Partnering on the Path to Recovery

Parents Dave and Bev discuss what life was like immediately following their 19 year-old son’s first break with mental illness. 

Matt was a sophomore in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP), living on campus.  Home wasn’t too far away, so he would visit with his parents, Dave and Bev, in Loveland regularly, but still enjoyed his independence.  It was the fall of 2012.  What was supposed to be just another typical visit home suddenly turned into a violent episode, leaving Dave and Bev feeling completely blind-sided.  Instinctively, they immediately knew something was very wrong.

“It was so out of the ordinary, such a break from his usual demeanor,” says Bev. Matt had what could be considered a typical childhood – played sports, got average grades and enjoyed a lot of friends.  “He was always a very happy kid. This behavior made no sense, and left all of us feeling frightened and wondering what to do next.”

The first psychiatrist they saw determined that Matt’s behavior was ‘drug-related,’ which Dave and Bev knew was incorrect. A subsequent episode resulted in a 72-hour stay at a local behavioral health facility; all the while, Matt was in complete denial that anything serious was going on.  To some extent, Dave and Bev also didn’t want to admit, even to themselves, that this could be a mental health issue.  They had no reason to believe it was, as there was not a family history of psychosis on either side.

Matt’s initial episodes of delusion were terrifying and confusing for Dave and Bev. “Matt felt his mental state was punishment for some terrible act he committed as a young kid, and that we were holding back information about his childhood…lying to him,” says Dave. “A whole series of delusional thoughts and actions followed.”

Doing all that they knew to do, the situation still went from bad to worse.  They pulled Matt out of school and brought him home, but the manic episodes continued.  It was only when Matt disappeared with the car one day, to then find he had driven to southern California, that they sought help for themselves to better cope with the situation. They contacted the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and enrolled in a 12-week peer-to-peer counseling program. “We got educated,” says Dave.  “And we accepted what might be going on with Matt.”

Matt came home from California safely, but at this time, there was still no clear diagnosis.  The next hospitalization lasted a week. Mired in confusion, isolation and fear, Dave and Bev continued to navigate the situation the best they could.  “We knew Matt wasn’t getting help to the extent he needed, we just didn’t know where to find it,” says Bev. All the while, they were just waiting for the next incident.

It was now early spring of 2013.  Matt’s violent outbursts at home resulted in another call to the police, their third emergency cry for help.  This time, Matt was charged with two felonies, and he went straight from the hospital to jail.  A judge determined that what he really needed was a long stay at the local psychiatric hospital, where he stabilized on medication over the next three and ½ months.

Upon his release, the court connected the family for the first time with GCB, where Matt was enrolled in the Transition to Independence program (designed to support young adults transition into adulthood while managing complexities of mental illness), and mandated to be seen at least four days a week. If he became non-compliant or stopped taking his meds, he would have to go back to jail or the hospital.  While taking regular anti-psychotic medication, Matt realized that it really made a difference.  Soon, he stopped resisting, embraced the help, and accepted his diagnosis of schizo-effective disorder. 

“I walked out of our first meeting with the GCB team, and felt for the first time, ‘this is it’ – we have finally found the folks who can help our son,” says Dave.  

GCB provides Matt with not only counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, but his various teams of experts ensure a seamless continuum of care, also coordinating on-going compliance with Matt’s probation officer at Common Pleas Court.  Today, Matt has weekly contact with his case management team, monthly therapy check-ins and psychiatric visits.  He has held a full-time position in customer support since January of 2016, and is planning on pursuing a career in computer technology and possibly peer counseling.

Iana Souza has been Matt’s primary case manager for the past two years. “Within these two years, I have seen Matt grow tremendously,” she says.  “Matt is always pleasant and eager to engage with me. I look forward to seeing him progress toward his long-term goal of obtaining a career he is passionate about, whether it be in IT or helping others in the mental health field.”

“Matt has been amazing to work with,” says Heather Cokl, Program Manager, Clermont County Forensic Monitor.  “He is a testament to how hard work and wrap-around treatment can help stabilize a person’s mental illness so they can go about living their life. When I first met Matt, he was struggling with delusional thinking and didn’t understand that he had an illness. Today, Matt is able to describe his illness and how it specifically impacts his life, focusing on the fact that it is manageable!”

“Dave and Bev attended every court date, treatment team, did research and kept in frequent contact,” says Jennifer Dorschug, Director of Mental Health Services.  “I got a call from Bev one day after we’d been trying a new medication with Matt.  She said she and Dave heard whistling from another room in the house and thought it was their older son.  It turned out to be Matt – she said they hadn’t seen him joyful or happy since he became ill.  It gave them hope.  That is one of my favorite stories to tell and helps me stay committed to our mission here at GCB.”

“Families need to know, if this happens to them, hit it quickly,” says Bev.  “Getting connected to the specialists – the right people who know what they’re doing - as soon as possible, is critical.  These folks can walk with you through this illness and let you know you are not alone. They’ve been such a lifesaver for us, both GCB and NAMI.” 

 “Matt is very lucky to have parents like Dave and Bev, continued Heather.  “Being a part of their journey has helped me see the struggles for someone so close to their initial break with psychosis - and to be here three years later, and see how much growth he has been able to achieve, is refreshing and encouraging.  As with most client journeys, they have probably taught me more than I’ve been able to provide to them.”