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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, August 16, 2022
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Undercurrents: Diagnosis Not the End of Love

This is the fourth of a five-part “Undercurrents” series examining the subject of mental illness in the Virgin Islands – its scope, its effect, and how it is and how it is not being addressed.

Sonia Aubrey has five children, three sons and two daughters. Her oldest girl was about 18 when life began to change.

“She was a very loving person, a very nice girl, very obedient,” Aubrey said. She went to Eudora Kean High School and later graduated from Adult Education. She worked at a couple of jobs, but was troubled and couldn’t concentrate.

At first, Aubrey noticed her daughter seemed extremely depressed. She didn’t want to go outside. She began to worry about people passing by on the street; she thought people wanted to hurt her. Later there were violent outbursts.

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Aubrey said she was puzzled, and worried. Then one night she tuned in to a local public affairs talk show.

“Doc (Randall) James had a TV show and he was talking about mental illness. I thought, ‘Maybe that’s what my daughter has …’ ”

Mental health experts say a large number of people who are diagnosed with mental illness first begin to exhibit signs of the disease in their late teens or early 20s.

The first indication for Aubrey’s daughter occurred more than 30 years ago. Today Aubrey knows a lot about mental illness, and she shares her knowledge and her coping skills with others as a local support group facilitator with the St. Thomas chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

There’s also a chapter on St. Croix. Both Virgin Islands groups focus on family-to-family support for people with loved ones who are mentally ill. They also do some public education and advocacy work.

Aubrey’s daughter spent several years in a mental health facility in Florida. Aubrey used to go up to see her about once a year.

“That’s a lot of money to go to Florida,” she noted.

In April of 2012, her daughter was transferred to the Eldra Shulterbrandt facility on St. Thomas and now Aubrey visits her frequently; in fact she can walk to the facility. Occasionally her daughter can make home visits too.

“She has a (grown) son. He takes her out for lunch,” Aubrey said.

She doesn’t know whether her daughter will ever recover fully enough to live on her own, but says, “All things are possible with God, so I’m hoping.”

Meanwhile, Aubrey has her hands full with other family members. One of her three sons has some mental health issues, but, she said, “He’s no problem. He’s managing.”

At the time of a recent interview, she was far more concerned about her brother. For years, he has wandered the streets of St. Thomas, basically homeless, but he stops by Aubrey’s house regularly for meals.

“I am the one who look out for him,” she said, but other family members pitch in if she isn’t home. “Mostly it’s like twice a day,” – for breakfast and for dinner. He eats and then he goes back onto the street. Like many people who are mentally ill, he also has a substance abuse problem.

He’s been in and out of the behavioral unit at the hospital many times and Aubrey is very familiar with the commitment process.

For a while, he was doing pretty well, she said. He got off drugs and he hadn’t had an “episode” for four or five years – until last year, when he went back on drugs.

The weekend Aubrey spoke to the Source, she had gone with the police to pick up her brother and take him to the behavioral unit because he was acting out. “They told me for them to pick him up, I had to be there,” she said. The next day she was busy filling out forms for commitment.

“You must submit a 723 asking them to hold them a little longer,” she said. You also have to submit a 722 form. “I would say pick up both forms at the same time.”

One used to have to go the Mental Health office in Barbel Plaza to get them, but now they are available at the hospital. “You have to be precise with dates and activities that your loved one is doing and say who saw them doing it.”

In this case, Aubrey said her brother was stepping into traffic, stopping cars to ask the occupants for money so he could buy drugs. She said she also saw him playing with a lighter, trying to set his shirt on fire.

Patients can’t be held longer than a few days unless they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, or unless they voluntarily commit themselves for treatment.

“He’s not a violent person,” she said. But he can be a danger to himself.

Aubrey appealed for understanding. People need to understand that the bizarre behavior they may see “is not the person. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick … It’s a medical illness that can be treated … Stop stigmatizing mental illness … It might be me today, tomorrow it might be you.”

Contact NAMI on St. Thomas at (340) 775-2205 or on St. Croix at (340) 626-7351. You may also contact NAMI by email at info@namistx.org.

