Trigger warning: Probably NSFW, especially for those of us whose family members have “unresponsive to treatment” mental illness, because here are all of your worst fears and shameful secrets spelled out. But it’s a powerful, and important, story.
Stephanie McCrummen, in the Washington Post:
HE WAKES UP, and even before he opens his eyes, he can see his beautiful, delusional son.
Gus, Creigh Deeds thinks.
He lies in bed a few minutes more, trying to conjure specific images. Gus dancing. Gus playing the banjo. Gus with the puppies. Any images of Gus other than the final ones he has of his 24-year-old, mentally ill son attacking him and then walking away to kill himself, images that intrude on his days and nights along with the questions that he will begin asking himself soon, but not yet. A few minutes more. Gus fishing. Gus looking at him. Gus smiling at him. Time to start the day.
He gets out of bed, where a piece of the shotgun he had taken apart in those last days of his son’s life is still hidden under the mattress. He goes outside to feed the animals, first the chickens in the yard and then the horses in the red-sided barn. He leads the blind thoroughbred outside with a bucket of feed, the same bucket he was holding when he saw Gus walking toward him — “Morning, Bud,” he said; “Morning,” Gus said, and began stabbing him — and then he goes back inside…
… Gus’s mother had him evaluated. Gus was given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and at some point that Deeds cannot remember, he was told about it. His son had a mental illness.
“I never wanted to believe that about my son,” Deeds says. “I just wanted to get him back.”
He kept trying to get him back. He helped Gus get a job washing dishes at the Homestead, a sprawling mountain resort in Hot Springs, because surely the structure of a job would help, but then Gus got fired after some sort of fight Gus never explained, and in June of 2011 he moved in with his father, the two of them together in the old white wooden house in Millboro…
“He was having delusions, and I was under the illusion that things would work out. I’m optimistic. Sometimes I’d say to Gus, ‘Come on, pull yourself up.’ For a period of months, he had this book, ‘Confederacy of Dunces,’ and I said, ‘You’re like the hero in the book,’ ” he says, referring to the brilliant, eccentric, philosophical but also slothful main character. “I said, ‘Come on, Bud, you’ve got to do better than this.’ I said, ‘Gus, what’s the plan?’ ”
He shakes his head at how he reacted.
“I just didn’t know what to do,” he says.
He had no information. Gus was an adult, and so his medical records were private…
HE DRIVES TO RICHMOND. He walks into Senate Room B, Siobhan holding his hand. He sits at a long dais and bangs a gavel, facing a room full of mental-health workers, state officials and families assembled for the first meeting of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century.
“I’m Creigh Deeds,” he says after the other legislators introduce themselves. “I represent the 25th District. You know who I am.”
Before everything happened, his legislative work revolved around economic development, cleaning up a Superfund site, transportation, electoral law and public safety. He supported changes to the mental-health-care system after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, but it wasn’t until the day before Gus attacked him that Deeds fully grasped how dysfunctional the mental-health system could be.
That was the day he obtained an emergency custody order for Gus once again. But at the hospital, the legal time limit to find a psychiatric bed for someone deemed to be in need of commitment — at the time, six hours in Virginia —was reached before a bed could be found, at which point Gus was sent home with his worried father.
Then came January, two months after the attack, when Deeds returned to the state legislature, his scars still raw, his eyes red from crying, knowing, he says, that “it would be damn difficult” for legislators to say no to his requests, which they didn’t. Now, because of Deeds, the legal time limit to find a bed is up to 12 hours, and if no bed can be found, the state psychiatric hospital must provide one.
There were other changes, too, but not enough, Deeds says, and so now he is chairing the subcommittee to study Virginia’s mental-health system….