Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Needs Treatment … But Gone Missing

Cindy Shannon, 41, is schizophrenic and is on three types of medications. … "I'm just worried about her," Terri Shannon said. "She usually calls. I'm just surprised she hasn't called. I know she doesn't know she's been gone several days. … Terri Shannon said her sister might look unkempt by now and most likely would be talking to herself or she could be panhandling for change or food. … "She's not violent," Terri Shannon said. She worries that people might hurt her sister or that her sister might become a victim of a hit-and-run driver. [San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Jan 12, 2006]

When a family member is missing, time seems to stand still.

We hear too many stories about people with severe mental illnesses who disappear, leaving their family members mired in feelings of panic, worry, helplessness and hopelessness, fear that the police will not find their loved one... and fear that they will find them, after it is too late. Just this month, we’ve seen stories from across the country, like California (they found a missing woman’s clothes, but haven’t yet found her) and Oklahoma (an unhappy ending).

WHY?? In most of these cases, the missing person is unaware that they are sick. They may believe that they are on the run from the CIA or the mafia. This phenomenon — called anosognosia — affects the majority (55 percent) of those not receiving treatment for severe mental illnesses. You cannot convince someone with anosognosia that that they are sick because they fully believe their delusion. In many cases, the only way to get someone with anosognosia into treatment is via a court order.

WHAT CAN I DO?? Because people with anosognosia who are missing are often times constantly on the move, this presents an additional legal challenge to families trying to get their loved one committed — each state has a very specific law in regard to assisted treatment or involuntary commitment. That can make it especially hard on families who are trying to navigate a law they don't know in a state where they don't live.

What can you do if someone you love is missing?

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