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San Diego Mother Searching For Her Mentally Ill Son

Evening Edition

Above: People suffering from serious mental illness such as schizophrenia often refuse treatment because they don't know they're sick. The county is reviewing the mental health services available to thousands of people who are resistant to treatment. Anita Fisher is an advocate for involuntary treatment programs. Her son, Pharoh, suffers from schizophrenia. Last week he was released from Donovan State Prison, and he's been missing ever since. Here's her story.

People suffering from serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often refuse treatment because they don't know they're sick. San Diego County is in the process of reviewing the mental health services available to thousands of people living in the county who are resistant to treatment.

Anita Fisher is the education director for the San Diego chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She became a mental health advocate when her son, Pharoh Degree, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Before Degree was diagnosed, he was a medic in the United States Army and was stationed at Walter Reed Hospital.

“As parents we thought, 'wow, he’s on his way,'” Fisher said.

“I have noticed over these 14 years that when he is untreated he is very, very ill but when he is accepting his treatment regime, he also does extremely well,” Fisher said.

In a video Fisher recorded in 2010, Degree said he had gotten a lot of help in his recovery.

“I am now certified to be a peer support specialist, I am a peer mentor and I now work for NAMI as a peer helpline specialist. I just wanted to share my story with you all and tell you that with hope, God and support, recovery is possible,” he said.

“Because my son has an added feature to his diagnosis, schizophrenia and addictive illness, he often time ends up on the streets homeless and he ends up being arrested, goes to jail or prison,” Fisher said.

Fisher said if she’d been able to get her son involuntary treatment, he would not have gone back to prison this last time.

Degree was released from Donovan State Prison on July 10 and he’s been missing ever since.

“That has been one of the most stressful times when we don’t know where he is in order to assist him to engage in treatment,” she said.

Fisher said she knew that her son had stopped taking his medication while in prison.

“We end up in this situation where he’s not connected to services. He just walks out and he’s probably on the streets, could be anywhere here in San Diego County,
" she said.

Fisher said she’ll have to wait until her son is arrested to find out where he is.

“I literally have ‘who’s in jail’ on my favorites on my computer because every day, I now have to check it a couple of times a day to see if he’s been picked up,” she said.

Fisher said if her son is listening, she would tell him to please call.

“We only want to help you, we love you, we miss you and we want to help you.”

Next week KPBS Midday Edition and KPBS Evening Edition will air a special series on navigating the mental health system in San Diego County.

This story was produced with support from the USC Annenberg/California Endowment Health Journalism fellowship.

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