Since moving from a suburb of Washington, D.C., to San Luis Obispo County for work, the Kania family says the lack of local inpatient psychiatric care has made their son’s mental illness worse.
“Honestly, the care here is shocking,” Lisa Kania said. The family moved from Centreville, Va., which had psychiatric hospitals close to home.
The Kanias’ 30-year-old son, Joseph, was diagnosed with schizophrenia 11 years ago. The family asked The Tribune not to use Joseph’s last name, which is different from his parents’, worried about the stigma surrounding his illness.
Joseph has a private doctor and psychiatrist locally, but his body sometimes becomes resistant to the medications.
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“Around here, there’s nowhere he can go locally and say, ‘I’m feeling really off-balance and talking too fast and feeling manic,’” Lisa Kania said. “(He needs a place) where his symptoms could be leveled off in a more controlled atmosphere — that’s what the psychiatric hospital is for.”
Since moving here two years ago, Joseph has been admitted to psychiatric hospitals eight times, in Ventura, Pasadena, Sacramento and Los Angeles, each averaging two-week stays.
The Kanias think having a local facility would mean he could be stabilized before a crisis.
Instead, they have to take him hundreds of miles from home for care.
“It’s traumatizing to even do the drive. And the whole time he’s saying, ‘I don’t want to go anymore! Take me home,’ ” Chuck Kania said.
In Virginia, the family was involved with his hospital care. Now, his parents say it’s devastating when daily life, work, finances and the needs of their younger children require them to be away.
“I’m sure the doctors are fantastic, but he doesn’t have that support system,” Lisa Kania said. “You know that ‘It takes a village’ saying? Well, it does. And we’re his village.”
Two years ago, when Becca Sligh was a senior at Templeton High School, she started cutting.
“I didn’t know what was going on and feeling suicidal,” said Sligh, who was later diagnosed with depression.
In February 2014, Sligh deeply cut her wrists and texted a friend that she wasn’t afraid to die. She was sent to the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility on a 72-hour hold.
“You’re not allowed to wear anything with strings or have your stuff with you,” she said. “For me, it was difficult because I could only see my mom during visiting hours. I mean, I was only 17. That’s basically still a baby, and I wanted my mom.”
Her mom, Marie Roth of Templeton, recalls that day clearly.
“She was sitting in a wheelchair, and her eyes were as big as saucers, and you knew she was thinking ‘Get me the hell out of here.’ ”
But the pair stuck with it.
“I realized this was the extreme we needed to go to move forward,” Roth said.
Still, they think if a psychiatric hospital aside from the PHF existed locally, they could have gone there before Becca’s condition became so severe.
Today, Sligh says she’s a changed woman. She’s happy, working, attending Cuesta College, taking medication and seeing a therapist.
“I think I needed to go through it personally to come out on the other side,” she said.
In July 2014, Sligh was named Miss Congeniality at the Miss California Mid-State Fair Pageant.
“To me, that was a really important part of my recovery,” she said. “Having scars on my wrists and going out on that stage was not the easiest thing for me, and it just showed how much my attitude had changed for the better.”
Victoria has spent the past two decades of her life trying to navigate a local mental health-care system that left her feeling helpless.
In 1994, she was diagnosed with bulimia at age 18. Then came an anxiety diagnosis. Her conditions escalated into self-medicating with alcohol.
Concerned about the stigma of mental illness, she asked The Tribune not to use her full name.
In the past two decades, she’s tried to find help — but found gaps instead.
“For so long, I wanted to get help, and there was just nothing here,” she said. “I’d give it a try and then you say, ‘screw it’ and go on with life a little longer. And things just get progressively worse because you go untreated.”
Earlier this year, Victoria hit rock bottom after she had a bad reaction to the antidepressant Zoloft, prescribed by her physician. That led her to a drug and alcohol detox center and a separate residential psychiatric center in Southern California.
There, she realized that inpatient care is what she was seeking all along.
“People with mental illnesses are people who need love and respect,” she said. “But when you’re going through the process in this county, you don’t feel that at all. You feel like a burden and that all the options are half-assed and there’s nothing with the wraparound care that you need.”
Today, the 40-year-old San Luis Obispo businesswoman is receiving treatment and attending Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria to learn about co-occurring disorders.
“(Working through it) makes me feel good because for so long, I felt so bad,” she said. “And I don’t want to ever feel that way again.”