving. He should have a caseworker/socialworker in ur state ( what state)*. Its so important. Everyone with a MH diagnosis in NY gets a caseworker in a state or county agency. He should and could have one who could advocate his treatment..md ds..rights..progress..therapies.etc. hop to it Now!

  2. I have actually spoken with our local NAMI office. Haven't tried councilman but will go that route now. Thank you for your ideas.

  3. I know your pain. My Son, now 20, was incarcerated last year for drug offenses. He had been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury as a baby, however was always high functioning. He'd also received other diagnoses of ADHD, low end of autism spectrum, and generalized anxiety disorder. Upon his transfer to prison, he regressed to the point of catatonia, psychotic thinking, etc. The medical staff contacted me, refused to disclose what had occurred, but wanted all of his medical records. I sent them - mounds of them. We had talked to him or seen him every day until his transfer to prison. It wasn't until 3 1/2 months later that we were permitted to visit him in a prison that was 8 hours away as the nearest prison did not have the ability to care for him. During this time, we'd tried to learn of his condition, but our efforts were thwarted at every turn. The psychiatrist finally called me, but then hung up on me when I asked about my son's condition. Our Son was in solitary confinement for 7-8 months because that's what they do with the mentally ill. He sometimes was only let out once a week for 15 minutes to take a shower. Although he could read, write and drive, he was unable to write us until many months later. He couldn't figure out how to make a phone call. He didn't call us again until ten months later.

    After our first visit with him, we'd had enough. He was behind glass, drugged on Thorazine, paranoid, and hallucinating. We contacted an attorney and a month later had full guardianship of him. Which doesn't mean a whole lot although it did help us obtain information on the medical side. Somewhat. We learned he tried to commit suicide the first day and was dragged out of the cell by multiple officers who dropped him on his head. This was the beginning of his nightmare. The medical folks said they could not officially diagnose him as they didn't have the ability (I dunno-thats what they said) but I was able to humanize him enough to get one of the head nurses to have compassion and tell us a bit. She said he had some Post Traumatic Disorder going on.

    Once we established a connect, a very weak one but a connect, it seems our Son started making improvements. He was switched to an anti-psychotic, anti-anxiety, and a sleeping med (he has always had trouble sleeping). Nine months later they transferred him back to our area and he has made significant improvements. His thinking is clear and he is now able to concentrate for extended periods of time. He still has horrific nightmares, but is learning to work through them. They just put him with a roommate to help resocialize him. He remembers much of what happened and talks about it occasionally. He is scheduled to be released in 4 months.

    It's a waiting game now until he is released. We try to keep his spirits up and he does indeed show much hope for his future. He knows the high recividism rate, but talks about being in the minority. Upon his release, there are two programs which may offer us support with him in navigating both the educational and employment fields. YAP (Youth Advocate Program) and a brain rehabilitation center which he attended for several months as a teen. Although extremely vulnerable, he talks about attending college, getting married, and having kids one day. These are things he really never had an interest in.

    One day at a time. His journey has been both tremendously painful and bittersweet. More than likely, he wouldn't be here if he had not been incarcerated. However, some of the injustices of incarceration are difficult to swallow. If anything, this process has not only taught him, but also us the art of patience.

    I wish you much luck with your Son. It is a journey not many understand. Know that there are others out there thinking of you and your Son and rooting for you.

    1. Wow. Thank you for your story. Thank you for your willingness to share it here. I wish you all the luck in the world with your son. Know that you are in my thoughts. You are a brave family. Stay strong.

      And thank you for your kind words regarding my son. One day at a time is right. That's all we can do.