News from the Tennessee Valley Living Today

Mom hopes new housing grant will give mentally ill daughter keys to independence and her own place after lifetime of insecurity

By Patrice Stewart · 340-2446

Many parents have experienced the boomerang effect when a son or daughter goes off to college or to work in another city. When the jobs and money disappear, they run home.

But what if the adult son or daughter has a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or manic depression?

“Jane Smith” asked that her real name not be used because of the social stigma she says is still attached to mental illness.

She has been dealing with problems related to the illness of her child for 25 years.

But the Morgan County resident worries even more as she gets older. She has had to make her fixed Social Security income stretch to meet not only her needs, but those of her daughter, too.

She hopes that plans for new housing for mentally ill adults in the area will help her daughter and others.

“The teen years were difficult, as the hormones and chemicals came into play. I knew there was something wrong, but no one was diagnosing her correctly,” she recalled. “But as she got older, it got a bit easier and she was more accepting of the fact that she needed to be on medications.”

There have been plenty of ups and downs since, however, as is typical of many people being treated for a mental illness.

Her daughter, who finished high school and a couple years of college, sometimes was able to hold a job and live on her own. Many of those with mental illness have a high IQ, but the illness sometimes masks it.

“She had more self-respect and self-esteem when living on her own,” Smith said. “They have come up with new and better drugs that work well at pinpointing the part of the brain where the receptors are not functioning properly.”

But when the young woman got off her medication and couldn’t work and pay rent, things fell apart and she came home to Mom.

“Not everybody can help their children financially throughout life. I’m here to help, but I’m not rich,” said Smith, who survives on a small Social Security check, because she didn’t work for a lot of those years after having a child and dealing with her problems.

After years of supporting them both, she finally got through the red tape to get her daughter on Social Security Disability. Right now, the daughter is able to work a part-time job, too, which will help her afford a place of her own.

“When they get up again, they want to go out on their own again,” Smith said. “Her mental health workers think that’s the next step to take. But it’s sad when your adult child wants to move out of your house and be on her own, but there’s no place for her to go.

“It’s hard for them to find decent, affordable housing. I worry about her safety, too. Some of these HUD Section 8 housing units aren’t that great and aren’t in the best areas, and sometimes there are break-ins and other problems.”

Despite that, the mother said sometimes those who need housing line up at 4 a.m. “just to get that piece of paper to qualify for HUD housing. If you can get that voucher and can get a landlord who’s willing. ... But our people are not aggressive,” she said, so that makes it harder for them to get housing.

“As a parent, our main role is to make them self-reliant, and that doesn’t change when they are mentally ill, but it may take a lot longer,” Smith said.

“And as long as they are in your house, they are your child, even in their 30s and 40s and 50s. Living with your parents is fine when you’re a kid, but not when you’re an adult. They don’t want to bring their friends home, either.

“We need decent, affordable, safe housing for this group,” said Smith. There are units available for senior citizens, and there are group homes for those just coming out of hospitalization, but no permanent housing for the middle-aged, she said. She has high hopes that plans in the works for housing such as The Village apartments in Moulton will help the group of people like her daughter.

And finding housing is still just part of the problem.

“People are much more aware now of the illnesses, but the stigma is still there. If you tell someone you have a mental illness, they’ll walk away from you.

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