Kadner: A mental illness in the family
By Phil Kadner email@example.com April 3, 2014 8:42PM
Updated: May 5, 2014 8:48AM
The shootings at Fort Hood this week again have focused the nation’s attention on mental illness.
But most Americans who suffer from a mental disorder (more than 50 million people 18 and older, according to the National Institute of Mental Health) live ordinary lives.
Too many, however, end up living in jails, on the streets and in nursing homes.
Beverly Sailer, of Park Forest, knows that her brother fits into that last group of people mentioned.
“Looking back, I can see now where Kent showed signs of mental problems growing up as a child,” Sailer said. “My father spent a fortune on tetanus shots because my brother was always biting other children in the apartment building where we grew up in South Shore.”
Growing up in the 1940s, Sailer explained, people didn’t talk about mental illness in the family, and that was true of her family as well, although her father was a doctor.
Kent, now in his mid-60s, also spent a lot of time in his room by himself, she recalled. The family moved to Homewood, but after her father died, Sailer’s mother moved with Kent and a younger brother to northern Wisconsin where things got worse.
“I was much older than my brothers and was already married and living on my own,” said Sailer, who became a nurse. “So I didn’t see a lot of them at the time, but I know things got worse for him up in Wisconsin.”
She said Kent dropped out of high school and would spend entire days sleeping in his room. Although their mother was “in denial,” she did take her son to a doctor out of growing concern about his behavior.
“She called me and said the doctor asked if they had recently been out of the country,” Sailer said. “The doctor said he thought Kent might have sleeping sickness. As if he might have been bitten by a tsetse fly in Wisconsin.”
Kent, his mother and younger brother all eventually moved to California.
“Kent always had jobs, mostly in car sales, but they didn’t last long,” Sailer said. “He had that kind of personality when things were going well for him. A salesman’s personality. He was very likeable, quite handsome and always well groomed.”
Kent married and divorced. Then he married again. One night, Sailer said, he called his brother from a phone booth and asked him to “come get me.”
“My brother asked him where he was and he didn’t know,” she said. “Kent had a drinking problem, but he wasn’t drunk that night. He just didn’t know where he was, and when my brother drove him home he couldn’t answer basic questions Kent’s wife asked him.”
At the time in his 40s, Kent was taken to a hospital and finally evaluated by a psychiatrist. He had bipolar disorder. Years later, a psychiatrist would also determine he had schizophrenia.
“But they could only keep him 72 hours for evaluation and then he was released,” Sailer said. “The doctor saw him on an outpatient basis, and for a time he seemed to be doing well, but that’s the problem for people who are mentally ill. They start feeling better, and they stop taking their medications.”
Kent moved to Reno, Nev., with his wife and again was hospitalized and again ended up calling his brother to “come get me.”
He was drinking while on his medications, Sailer said, and claimed that one of his doctors told him that a drink before dinner wouldn’t do any harm.
“A drink to my brother meant three or four drinks before dinner,” she said.
Self-medicating by abusing drugs and alcohol is a common occurrence among people with mental illness. Often, the substance abuse is misdiagnosed as the primary problem, masking the underlying mental health issue.
Eventually, during a family gathering in California, it was decided that Kent should live with Sailer, whose medical knowledge and contacts in the field could address the issues he was having. By this time, Kent had divorced a second time.
“He was actually married three times,” Sailer said, interrupting her story. “He sold a woman a car and married her, either the same day or the next, in Las Vegas. But that marriage was annulled a few weeks later.”
Kent lived with Sailer in her Park Forest home for a time. But he was in and out of several community programs for the mentally ill and ended up spending a couple of days in nearly every south suburban hospital.
“I realized I couldn’t care for him at home any more when I came back one day and he had all sorts of paper spread across the living room floor,” Sailer said. “He said it was business paperwork. But when I looked, a lot of it were tickets for moving violations he had received long ago. There were enough tickets there to paper the entire house with some left over.”
Kent was taken to a local clinic, given some treatment and eventually placed in a group home.
“I thought he was doing well, but he walked away one day and disappeared,” Sailer said. “That’s one of the problems in Illinois, you can’t force someone to get treatment. It has to be voluntary.
“It turned out Kent had met a man on walks he had taken who owned a used-car business nearby, befriended him and just showed up one day at the car dealer,” she said. “They apparently let him spend the night, and then he ended up living in a basement of a relative of the owner’s.
“He would tell everybody he was selling cars and working, but he never got a paycheck, and I doubt he ever sold a car. He was kind of a joke to the people who worked at the car dealership. They kept him around for amusement.”
Eventually, Kent’s mental condition deteriorated, and he ended up in several nursing homes.
“There’s nowhere else to put these people,” Sailer said. “They end up living in nursing homes, often in lockdown units with elderly people suffering from dementia.
“The staff isn’t trained to deal with mental illness. I keep thinking something needs to be done but don’t know what.
“I just know that my brother isn’t ever going to get any better.”