Des Moines woman says her efforts to aid mentally ill son were in vain — (Indy Star)

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Indy Star

11:46 PM, Jul. 26, 2011 |

Linda Hill has buried two of her four children in the past five years.

On Friday, she’ll bury a third.

Hill learned Sunday evening that her son Brian, 43, who wrestled with mental illness, most likely jumped off a bridge to his death.

“They found his body in the gravel by the railroad tracks under a bridge,” Hill said. “I had four children. Now three of the four are gone.”

The Polk County medical examiner’s office has not yet ruled on the manner of death in the Brian Hill case; Des Moines police say no foul play is suspected.

Linda Hill said her son killed himself. In recent days, it appeared his demons were getting the upper hand, she said.

Hill said she tried to get help for her son but ran into roadblocks. Instead of seeing her son get better, she watched him fall into a destructive downward spiral that included hearing voices.

“There just was no help for him,” Hill said. “Everyone I talked to was so negative and so abrupt. No one was willing to help. So I thought it was up to me. I thought if I could just get enough meds in him, I could turn him around. But he jumped before we got to that point.”

Over the past five or so years, Iowa policymakers and others repeatedly have shone a light on what they describe as a fractured mental health system. The state has a shortage of mental health physicians and ranks near the bottom of the nation in psychiatric beds per capita, studies have shown.

The issue was brought to the forefront in 2009 after Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas was shot to death by Mark Becker, who the day before the shooting had been released from a hospital’s psychiatric ward.

Earlier this month, Margaret Stout, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Iowa, said the general public doesn’t understand mental illness.

“Some people are prevented from getting the help they need until there is a crisis,” Stout told The Des Moines Register.

Linda Hill, who lost an adult daughter to an illness in 2006 and another adult son in 2007 in a traffic accident, said Brian was at the crisis stage.

In early July, Hill said, she admitted Brian to a psychiatric unit at a Des Moines hospital. He didn’t stay there long because he hit someone and was sent to the Polk County Jail.

Officials said earlier that nearly 20 percent of inmates at the jail indicate they have a mental illness when they are booked in. Sheriff Bill McCarthy said he thinks the actual number is higher.

Brian was released from jail July 18.

“I took his car keys and his house keys because I wanted him to stay with me so I could get a couple weeks’ worth of Prozac in him,” Linda Hill said. “It doesn’t work immediately. He’d been taking it for a week. I was trying to get to two weeks but we didn’t make it.”

She said Brian had apparently stopped taking the medicine earlier this year because it seemed to make him tired.

She said her son’s personality changed this year. The destructive behavior was new.

Brian was a painter who had been wrapped up in drug use for years. He’d been clean for almost a year, but recently he’d been troubled by voices in his head, said his aunt, Ray Ann Scione.

He’d told relatives that God had been telling him to confront his enemies, and that he’d be punished if he didn’t. Brian had been reading the Bible every day, Linda Hill said.

“He didn’t want to go back to jail,” his mother said. “He spent every last dollar he had in his checking account on bond money. He was broke; he’d pawned his painting equipment for bond money. He had no food. He had court cases to worry about, and I had his car keys and his house keys.”

About two days before his body was found under the bridge, Brian walked away from his mother’s home after Linda Hill asked him to go outside to smoke his cigarette. He complied and then disappeared.

Brian’s body was found Sunday evening by railroad employees under a bridge in the 1900 block of Guthrie Avenue, not far from where he lived.

Linda Hill weeps when she recalls driving over the bridge several times during the weekend while looking for her son.

“I can’t imagine the turmoil going on in his head in the moments before he jumped,” Hill said. “It must have been unimaginable.”