This guest blog illuminates the excruciating and unrelenting pain that results from NOT receiving timely and effective treatment for severe mental illness. Our thoughts are with Libba and for the safe return of her sister.
My 25 year old sister Ashley disappeared in the spring of 1999 from a life on the streets in Tampa, Florida.
She was struggling with bipolar disorder and drug-addiction when she became homeless and then vanished without a trace. My family repeatedly appealed to law enforcement authorities to file a missing-persons report over the course of the next four years without success. A family friend intervened and contacted state government officials and eventually an official report was finally taken in December of 2002. By this time we had no idea if my sister Ashley was dead or alive.
My family and I would eventually learn that during the years Ashley was unreported as missing, she had been exploited by pimps and predators on the streets, hit by a car, beaten, and arrested several times. As we continued our search for her, my mother Michelle attempted to file the Baker Act three times with limited success. The judge agreed the case had merit and approved the Baker Act but because Ashley had no address, law enforcement officials would not look for her. We were never able to get The Baker Act facilitated to get Ashley into a safe location and obtain treatment. She remained lost.
In February of 2003, Ashley was located in North Carolina. She had little memory of her four-year experience, had a broken eye socket and was eight months pregnant. We attempted to find the right treatment for her, but she refused to get any voluntary long-term help. We hoped for the best as she and her newborn baby moved in with my parents knowing that without proper medication and treatment, it was a matter of time before she would be gone again. Ashley did disappear again almost one year later. After she was found, she had another baby, got on medication to treat bipolar disorder for a few months, and then tragically, disappeared once more.
This chronic and unacceptable outcome leads me to ask why isn’t a more effective system in place that could prevent years of suffering for families who so desperately want to help a lost loved one with mental illness? It is my belief that if my sister had been acknowledged as ‘missing’ ten years ago and if involuntary treatment options had been available and facilitated; Ashley and her children would not continue to be at risk again today.
As a result of my experience, Outpost for Hope was created, in an effort to inform society about ‘missing, missing persons’ who may be lost on the streets due to mental illness and/or addiction as well as to extend support to their families. We are pioneering a new path to bring attention to those who are lost among us and to demand better options for their survival. We hope you are inspired to join our efforts. To learn more, please visit www.outpostforhope.org
Founder of Outpost for Hope