The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Parents of Keaton Otis hope his death can lead to mental health reforms

Here is an article that gives you just a glimmer of a glimpse into the chaos and disturbance of mental illness, not only on the individual, but also on the people around that person.  This is such a tragic story and should have been avoided.  This family was well informed and prepared to navigate through the various “channels” necessary to get a loved one some help, but even they met with difficulty and dead-ends.  There needs to be a better way to get help for someone you love.  That said, there needs to be a better understanding of exactly what “help” can and cannot do.

Please read the entire article and leave me a comment, won’t you?



Jamie Francis/The OregonianJoseph and Felesia Otis hope their son’s death can help lead to reforms in the mental health system. They were trying to get him help when a confrontation with Portland police led to his death.Felesia Otis watched her outgoing, artistic son, who studied graphic design and architectural drawing at Benson Polytechnic High School, slowly deteriorate into a mentally ill recluse.

Keaton Otis kept to his room, avoided contact with people and hardly talked or ate.

“It’s been such a devastating couple of years,” Otis said, speaking of the struggles she and her husband had trying to get care for her only child.

“When you accept that your bright, creative son who had all the possibility in the world, and now isn’t able to do anything — it’s the most horrifying experience and gives you a sense of powerlessness.”

Keaton Otis, 25, was shot and killed by Portland police last month after he wounded an officer during a traffic stop. The barrage of gunfire on that May 12 evening immediately became a high-profile case, but the Otis family says the struggles began many years earlier.

As the clinical director for Volunteers of America, helping prison inmates transition back to the community, and the clinical adviser to the Portland police Services Coordination Team, which finds treatment for repeat offenders, Felesia Otis knows what resources exist.

But still, she said, she couldn’t get the help her son needed.

View full sizeCourtesy Otis familyThe Otis family gathers their new dog Hana in 2007. From left are Felesia, Keaton and Joseph. Keaton died in a confrontation with police on May 12.Felesia Otis feared her son was starving to death, but a psychiatric nurse practitioner told her that Keaton didn’t meet the criteria for a mental health commitment.

So now Felesia Otis, 50, and her husband, Joseph Otis, 51, are speaking out. They are pushing for reforms that would broaden the “imminent danger” requirement for mental health commitments, set up a formal way to assess a person’s risk to themselves, and provide alternative avenues for immediate mental health care.

“For us, this has been a longer-term journey than what happened that night between Keaton and the police,” Felesia Otis said. “Even with all that I had at my disposal and knowing what I know, I still couldn’t get him the help that he needed, still couldn’t intervene in a way that could help my son.

“It’s horribly sad for us, but it’s also horribly sad for those families that don’t even know what they’re looking at.”

Born in Portland, Keaton grew up in Southeast. From an early age, he loved to build with the handmade wood blocks his grandfather gave him. He attended Sabin and Buckman elementary schools, where he befriended other kids easily.

During his early teens at Hosford Middle School, he joined the Prospective Gents Club, a group that supports young African American males, working to build character and help them through college.

After graduating from Benson, Keaton developed interests in film and photography and began his own business, hand-designing T-shirts and jackets. He had planned to study at Portland State University but spent several years living with cousins in Canada before returning to Portland in 2007.

That’s when his mother noticed he was suffering from depression. He also started to say things that didn’t make sense. “Mom, I think somebody is crawling up under the house,” or “Why is that guy across the street standing?”

It escalated to a point where Keaton would tell her and her husband to whisper in the house, concerned someone was taking his ideas and making money off them. Soon, Keaton wouldn’t talk to his mom unless they were driving in the car.

On his birthday, Jan. 4, 2008, he agreed to see the psychiatric nurse practitioner, who prescribed an antipsychotic and antidepressant. Soon, he complained that the drugs “fogged his mind” and blocked his creative juices […more…]

Here is the link to the original article as well as many, many comments from other readers.  Feel free to add your comments there, also.

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June 18, 2010 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , ,

1 Comment »

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