A family's story of son's mental illness

courtesy Times Standard, Eureka CA
June 1, 2000

"A Cry for Help, In the Forgotten World of the Mentally Ill" has been co-authored by Eleanor Kruse of Fortuna and her son, Neal Kruse.
"It is a true story of the life and tragic death of my youngest son, Hal Kruse, who suffered mental illness for many years living in Monterey County." reports Eleanor Kruse, who herself moved to Humboldt County with her husband in 1993.
"At the age of 41," she continued, "our son lost all hope of ever getting well and took his own life. His brother, Neal, literally became his 'brother's keeper' the last few months of his life. He did everything possible to make Hal's life more tolerable, and wrote his account of what he experienced working with the mental health system and trying to help his brother."
Hal, his family reports, was a normal, fun-loving child. They believe his brain disorder can be "traced back to a choking incident he had as a 6-year-old. The accident resulted in a very high body temperature and possible loss of oxygen to his brain.
The remainder of Hal's childhood was an increasingly fearful one.
It was followed by the teen years of drug experimentation, dropping out of school and drug rehabilitation programs. Hal eventually became a ward of the Monterey County mental health system, Kruse states.
In his early 30s, Hal received a diagnosis from a psychologist as an individual with "severe emotional problems that appeared to be made worse by an organic impairment."  There was also "evidence of clinical depression and debilitating anxiety."
No one, Neal Kruse writes, seemed to be able to treat someone with Hal's diagnosis.
"The system subjected Hal to what they thought he 'needed' and assumed that if he would only stay clean and be sober, he would do fine," he writes. "The answer to Hal's struggles was far more complex and even beyond their comprehension."
"I wish I were mentally retarded instead of mentally ill because then I wouldn't know what was wrong with me and I could be happy."
-- Hal Kruse
The self-published book reprints family photographs and poignant letters written by Hal and his late father.
Hal once wrote: "I wish I were mentally retarded instead of mentally ill because then I wouldn't know what was wrong with me and I could be happy."
The book is a mixture of the family's feelings about their son, their faith, and their criticism of the "system" - the regulations and professional practices that they came to believe are detrimental for patients with mental illness. It also offers a plea for a change in attitude by the public at large.
"Physically handicapped people have their needs addressed (parking spaces, ramps, etc.)," Neal writes. "...We must give the mentally ill the same dignity and respect we expect of ourselves. Too often the mentally ill are treated as second class citizens or animals."
"Passing judgment on another human being," Neal Kruse writes, "should forever remain exclusively the providence of God."

"A Cry for Help" ($5.98, 52 pages) is available in Eureka at One Way Christian Book Shop, in Arcata at Northtown Books, in Fortuna at Shining Light Book Store and in Monterey at Monterey Bible Bookstore.
It is also in all Humboldt County public libraries.
Eleanor Kruse is available for speaking engagements. She may be e-mailed at ekruse@humboldt1.com or contacted at (707) 725-1901, (707) 726-0370 FAX.