(Next: Filling the gaps in mental health care; reasons for hope)

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This is the fourth of a five-part “Undercurrents” series examining the subject of mental illness in the Virgin Islands – its scope, its effect, and how it is and how it is not being addressed. Sonia Aubrey has five children, three sons and two daughters. Her oldest girl was about 18 when life began to change. “She was a very loving person, a very nice girl, very obedient,” Aubrey said. She went to Eudora Kean High School and later graduated from Adult Education. She worked at a couple of jobs, but was troubled and couldn’t concentrate. At first, Aubrey noticed her daughter seemed extremely depressed. She didn’t want to go outside. She began to worry about people passing by on the street; she thought people wanted to hurt her. Later there were violent outbursts. Aubrey said she was puzzled, and worried. Then one night she tuned in to a local public affairs talk show. “Doc (Randall) James had a TV show and he was talking about mental illness. I thought, ‘Maybe that’s what my daughter has …’ ” Mental health experts say a large number of people who are diagnosed with mental illness first begin to exhibit signs of the disease in their late teens or early 20s. The first indication for Aubrey’s daughter occurred more than 30 years ago. Today Aubrey knows a lot about mental illness, and she shares her knowledge and her coping skills with others as a local support group facilitator with the St. Thomas chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There’s also a chapter on St. Croix. Both Virgin Islands groups focus on family-to-family support for people with loved ones who are mentally ill. They also do some public education and advocacy work. Aubrey’s daughter spent several years in a mental health facility in Florida. Aubrey used to go up to see her about once a year. “That’s a lot of money to go to Florida,” she noted. In April of 2012, her daughter was transferred to the Eldra Shulterbrandt facility on St. Thomas and now Aubrey visits her frequently; in fact she can walk to the facility. Occasionally her daughter can make home visits too. “She has a (grown) son. He takes her out for lunch,” Aubrey said. She doesn’t know whether her daughter will ever recover fully enough to live on her own, but says, “All things are possible with God, so I’m hoping.” Meanwhile, Aubrey has her hands full with other family members. One of her three sons has some mental health issues, but, she said, “He’s no problem. He’s managing.” At the time of a recent interview, she was far more concerned about her brother. For years, he has wandered the streets of St. Thomas, basically homeless, but he stops by Aubrey’s house regularly for meals. “I am the one who look out for him,” she said, but other family members pitch in if she isn’t home. “Mostly it’s like twice a day,” – for breakfast and for dinner. He eats and then he goes back onto the street. Like many people who are mentally ill, he also has a substance abuse problem. He’s been in and out of the behavioral unit at the hospital many times and Aubrey is very familiar with the commitment process. For a while, he was doing pretty well, she said. He got off drugs and he hadn’t had an “episode” for four or five years – until last year, when he went back on drugs. The weekend Aubrey spoke to the Source, she had gone with the police to pick up her brother and take him to the behavioral unit because he was acting out. “They told me for them to pick him up, I had to be there,” she said. The next day she was busy filling out forms for commitment. “You must submit a 723 asking them to hold them a little longer,” she said. You also have to submit a 722 form. “I would say pick up both forms at the same time.” One used to have to go the Mental Health office in Barbel Plaza to get them, but now they are available at the hospital. “You have to be precise with dates and activities that your loved one is doing and say who saw them doing it.” In this case, Aubrey said her brother was stepping into traffic, stopping cars to ask the occupants for money so he could buy drugs. She said she also saw him playing with a lighter, trying to set his shirt on fire. Patients can’t be held longer than a few days unless they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, or unless they voluntarily commit themselves for treatment. “He’s not a violent person,” she said. But he can be a danger to himself. Aubrey appealed for understanding. People need to understand that the bizarre behavior they may see “is not the person. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick … It’s a medical illness that can be treated … Stop stigmatizing mental illness … It might be me today, tomorrow it might be you.” Contact NAMI on St. Thomas at (340) 775-2205 or on St. Croix at (340) 626-7351. You may also contact NAMI by email at info@namistx.org. (Next: Filling the gaps in mental health care; reasons for hope)