Cracks in the system: mental health in Michiana

Mental illness is one of the most common health problems in the United States, but doctors say few people really understand it or get the help needed. 

Bridgette Roidfeld, of South Bend says she has run into cracks in the system.

Bridgette has depression and anxiety .

She says she reached a very low point 12 years ago when her father died.

“The way that everything just happened that day, it seemed like it was in slow motion. At that point i couldn’t explain it. It was a slow motion day,” Bridgette said.

But the way Bridgette’s father died was not slow at all.
She says he died of a heart attack at age 45.

From then, on, every moment and every accomplishment couldn’t be shared with her father.

 “That’s one thing that a woman always dreams of, is having her father walk her down the aisle,” Bridgette said of her wedding.
In addition to marriage and the birth of her children, Bridgettes’ biggest milestones was graduating from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Chicago.

“It’s a very, very, very hard school to get into and i was able to get into it because of my grades,” Bridgette said.

But three years after graduating, Brigette says she still can’t get a job in any kitchen.

“When you apply for a job, you’re supposed to list any medical problems that you have, any medical disabilities, and my mistake is that I did. I was being honest with them, and they refused to hire me because of that, because in the culinary field, it is a stressful environment as it,” Bridgette said.

Now, without a job, Bridgette can barely pay her family’s bills, let alone pay for her treatment

“I have to pay out of pocket,” Bridgette said.

According to professionals stories like Bridgette’s aren’t rare. 

It’s the kind Michiana mental health professionals say they constantly see.

“We have people struggling to make ends meet, and they’re having to choose between food and medicine,” said Dr. Daniel Kinsey, a psychicatrist at Oaklawn.

Doctors say not only do insurance companies make getting medication a pain for patients, but they make prescribing it a nightmare for psychiatrists.

“It’s a daily hassle every day. I fill out probably 10 or 15 prior authorization forms,” said Dr. Suhayl Nasr, psychiatrist at Beacon.

Nasr says after all the paperwork, insurance still might not cover the medication or more  visits to psychiatrists.

“It’s unfair to the practitioners, unfair to the patients. It delays treatment. Some people stop taking their medications,” Nasr said.

That’s what Bridgette says she’s had to do. 

Without treatment, she suffers frequent panic attacks.

“You will just start breaking down crying and you don’t know why. There’s something in your mind that’s controlling you,” Bridgette said.

Doctors say it goes beyond that and that panic attacks like Bridgette’s affect physical health as well.

“It feels like heart attack. I can’t move at all. And the doctors have already informed me, that it is breaking down my heart,” Bridgette said.

All of it makes her face her worst fear, losing her mind and body to her mental illness, and possibly dying from a heart attack same way her father did.

“I know what it means, and that’s what hurts the most. I know at any point, that I could go and it’s hard to think of the fact that my kids losing their mother, and them having to go through the same thing that I had to go through,” Bridgette said.

It’s not just the health care system causing problems for people with mental illnesses.

The criminal justice system also faces troubles.

“For the last 20 years, I lived a completely different lifestyle,” said Angie Payton, of Niles.

Angie was living a lifestyle of crime.

“I was living in the streets. I was involved in gang violence, drugs, selling drugs, I even at one time was running a strip club,” said Angie.

But what Angie didn’t realize at the time, was that she was suffering from a mental illness.

Angie suffers from anxiety and bipolar disorder, and looking back, she says it caused her to misbehave.

“It was all on a bad road,” Angie said.

It’s a bad road police constantly see many mentally ill people go down.

“There s an awful lot of folks who wind up coming into jail for whatever reason, that have mental health issues, a lot of them are undiagnosed,” said Assistant Chief Bill Thompson of the St. Joseph County Police.

Thompson says it’s something police see so much, it begins to take a toll on their own mental health.

“It’s frustrating for us, because we recognize that a lot of these folks, if their mental health issues were better managed, they might not be coming into the criminal justice system,” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, sometimes the criminal justice system isn’t what certain mentally ill criminals really need.

“Local county jails, nationally have become sort of the de facto, mental health provider,” Thompson said.

Years ago, Angie was locked up for months in connection to a robbery. 

She was medicated in jail, but she says the experience only made it worse.

“All it did was make me walk around in a drugged state. It wasn’t really addressing the issues or addressing the problems,” Angie said.

Once Angie was released from jail, the problems persisted.

“I fell right back into trying to mask the hurt,” Angie said.

That’s why police say it’s a vicious cycle. 

After leaving jail, the treatment stops and the bad habits continue.

“Once they’re back out in the world, they become non-compliant again, they don’t take their medication, and they wind up in the same situation that they were in before,” Thompson said.

Bringing the same mentally ill criminals back to jail all the time also costs taxpayers a bundle.

“Looking at the dollars and cents it makes sense to try to figure out a way not to have people that have mental illness in the jail if there’s a way to avoid it,” said Judge Sterling Schrock of Berrien County.

Schrock and his colleagues in the Berrien County courts are working to do just that.

Their mental health court started as a test in 2008, and Sterling says it’s been so successful, more mental health courts are starting to pop up.

“We don’t want to keep cycling those people through the criminal justice system,” Schrock said.

The court provides special treatment for mentally ill criminals, even if they themselves don’t know they’re mentally ill yet.

“Maybe the reason they have contact with the criminal justice system is because they suffer from a mental illness, we’ll start looking at that,” Schrock said.

The process works to keep the mentally ill out of jail and into therapy.

Angie says therapy is the thing that turned her life around.

“I didn’t realize that I had all those issues wrong with me until the psychiatrist actually addressed it with me,” Payton said.

Where she’s at today is a far cry from her years of crime. 

Angie has been sober for two years, has a job, goes to church and is close with her family again.

She says a program at Hope Ministries in South Bend made her new life possible.

“I could’ve spent seven and a half years in the penitentiary, and just be getting out this year. I mean, if that would have happened, who knows where I’d be at?” Angie said.

“It’s not that I’ve conquered them, because I do take medication for them, but it helps me to deal with things easier now, and I’m more level,” Angie said of her depression and anxiety.

By addressing it at a deeper level, Angie says she’s now able to live with it her troubles without breaking the law.

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