Reviewed by Janice Morgan
For parents facing a son or daughter’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, Kartar Diamond’s book will be a useful, compassionate guide. Diamond has said that her goal in telling her story about Noah’s illness is to “educate and comfort” all those facing similar challenges, and I’m sure readers will feel her book delivers.
Growing up in southern California, Noah had always been an expressive child, smart at school and known for his musical abilities. Mother and son had always gotten along famously. However, Noah’s behavior changed drastically at age fifteen, and their lives were thrown into turmoil. Diamond recounts how difficult it was for her to understand her son’s illness. In 2006, few people talked about mental health screenings or knew how to get one. Even the specialists she consulted disagreed about diagnosis or treatment. Like many parents, she tried one silver bullet solution after another, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually accepting that Noah had schizophrenia and needed ongoing medication, Diamond was dismayed that her son lacked any rational understanding of his diagnosis. Instead, he wanted to self-medicate by chain-smoking cigarettes and buying whatever drugs he could find on the street. By his early twenties, Noah had two problems: schizophrenia and substance use. His life was at risk.
Thereafter begins his long odyssey from one Board and Care residence to another as his mother tries to find long-term lodging and a treatment program for him. Diamond brings us with her along the way, sharing her hopes and fears, describing one problem after another that must be surmounted. This is the challenging life of a mother whose adult child lives with a severe mental illness (SMI). What I especially appreciated were her educational asides, as when she explains how lax the standards are for Board and Care facilities or how certain laws work—often at cross-purposes for families trying to care for an ill loved one who lacks awareness of their plight. We understand why she chose to participate with LA police officers during their CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) trainings; she once witnessed how a savvy female police officer was able to convince her son to be calmly “5150’d” (placed under a 72-hour hold in a psychiatric hospital) while he was having a psychotic break. It takes empathy and special training to be able to do this successfully, and we’ve heard all too often about persons being jailed or even killed in this same situation.
Diamond points out how strange and cruel certain laws can be, as for example the one that insists that a person must be either homicidal or suicidal before they can be placed in treatment at a hospital. No wonder there are so many 911 mental health crisis calls! If the ill person refuses or later says they are fine, no action will be taken at all—and this is often the most dangerous option for them. The only way around this is to gain legal guardianship (conservatorship in California parlance) in order to make decisions on their behalf. Diamond describes how this eventually occurred in her son’s case, and it is a harrowing experience.
I will let you read the book for yourself to discover what happens after Noah is taken to hospital long-term and placed under guardianship. Suffice it to say that the research Diamond does into possible programs for her son leads eventually (admittedly, with a bit of luck) to somewhere better. Still, we wonder: why does it have to be this hard and take so long? And what if your family doesn’t have the resources to put up such a prolonged fight for care?
This memoir will resonate with families looking for answers to one of life’s most difficult problems. The author tells us the most painful parts of her story, but also the valuable lessons she learned, lessons many of her readers can benefit from. Diamond’s personal testimony will also be useful in advocacy work with policy-makers. We can show them how our mental health care system is broken and also the ways it can be fixed.
Janice Morgan is the author of Suspended Sentence, a memoir (She Writes Press, 2019) where she recounts her son’s ongoing struggle with bipolar II and substance use as he leaves jail and enters a drug court program.