Imagine having cancer or a heart condition and not having access to high quality care. Tragically, this has been the reality for the 1,300 youth in Sonoma County who experience their first psychotic episode each year. Connecting youth with the appropriate treatment early on can drastically alter a young person’s future. But to date there hasn’t been a program in Sonoma County equipped to handle this need.
Our family knows this all too well having lost our brilliant, talented and compassionate daughter, Elizabeth, to suicide in 2018 at the age of 19. When she was almost 17, and having completed two years of college, she came to us for help saying she was not feeling right. She was suffering from severe depression and anxiety, which we and she believed could be addressed with our health care provider’s assistance. We were so wrong.
The brain is an organ in our bodies. So why do we treat people suffering from a brain illness any differently than someone suffering from cancer? The stigma associated with brain illnesses has to change. That will only happen when we shed our shame, overcome our reluctance to talk and educate each other about this grave epidemic confronting our society. If we can provide the comprehensive health services and care they need at an early stage, the chance of these individuals living inspired, productive lives increases significantly, just as with any other illness.
We determinedly sought help, pushing and demanding, searching and exploring for treatment options for our daughter. We found few resources and only limited guidance available to families seeking assistance for their loved ones. The health care providers pushed our family out of the process, in disregard of our daughter’s wishes and consent and despite abundant research demonstrating that coordinated care programs involving the family have proven to be the most successful in supporting recovery.
We felt isolated, betrayed and abandoned. On the health providers’ side, whether our HMO or private practitioners, there was no accountability, only episodic treatment and little continuity of care. This, despite the significant economic burden placed on our family. There seemed to be no economic incentive for those in private practice to bring actual results and close the case.
Elizabeth diligently took her prescribed medication even though it made her feel not herself, at times aggravating her depression. After working so hard and following doctors and therapists’ instructions, she felt like no solution existed for her suffering and took her life on Jan. 10, 2018. Our lives will never be the same.
Our family’s tragedy compelled us to act, to redeem the loss of our daughter. We have made it our personal mission to improve our community’s health care system for people suffering from brain illness and to prevent other families from having to experience a preventable tragedy like ours. We have partnered with the mental health organization One Mind.
Based in Rutherford, One Mind is a national leader in brain research and has launched an initiative to provide the gold standard of care for youth suffering from early psychosis. We and One Mind, together with the help of Sonoma County and Kaiser Permanente, have just opened the doors to the Elizabeth Morgan Brown Center — a One Mind ASPIRe clinic in Santa Rosa. The clinic can change the lives of thousands of youth in our community.
The Elizabeth Morgan Brown Center is a coordinated specialty care program and part of UC Davis Early Psychosis Learning Health Network, which shares data and best practices to improve brain health care around the state and, eventually, the nation.
The new clinic is a leap forward for North Bay families. The positive impact this can have on the lives of so many of our neighbors is incalculable. But there is more to be done. Help spread the word about this clinic so families in our community know of this new resource.
And support this clinic — and hopefully more clinics like it in the near future — by voting in support of Sonoma County’s Measure O on the Nov. 3 ballot. Early intervention programs like the Elizabeth Morgan Brown Center, by assisting our young people and their families right now, will save countless taxpayer dollars down the road and ensure that all of Sonoma County’s young people will have the opportunity to lead full, productive lives.
David and Seong Brown are the parents of Elizabeth Morgan Brown. They live in Santa Rosa.
You can contact the Elizabeth Morgan Brown Center at (707) 255-1855 or online at aldeainc.org/services/behavioral-health/the-elizabeth-morgan-brown-center
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