A Balcony View: Mental health care must improve

While this story begins and ends in Glendale, most of what occurs takes place in Alhambra. It's the true story of a teenager living in Glendale and a broken mental-health-care system that failed to help him.

Like many teenagers, the one in this story has plenty of free time on his hands during the summer. With boredom his constant companion, the boy defies his mother's wishes and invites friends over while she is at work.

When the mother finds out, she informs him there will be consequences. Not wanting to face them, the boy runs out of the apartment. A short time later, he returns, still defiant, now demanding money for a haircut.

When the mother refuses, things escalate quickly and the boy becomes agitated. He pulls a knife from the kitchen drawer and threatens to kill her and himself.

The mother, frightened, leaves the house and calls the father. The two have been divorced for almost six years.

"I'm going to call the police," she tells him.

This is not the first time their son has had discipline issues, and at the moment, calling the police doesn't seem like the worst idea. Even though the father does not believe for a minute that his son would carry out such a threat, he feels both obligated and reluctant to agree with the mother.

The father immediately calls the teenager. He asks him why such threats were made. The boy stumbles through a series of teenage excuses and rationalizations. The father explains the seriousness of the situation, making sure the boy knows consequences are on the way.

The father pulls up to the mother's apartment. Glendale police officers are already outside the apartment building, talking to the mother and her boyfriend. The father motions to one of the officers that his son is on the line.

"Make sure he doesn't have anything in his hands," one officer says as they approach the building.

A feeling of dread washes over the father.

The father asks the teenager to remain calm. He tells the boy that his mother and her boyfriend are coming back in the apartment. He does not mention the police. The teenager is adamant that the boyfriend stays away.

"I hate him," he says.

Over the phone, the father hears someone talking to his son. Then the phone goes dead. Another police officer tells the father to wait outside the apartment building. From the sidewalk, the father watches helplessly as his ex-wife and her boyfriend talk to the police.

Twenty minutes go by.

Another five minutes pass before two police officers exit the building. They've got the boy handcuffed and are escorting him, one on each side, to one of the patrol cars. Father and son look at each other but say nothing.

The other officers pass by the father. No one has explained a thing. The father approaches one of the officers and inquires.

"We're taking your son to Glendale Adventist. He's being placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold," the officer explains. "That's the procedure when someone threatens to harm themselves or another."

The father asks the officer if he needs any background information about his son, or if the officer needs his contact information. The officer shakes his head.

"It seems strange that you wouldn't want to know my name or address so the hospital can contact me," the father says.

But before he's finished the sentence, the officer has walked away.

The father watches helplessly as his son is driven away. The father gets in his own car. Guilt. Confusion. Anxiety. They will accompany the father on the drive home. As he pulls away, the father looks at his ex-wife. No words are exchanged.

A few hours later, the father hears from the mother.

"They are moving him to BHC Alhambra Hospital," she tells him. "They don't have an adolescent unit at Glendale Adventist, and that is the closest facility."

The father calls the Glendale Adventist Medical Center emergency room. It is the first time the two have spoken since the police intervened.

"Do you know what is happening?"

"No," the boy replies.

"You are being taken to a hospital in Alhambra."

"I want to go home."

"You can't. Not for at least 72 hours." The boy is confused and starts to cry.

For the father, guilt, confusion and anxiety are now accompanied by new feelings — anger and sadness. "Hasn't anyone explained what is happening?"

"No."

So the father explains the situation to the boy, trying to reassure him that everything will be OK.

"You get some sleep and don't worry," the father says. "I love you, and I don't believe you meant what you said. You said some stupid things, but I know you would never hurt your mom or yourself, right?"

"I wouldn't. Can't I go home?"

The father's heart aches.

"No. You can't. So just relax and don't say any more of those things or you might find yourself in even more trouble. Understand? I love you."

The call ends.

As the old saying goes, tomorrow is another day. Unfortunately there's another saying: Sometimes things get worse before they get better.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is senior manager of communications for DIRECTV and a copywriting professor at Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Gary may be reached at garyrhuerta@gmail.com.

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