RICHMOND, Va.— A Virginia state senator whose mentally ill adult son attacked him before killing himself said Monday the stigma attached to mental health issues has resulted in a lack of awareness and support that leaves the mentally ill to “struggle in silence.”
Sen. R. Creigh Deeds appeared on “CBS This Morning” to discuss his difficulty in getting treatment for his son Austin “Gus” Deeds before his Nov. 19 knife attack at their isolated Bath County homestead. Deeds said his 24-year-old son’s mental illness began to manifest itself after he turned 18.
Deeds, whose face bears scars from his son’s attack, said he and his wife struggled to get the most basic information about Gus Deeds’ mental illness.
“There’s a lack of information, there’s a lack of communications, and frankly my concern is that because there’s such a stigma attached to mental health, there’s a lack of overall awareness,” Deeds said, based on a transcript provided by “CBS This Morning.” ”There’s an inequity in the way we treat people with mental illness.”
Gus Deeds attacked his father less than one day after he was released from emergency custody because Virginia law does not allow people to be held against their will longer than six hours under such an order.
Sen. Deeds has introduced legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to extend the six-hour period to 24 hours. He said most states provide 24 hours and up to 72 hours to make an initial evaluation.
“We need to get in line with everybody else,” Deeds said. “When it’s been determined that that person’s in crisis and needs service, there should not be a possibility that they are streeted.”
Deeds, who has pledged to reform Virginia’s mental health system, said society must elevate the treatment of the mentally ill.
“If you’ve got a heart attack, if you’ve got cancer, you’re going to get treatment. There are protocols developed,” Deeds said. “But the mentally ill struggle in silence often.”
In a segment Sunday night on “60 Minutes,” Deeds recalled the morning of the attack outside his home and his pleas for his son to stop.
“He was just on me. He got me twice, stabbed me twice,” Deeds said.
“He just kept coming at me. I said ‘Gus, I love you so much. Don’t make this any worse than it is.’ He just kept coming at me.”
The elder Deeds was able to stagger to the road for help.
Deeds said he had read one of son’s notebooks before the attack.
“He had determined that I had to die, that I was an evil man, that he was going to execute me, and then he was going to go straight to heaven,” Deeds said.
He also recalled an exchange he had with a mental health official the day before the attack.
“He said that Gus wasn’t suicidal,” Deeds said. “I said, ‘The system failed my son tonight.'”
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