AOT debate – Don't forget about this mom and this son

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Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ *Jammie Farish ~ 

It was a cold blustery day in Oregon, and I sat alone in my car in the parking lot of our local Walmart store waiting. There was red suitcase in my trunk filled with new sweatpants, sweatshirts, t-shirts and toiletries, everything that the treatment center would allow. Thoughts were racing through my head on the battered wings of hope. Maybe I won’t have to worry every time the phone rings or if it is raining outside. With each bite of food I take at a meal or driving along the streets, my eyes dart around trying to find him. I hope this is his bottom, and he is ready.

I’m nervous because he hasn’t checked in, and he should have been here at our meeting spot over 45 minutes ago. I feel my hope dimming, my anger rises as I think to myself “well there you go again”. But I can’t give up; I have to keep trying, the suitcase is packed, the residential treatment center is waiting, it is cold outside, he must be hungry.

I drive around the parking lot one last time, and he emerges from the shadows, hood up and head down. His long strides make the distance shorter and for a second I can hear the remnants of “mommy, mommy, guess what Dreamer (his horse) did today…” I shake my head clear and hold my breath to brace for the unknown. I never know who I will be talking with or trying to help anymore.  As he opens the car door and gets in I can see his face. He is bloody; nose broken, black eye, he has paper towels stuck up each nostril in a failed attempt to slow the flow from his nose. The eyes of a desperate mother quickly scan his body from the top of his battered head to the bottom of his splattered, dirty pants. He is rambling, and I can’t tell if he is high again on drugs or paranoid due to his mental illness.

He tells me he was jumped by his friends; they stole everything. In my mind I’m thinking how this could be a good thing, you know add to the whole “bottom” he is experiencing. I also think I have clearly entered an irrational and alternate reality to find a situation like this a “good thing”. I fight my emotions to remain clear headed, non-emotional, focused and driven.

I start to hear the words I dread, He doesn’t want to go to treatment, he wants revenge; he wants his stuff back, and they need to pay. “Fuck you bitch, you don’t even care about your own son!” he yells out while I stubbornly keep driving toward the destination of hope – treatment. This is my beautiful blond, curly haired boy who lives for his horses; this is my partner in crime dirt bike riding, camping and laughing together. He loves his mom I repeat over and over to myself. Please God, please.

He takes my phone and starts communicating with people about what happened. I look over, and he yells at me to “stop reading his stuff, quit spying on me, you can’t be trusted; none of you can be trusted!” I couldn’t read that far away if I tried. He is paranoid – I keep driving. One and a half hours…. one hour … he is mumbling to himself and cussing at me. I’m not going; I’m not going to this fucking treatment, and I’m going to get a gun and kill those…….” I’m praying and driving. At one point he is grabbing my arm yelling, and I have to pull over. He jumps out of the car, and I drive away far enough to not be seen. Eventually, he calms down and calls me. He says he is ready to go tomorrow.

I call my friend and colleague who lives in the area, and we make plans to stay overnight and try to get him there in the morning. I manage to get him into the shower; I wonder how long it’s been since he has had one. I look at my precious son, the son who reflects my own father. Eventually, he emerges from the bathroom clean and rambling on and on. He is thin, too thin. His 6 ft. plus frame is skin and bones. Gaunt, haunted eyes stare back at me briefly before surveying the room where we would be staying. I could see the rash all over his arms from the Methamphetamines – my worst nightmare as he had a history of psychosis even as a young child.  He is 18; he can walk out of the treatment center at any time, I have no power over the choice he will have in the morning. Breathe, just breathe.

The next morning we drive the rest of the distance to YES House, the wonderful treatment facility where he will go. I remind him that here in this place, they can’t restrain or seclude him. He won’t be traumatized like he was in all his other experiences as a younger child. He is afraid, angry, tired and hurt, but travels the rest of the distance and climbs the stairs for intake.

Assisted Outpatient Treatment and the impassioned pleas of Legislators, advocates and consumers. You can review the data, the history and anecdotal stories for both sides of this argument. When I wrote about my experiences as a mother the first time and my opinion on this issue, I found myself straddling both sides of the river. The desperate mother who wants her son to stay alive, to not kill himself and the advocate for human rights. Do I think AOT is the answer for the mentally ill, or is this really a societal issue based on the different values American’s place on the people who live here? The truth is our society continues to throw away our mentally ill every day. Prisons, homelessness and completed suicides are the status quo for this population, even the very people who fought to keep this country free. I don’t have any magic answers, but I do ask each of you this – don’t forget about this mom and this son here, because we are just one story of many all over the nation who are fighting to keep their loved ones alive. Stand up and make a promise – commit to finding solutions instead of fighting against each other, because it will take all of us working together to shift how the U.S. cares for and helps this population and the families that love them. 

