Boy suffering from mental illness keeps family living in fear for their safety

CINCINNATI -- A mass school shooting is every parent's worst nightmare, but a mother in Oakley worries that her son's behavior could become tragic.

"I see the writing on the wall," Brown said. "All I can do is just keep fighting."

Her 13-year-old son, Max, suffers from a mental illness which causes violent outbursts and unstable behavior that make his family fear for their safety.

Brown fights through the struggle but worries what might happen next when 13-year-old Max acts out. In March, Max was expelled from school. Since then, Brown has homeschooled him.

"He was hitting teachers, throwing things at teachers," she said. "Max was violent. Max was asked to leave school for throwing furniture, for attacking children, for using inappropriate and offensive language."

The misbehavior started when Max was just 3-years-old, when doctors diagnosed him with early onset bipolar disorder. As he grew up, doctors detected autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in Max's extreme temperament.

He deals with a medical condition that disrupts how he thinks, feels, his mood, his ability to relate to others and how he functions daily, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The condition lessens Max's ability to cope with everyday demands.

RELATED: Contact NAMI of Hamilton County

The boy's unpredictable actions are so severe that he has never been invited to a birthday party.

"Life at our house is very different from most people's lives," Brown said. "We don't socialize with the dinners and the playgrounds because it's really that different."

The Brown family lives in isolation - a mother on her own. Despite Brown's hopes, Max's condition has gone downhill as he's shown more signs of abusive behavior.

"He says very clearly when he gets angry, he wants to hurt someone," Brown said.

In April, Brown was forced to call police when Max attacked his brother, kicking and punching him. She said she has had to call police before.

For now, Brown spends her days caring for her son and trying to get him help. She lives in constant worry for the safety of Max and his brother, Owen. She attends as many meetings as she can to find help and support from counselors, service providers and school officials.

She's now on a waitlist for services.

"It's probably gonna be a month and a half," she said.

The services Brown needs for her family come with a high price tag. In 2013, Brown quit her job so she could become eligible for Medicaid funding.

"We are not poor enough and we are not wealthy enough to get what Max needs," she said.

The Brown family joins others in the Tri-State who wait for a child psychiatrist. Dr. Michael Sorter of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center said there's a shortage of openings.

"The number of child psychiatrists is probably about one fourth of what it needs to be," Sorter said. "There's only about 8,830 in the country. And we need about 30,000."

Counselors suggest residential treatment is the best-case scenario for Max and Owen. But with no openings, Max's care is left solely in the hands of his mother.

"It's really hard, really, really hard," Brown said.

For children with special needs, Children's Hospital recommends families to get insurance coverage, seek financial assistance programs if needed, search for a doctor who cares for an age-specific group of kids and consider how far away a treatment facility is from the family's home.

RELATED: List of mental health resources in Ohio

In the United States, about 4 million children suffer from severe mental illness. Families of children with special needs are finding the same struggle the Browns face - treatment is expensive, and there aren't enough doctors to go around.

Even though Max is among the  4 million children living with severe mental disorders, NAMI says there's hope for recovery. As kids become familiar with their illness, they start to recognize unique patterns of behavior and can eventually stop relapses from happening. 

"Recovery is a holistic process that includes traditional elements of mental health and aspects that extend beyond medication," NAMI says. "Recovery from serious mental illness also includes attaining, and maintaining, physical health as another cornerstone of wellness."

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