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Kimberly Gourlay

from Rome, GA

My twelve-year-old son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last year after a suicide attempt. His father signed him into the psychiatric hospital, and nine hours later collapsed and died. Of course, this tragedy set my son back even further. He was very close to his father and became extremely unstable after his father's death.

He's been hospitalized three times in the past year. During one hospitalization, he was raped by another patient. We struggle every day to deal with the extreme stress we've been under for the past year, and we struggle to find the right medication to help stabilize my son.

I wouldn't wish this illness on anyone. I've seen my son go from being a brilliant child, who learned to read at age three, to being zombie-like, suicidal, homicidal and extremely manic - all within the same day. He struggles to do schoolwork that was once a cinch for him to do. It's as if this illness slowly destroys your child's brain and personality, and there's nothing you can do to help him. I grieve for the loss of my son, who is now just a shell of his former self. I am angry at this illness for robbing us all of our lives, and I am angry at the medical community, because they haven't done enough research on children's mental health issues, and they don't have any real answers. I am angry at society for the callous and inhumane way they treat the mentally ill.

I am also terrified. I am terrified for my son's future and the future of my other three children who live in fear that their brother is going to commit suicide, or kill someone else in a rage some day. I fear that once my child turns 18 and I can't force him to take his medication any more, he'll wind up dead, or on the street, or in prison. I fear that no one cares about my son the way I do, and when I'm dead, what will become of him?

Looking back, what could have been done at the time to improve the situation? Treatment, medication, a different approach, or understanding from others around you?

This is an ongoing issue. There is no cure for bipolar. What could be done to improve our situation is for the medical community to do more studies on children's bipolar, and for our government to actually start funding research and take action to help the most fragile members of our society. I think it would also help if we could find a way to educate people about mental illness. People seem to understand the suffering of those with cancer, or AIDS, or multiple sclerosis, but children with bipolar disorder are looked at as juvenile delinquents and the product of bad parenting instead of having a real illness.

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