The battle to live with and treat mental illness in the Quad Cities

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DAVENPORT, Iowa - The demand for mental illness treatment is here, in the Quad Cities area, but the debate over who delivers that treatment - and where it is delivered - is still contentious.emergency scanner

"Sometimes he's in a good mood when he's feeling great, but sometimes there will be a week or so where he's feeling irritable," says Tara Witherow, the mother of Matthew, a 9-year-old boy who lives with mental illness.

Read More: Hospitals fight over who can best provide mental health care, and where

The Witherow family has dealt with the effects of mental illness every day since Matthew was diagnosed when he turned four.

"He would tell me things like, 'I want to hurt myself, I don't want to be here,'" says Tara.

Matthew suffers from rage that sometimes leads to suicide threats that land the family in the emergency room. Tara says there needs to be other treatment options in the Quad Cities.

"I would like to see something a bit more long-term, something he could go for a couple weeks and work on his coping skills, re-situate himself, think about what he can do better or different," says Tara.

Sometimes, 911 is a lifeline for people living with mental illness.

Law enforcement forced to cope as well

And then, there are the people on the other end of those calls.

"Approximately 28 percent of the people in the jails are receiving treatment for some type of mental health issue," says Scott County Sheriff Dennis Conard.

Whether it's responding to suicidal 911 calls or treating prisoners with mental illness behind bars, Sheriff Conard says he sees the need for more mental health services every day.

"The major reason is the lack of treatment available on the outside for individuals," says Conard.

The Sheriff says on any given day, more than 90 prisoners are treated for mental health issues.

"It's a dual-edged sword, mental health and substance abuse. And many times the people are abusing substances as a self medication for their mental health issues. So it's a huge problem," says Conard.

And when a new psychiatric hospital was blocked from building in the Quad Cities, Conard was at the meeting where that happened.

He says he was extremely disappointed with the decision.

"The unwillingness of individuals to sit down together and solve a common problem, that is the worst situation we are dealing with," says Conard.

Frightening reality of limited options ambulance at emergency entrance

It's a nightmare Cathy has been living with for more than a decade. It started when her son Cory turned 20.

"I can't sleep at night when he's out on the streets. I've been trying to do tough love, but it's very hard," says Cathy.

Cathy says she would rather her son be in jail so she knows at least he would be safe.

Because her son can't get the help he needs to properly treat his mental illness, Cathy says he drinks and uses drugs to deal with them himself.

After countless emergency room visits, a week inpatient stay at the Robert Young Center, multiple 30-day programs, and even jail time, Cathy's biggest fear is her son has simply run out of options. 

"I don't know what we are going to do with him. I expect to bury him," says Cathy.

The only way this nightmare could end in Cathy's eyes is by bringing more long term methods of mental health treatment to the Quad Cities.

"I can't do this anymore. The whole family has given up on him. He has no friends. He needs help, and we can't find the help," says Cathy.

Not giving up

Meanwhile, Tara still has hope for her nine-year-old's future.

"My hope is that he can get in a good place, at taking his medications and coping skills to make sure he's stable, make sure he's happy and healthy and can go to school and do whatever he wants for a career, and have a good happy life," says Tara.

But, Tara says, that's only if the mental health need is met in the community.

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