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A Balcony View: Mental health care must improve

August 10, 2010

While this story begins and ends in Glendale, most of what occurs takes place in Alhambra. It's the true story of a teenager living in Glendale and a broken mental-health-care system that failed to help him.

Like many teenagers, the one in this story has plenty of free time on his hands during the summer. With boredom his constant companion, the boy defies his mother's wishes and invites friends over while she is at work.

When the mother finds out, she informs him there will be consequences. Not wanting to face them, the boy runs out of the apartment. A short time later, he returns, still defiant, now demanding money for a haircut.

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When the mother refuses, things escalate quickly and the boy becomes agitated. He pulls a knife from the kitchen drawer and threatens to kill her and himself.

The mother, frightened, leaves the house and calls the father. The two have been divorced for almost six years.

"I'm going to call the police," she tells him.

This is not the first time their son has had discipline issues, and at the moment, calling the police doesn't seem like the worst idea. Even though the father does not believe for a minute that his son would carry out such a threat, he feels both obligated and reluctant to agree with the mother.

The father immediately calls the teenager. He asks him why such threats were made. The boy stumbles through a series of teenage excuses and rationalizations. The father explains the seriousness of the situation, making sure the boy knows consequences are on the way.

The father pulls up to the mother's apartment. Glendale police officers are already outside the apartment building, talking to the mother and her boyfriend. The father motions to one of the officers that his son is on the line.

"Make sure he doesn't have anything in his hands," one officer says as they approach the building.

A feeling of dread washes over the father.

The father asks the teenager to remain calm. He tells the boy that his mother and her boyfriend are coming back in the apartment. He does not mention the police. The teenager is adamant that the boyfriend stays away.

"I hate him," he says.

Over the phone, the father hears someone talking to his son. Then the phone goes dead. Another police officer tells the father to wait outside the apartment building. From the sidewalk, the father watches helplessly as his ex-wife and her boyfriend talk to the police.

Twenty minutes go by.

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