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When Detaining the Mentally Ill Is the Right Thing

Photograph by Getty Images

Yesterday was yet another blazing hot day in Los Angeles. All I could see was concrete, all I could smell was dog poop baking in the sun.

I came to a stoplight and a very tall man carrying a guitar case walked towards my car. It took me a few seconds to figure him out. He was in incredible shape and very handsome.

He crossed the street, a rolled up blanket strapped to his back. He sat down in the shade on the steps on a strip club called "Girls Girls Girls." The man took out his phone and put a hand over his mouth. Deep sadness consumed him as he stared at it. Another homeless man kept peeking over at him. I finally stopped staring and looked back at the light.

Mental illness greets you every day in L.A., just like the blinding sun.

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I have learned how to talk to my kids about the homeless people we see begging. I've taught them about mental illness. What's trickier for me was treading my way through life for years at the mercy of another mentally ill person. Now that I am no longer under the thumb of this person—whom others agree is mentally ill—I can tell you that it astounds me how little I can do myself for this person, and how little is done for the mentally ill.

This person came from what should have been, and what can be, an idealic community. Unfortunately, behind the walls was an alcoholic mother who often greeted her child unclothed and passed out. This person must have been broken at a young age due to what she went through. I will call her a she, but will not identify the name or gender, merely for the purpose of this article.

I woke up and, much to my delight, they had detained her.

I cut off all communication with her this January 1st, after she refused to go to a rehab center that would have helped her with her addictions and mental issues. That she didn't go was not surprising.

This spring, while cooking for my three kids, home alone, I received an urgent call from a relative. My person threatened suicide and showed a picture of a gun.

Do your best and be a good person has always been my goal (despite failing, of course, at times). I quickly called a local cop and asked them to initiate a protocol called a 51/50. It's where they can go and hold someone who has threatened suicide.

I felt nervous. Here I was, once the child now an adult, calling a cop to go check on a person who once claimed a big responsibility for me.

The cop called me a few hours later. "Well, it sounds like you two have had a falling out." My heart sank. My person is good-looking, smart and charming. She fooled him. She wasn't taken in. She had handed over the gun.

At least I tried, I thought.

A few months went by and I received yet another email threatening suicide. This time I acted quickly. You have better odds if you call the cops the day you receive the email or call. The cop talked to me before he went in. "I don't see her car," he said. "But I know she's tricky, I know she's slick. I've got her number now."

I went to bed not expecting much. I turned on the alarm, choking on a laugh. I'm not really afraid she'd come here. Am I?

I woke up and, much to my delight, they had detained her.

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"Yes, thank you, God," I thought.

My relative back-pedaled. I pleaded, "Please make the counselor watching her call me before they decide to let her go." That afternoon I got the disheartening phone call from my relative that they had let her go. I got the number of the counselor. I called her, and she was very matter of fact.

"You know she's a narcissist?"

"Me, yes, I know that."

"There's nothing you can do for that. She told us your family owned the Fiat company and you were billionaires."

"Yes, I know," I said. Incidentally, we don't and we're not. "I was just hoping you could keep her and get more of a diagnosis."

She's also addicted to many things, I said, and we don't even have an official diagnosis.

'Our country is really doing a bad job at helping our mentally ill,' I explained. 'It's pretty sad. Maybe when you grow up your generation will do a better job.'

"Well, sorry, we had to let her go."

I do come from a situation of a large pool of resources, smart people and access to money. But it's still not enough. My person has moved to a new city I'm told.

At a stoplight a few months ago, my 5-year-old asked about why a homeless person was getting arrested.

"Maybe he sold drugs or did something he wasn't supposed to do," I said.

"Why did he do that?"

"Well, maybe he's mentally ill," I offered.

"Why doesn't someone help him get better with his brain?"

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"Our country is really doing a bad job at helping our mentally ill," I explained. "It's pretty sad. Maybe when you grow up your generation will do a better job."

My three kids were quiet.

They know that our person can't see them until she gets better and that might never happen.

We just drove home in a weighted silence to our quiet, comfortable, big house.

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