Ms. Farish was a participant in a recent CMHNetwork dialogue on Assisted Outpatient Treatment

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jammieJammie Farish, Youth M.O.V.E. (Motivating Others through Voices of Experience) Oregon – Jammie Farish is the Training and Development Director for Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon. In 2009, Jammie worked with Martin Rafferty and Lisa Moody to found Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon and establish it as an independent, youth-driven organization that has had a sizeable impact at both the local and state levels. Motivated by her journey in the mental health system with her son, Jammie left the world of Special Education with the school district to pursue work in the field of peer services and advocacy. This experience led to her professional pursuits as a Family and Youth Advocate dedicated to system of care reform, community-based wraparound services, and peer delivered services, advocacy, and more. For her work, she has been awarded Oregon Mental Health Award of Excellence and the Children’s Mental Health Advocate of the Year (Oregon Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry). 


  1. Claudette Fette's avatar
    Claudette Fette
    | Permalink
    I share your experience. My son maxed out his insurance at age 13 and was on the streets by age 15. It was heartbreaking and I begged for treatment when he was 15 and in harms way, but could only access justice systems. What I wish we had access to more than AOT would have been highly skilled community mental health services and supports such as family partners, high fidelity wraparound, RENEW, and protocols like the Early Detection and Intervention for the Prevention of Psychosis (EDIPPP) that include access to skilled professionals. Instead we learned by trial and LOTS of error, and my son paid the price. I am frustrated with the scrubbing from community mental health to pat for AOT that predominated in the original Murphy bill. We needed so much more than a pill and a bed.
  2. Kristen Anderson's avatar
    Kristen Anderson
    | Permalink
    Thank you for your courage and sharing this story. I am so glad a place like YES house exists and is accessible to you and your son.

    I find myself straddling the fence on this issue, too. When and how much can we interfere at the expense of people's rights? But if it was my son - would I be hauling his butt somewhere desperate for help - you bet! I wish I could do more for you, your son, and for the thousands more out there - and have rarely felt at such a loss in what direction to take my advocacy.

    For the policy makers reading this - I do know, stigma, fear, ignorance, and prejudice still drives much of how our society and systems function in relation to those of us with behavioral and mental health challenges, we who support those who have them, and the many, like me, who find themselves in both circumstances. We need communities that actively involve us in planning, delivery, and oversight at every level.
  3. Matthew Holland's avatar
    Matthew Holland
    | Permalink
    What can I say other than absolutely amazingly written account of the events that not only you but many parents have gone through. The last paragraph most of all struck me as a rallying cry for our entire system. We all stand here amidst our tangled and tattered system looking at the abyss that so many have fallen into. There needs to be change, there needs to be movement and there needs to be a united front to carry this through to the feet of our governments. As a friend, colleague and someone with lived experience, I know that not every son or daughter has such a vigilent, passionate and force to reckon with as a parent. So many children turned adults get lost and fall into the abyss. Thank you Jammie for your courage to help your son and the courage to help change our system.
  4. Kim Ohashi's avatar
    Kim Ohashi
    | Permalink
    Jammie-You are such a gift to those suffering with mental illness. What a powerful article!
    Thank you for standing up for those who can't for themselves, and stay strong, knowing you make such an incredible difference in this world! I admire your courage and love for family and those you come in contact with. Love and hugs to you friend:)
  5. Sandy's avatar
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    If anyone can straddle both sides of that river, it's you Jammie! Your perseverance continues to inspire me. The fact is that experience you relayed so beautifully is part of a larger story that goes on. Mine has similar episodes with years of peace and times of difficulty weaved together. The answers seem clear at times, and impossible at other times. So, we breathe on and lend our strength to each other as we can. Thank you for your steadfastness for that beautiful boy and in the movement.
  6. Vanessa's avatar
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    As a young adult being forced into treatment I understand the frustration with having your rights taken away. As a peer advocate and mentor I have also seen young adults in such a dark place battling for their life, that they aren't in a place to make a decision that could potentially save their very life.
  7. Roxanne Miller's avatar
    Roxanne Miller
    | Permalink
    Jammie,you are the most inspirational person I have ever met. You have helped so many people including me. I know you will never stop helping your son. Even when you feel defeated yourself. You helped me in the journey of life as a parent of a child with severe mental health issues. I would not be where I am today without your help. God chose us for this journey and it is heartbreaking. But it is the hand we were dealt. I pray for you to have strength to move forward. Mary Ann Hard would say "Asking for Help Is A Sign of Strength". You are always in my thoughts and prayers. Please keep me posted on your journey. I will continue to turn to God for guidance and ask for him to shower you with strength to help your family. Hugs, Roxanne
  8. Pat Greenup's avatar
    Pat Greenup
    | Permalink
    Jamie,So sorry for the difficult time you're having. I experienced that with Kelly starting at 10 yrs of age. It lasted for years.The only that got me through it
    was God. Lots of prayer went up for him and us.
    We'll keep praying for you and your family.
    Love, Pat
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