Jeanie Kitterman was sitting in church when her cellphone rang unexpectedly. She quickly silenced it, but someone was determined to reach her, and followed up with a text.
It was a friend who wanted her to know that her 21-year-old son, Cameron Kitterman, was posting online threats about suicide.
Her son, since fall 2017, has displayed abnormal and erratic behavior, she said, at times becoming violent toward her, landing him in jail on multiple occasions. The behavior started after he experienced a grand mal seizure — the cause of which remains unknown — which forced him to drop out of college in Florida and move home, she said.
Cameron Kitterman has been hospitalized for suspected mental illness but has yet to receive a specific diagnosis — both times he was released with active psychosis, his mother said. Meanwhile, she said her son lacks insight on what’s going on.
“I respect his rights not to want to be on medication, but he’s not in his right mind to make that choice,” she said.
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Jeanie Kitterman, 41, of Vancouver has obtained a less restrictive alternative, or LRA — a court-ordered outpatient treatment plan — but her son wouldn’t follow it, she said, and it later expired. She’s sought out guardianship rights but was told by an attorney it would be best if a guardian was appointed for her son. She said the attorney told her no one would take her son on, however. She once called the county crisis line four days straight, she said, but by the time someone could come out, her son had already been arrested for assaulting her.
“It’s the most helpless situation I have ever encountered in my life,” Jeanie Kitterman said. “Every which way I go, it’s frustrating. There’s an obstacle in every single situation.”
Jeanie Kitterman met with the attorneys in her son’s criminal case to discuss his options. She wanted to work out a deal to include a mental health evaluation and Mental Health Court, but he denied having a mental illness, and a competency evaluation was never requested. He later pleaded guilty, and as part of his sentence, was ordered to undergo a mental health treatment program, court records show. There was no follow through, however, because the Department of Corrections later determined he wasn’t eligible for supervision.
In his most recent case, the prosecution dismissed a charge of second-degree assault — Cameron Kitterman allegedly attacked his mother and tried to strangle her — citing the reason for the dismissal “in the interests of justice.” Jeanie Kitterman said her son refused to sign a speedy trial waiver, and no one was prepared to go to trial, so the case was dismissed.
“I feel like I’m constantly living in this, and nobody is listening. I’m terrified that he’s going to hurt somebody or himself, and then that responsibility is going to be on him. I’m terrified he’s going to end up in prison. It’s impossible to get help,” she said.
Since he was released from jail, Cameron Kitterman has been homeless. Earlier this month, his mother moved him into the men’s shelter Share House in downtown Vancouver. She said his mental health has gotten progressively worse, and she made an appointment for him at Rainier Springs — Vancouver’s new behavioral health hospital. But he became angry, she said, and told her he wouldn’t stay there.
Then on Jan. 20, Jeanie Kitterman invited her son to church. He would only stay in the lobby, however, and acted terrified if anyone approached him, she said.
After her friend contacted her, she stepped outside to call the crisis line, saw police officers in the parking lot and flagged them down. She showed them her son’s threats, prompting them to hospitalize him. But Cameron Kitterman was released hours later and jumped out of an Uber his mother ordered for him. Jeanie Kitterman said she later learned through the National Alliance of Mental Illness or NAMI Southwest Washington that the hospital didn’t order an assessment, for whatever reason.
“I feel for my son, it makes me feel like a horrible parent sharing (his story), but I want to help him in any way I can. I want people to not be afraid of him … but people need to understand that this is an illness, and he can get better,” Jeanie Kitterman said.
She’s planning to file a Joel’s Law petition in Clark County Superior Court this week. It allows Washington families to petition a court to involuntarily commit a mentally ill loved one.
“I’m just hoping my son can have a normal life. I want him to be stabilized somewhere, and when he gets stabilized, he can understand what is going on,” she said.
Mental Health Statistics
• In 2016, there were an estimated 10.4 million adults age 18 or older in the United States with serious mental illness, according to statistics from the National Institute on Mental Health. This number represented 4.2 percent of all U.S. adults.
• Only about half of those with serious mental illness ages 18 to 25 received treatment in 2016, according to statistics from the National Institute on Mental Health.
• People with serious mental illnesses have a 10 to 25-year life expectancy reduction, according to stats from the World Health Organization. A vast majority of those deaths are from cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases, diabetes and hypertension, as well as suicide. People with serious mental illnesses are less likely to receive good health and social care, according to WHO.
• Mortality rates among people with schizophrenia is 2 to 2.5 times higher than the general population, according to WHO. People with bipolar mood disorders have high mortality rates ranging from 35 percent higher to twice as high as the general population.
• According to a 2014 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center, about 20% of inmates in jails and 15% of inmates in state prisons have a serious mental illness.
• That would have meant there were about 356,000 inmates with serious mental illness in jails and state prisons. The number is expected to have risen since, according to the Advocacy Center.
• The average bed rate at Western State Hospital is $790 a day, while enhanced service facilities cost $425 per day and adult family homes just $95, according to the Seattle Times.
• 190,078 people in Washington have serious bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia. That number places Washington 13th highest in the U.S., according to 2017 stats from the Treatment Advocacy Center.
• 90,223 Washingtonians have serious untreated bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia, according to 2017 stats from the Treatment Advocacy Center.
• 70 percent of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness, according to statistics from the National Institute on Mental Health.
How to get Help
• Behavioral health crisis services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling the Southwest Washington Crisis Line at 800-626-8137 or text at 866-835-2755
• NAMI SW WA can be reached at 360-695-2823
• The National Suicide Prevention line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255