This powerful documentary, God Knows Where I Am, pulled back the invisibility cloak on the life of one homeless woman who battled untreated mental illness. Through Linda’s journal found beside her body in an empty farmhouse in New Hampshire, viewers lived in her world as she struggled to survive in an unforgiving environment.
Linda Bishop, a daughter, a sister, a mother, had people who cared about her. They knew she needed help, medication, and treatment. Unfortunately, during an in-hospital stay when Linda adamantly refused treatment, the hands that wanted to help her were slapped away. Loved ones petitioned for guardianship to ensure treatment for her, but the court denied their request. Laws set up to protect the rights of the patient allowed Linda to choose her own treatment plan.
The clear mind that guides most of us to make informed and calculated decisions on our health care had fogged over for Linda. Her brain convinced her she didn’t need medicine. Unable to help her, the staff released her, but privacy laws prevented them from notifying her family. Linda walked through the door of the hospital, through the door of the abandoned farmhouse, and into her personal prison as her mind imposed a death sentence on an innocent inmate.
I cried as I watched Linda’s final months of life. I cried for all the Lindas with an untreated mental illness that takes their lives. I cried for their families. I cried for the pain endured by all of them. I cried because I don’t know how to protect the rights of the patient when their minds prevent them from accepting the necessary treatment that might return them to a life with loved ones.
At one time in our country’s history, people lost their rights and found themselves in an institution and no way for parole simply because another person said they had a mental illness. I don’t want to see that inflexibility ever return.
I know people who chose to walk away from treatment and live without hurting themselves or others. Can we take away that person’s right to choose?
But, what about the Linda’s?
How do we know which ones need treatment to survive and which person can manage their illness?
What if the courts had granted Linda’s family guardianship? Would treatment have helped her come to terms with her mental illness?
Would mandatory outpatient follow-up care prevented her from disappearing into a place where no one found her until it was too late?
What if the hospital had notified her family of her imminent release and the family had the opportunity to support her as they guided her into wellness?
As I said, I cried because I don’t know the answers to the hard questions. I cried because I wrestled with the memories of our family’s journey – the denial of the illness, the refusal to accept treatment, the appearance in court for committal for treatment and again for guardianship and conservatorship. I know – if things had gone differently for us…if we had been denied…and I cry for all the Lindas and their families. I want different outcomes for them. I know recovery can happen. However, it takes a village of support. Research shows early intervention and a treatment plan help people resume productive lives.
I spent two hours last night watching this documentary on my local public television station. I encourage everyone to spend time with Linda Bishop through her written words, her sister, her daughter, and others who appear in this film. Rated TV-PG, it may give you a new glimpse into the complicated problem of mental illness, treatment, and homelessness.
Let’s keep the conversation on mental illness alive. Let’s support the people afflicted and those who love them. Let’s educate ourselves and encourage others to do the same. Let’s work together to find the answers for all the Linda Bishops in our world.