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Mom Started It.

When people ask me why I work for Disability Rights Nebraska, I respond, “I had a family member with a mental illness.” The family member was my late mother.

In 1973, my Dad had started a new job and lacked health insurance to cover private care for Mom. She had developed an acute manic episode, and her psychiatrist recommended hospitalization. A judge determined that she was a danger to herself and committed her to the public hospital under emergency protective custody.

The process was excruciating for all of us, especially Mom. Some of what I saw as a 16-year old girl visiting Mom in a publicly-funded psychiatric hospital still motivates me at work today. The hospital was undergoing renovation. Geriatric and psychiatric patients were combined into one unit. Mom was 55 at the time, and too young to be on a geriatric ward. The unit was chaotic, with staffers scrambling to wipe up a spill in the middle of the day hall. During one visit, I heard my mother calling my name. She was sitting in a restraint chair, arms wiggling, screaming to have the restraints removed. I was horrified.

By middle age, Mom had gained some weight, but at 5’ 2” tall, she was not much of a physical threat to anyone else, especially the men on the mixed-gender unit. Back then, I hadn’t heard the phrase, but the term “staff convenience” now comes to mind as the hospital’s rationale for strapping my mother to a chair. At the time, I discussed my concerns with Mom’s hospital social worker, but she brushed me off because I was young.

In subsequent years, Mom went voluntarily to private hospitals when her medications failed her. Fortunately, her stays were brief, and Mom told us the care at the private hospitals was better. She never reported being restrained or secluded in a private hospital. In fact, Mom said her psychiatrist had told her she could probably have been offered treatment in a hotel-like setting.

Meanwhile, I began my journalism career. As I approached mid-life, I felt myself searching for something more personally meaningful. I joined the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and met other family members and consumers advocating for consumer-friendly mental health services. I learned about Disability Rights Nebraska, then called Nebraska Advocacy Services, and became a Case Advocate at the agency.
Over the years, my newspaper skills have been useful in investigating abuse and neglect of people with all disabilities. While working at Disability Rights Nebraska, I earned a master’s degree in counseling from Doane University in Lincoln. Although I never became a licensed mental health professional – and I’m careful not to hold myself out as one - I learned useful skills for my present job.

This year will mark my 16th year at Disability Rights Nebraska. Mom died years ago, and never lived to see me enter advocacy work. Nonetheless, I think she’d be proud that I am improving lives of people with disabilities, especially those with mental illnesses.

Molly Klocksin has been a Case Advocate at Disability Rights Nebraska for nearly 16 years following a career in journalism and media relations. She investigates abuse and neglect of people with disabilities, including mental illness. Klocksin earned a B.A. degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and an M.A. in Counseling from Doane University, Lincoln.