Angela Vickers's Story
After my first and only known manic episode, in 1988, my husband's attorney
told him he must file for divorce to protect our young children. We divorced,
but I received custody of the children, as I had quickly stabilized and
recovered on lithium.
Six years later, when my children began having their own behavioral problems,
a new family law judge set up a chain of events that resulted in my permanent
alienation from my children.
My children went off to spend half of the summer of 1994 with their dad,
as they had done the previous five summers. They never came home; they
have not spent a single night in my home since 1994. The court order did
not even give me supervised visitation. I never even got to tell my children
goodbye, or to try and explain why they were losing their mother.
Even after writing the Jacksonville Bar Association, the Florida Bar,
and the Florida Supreme Court, I could not find a single lawyer to help
me. (Ironically I am a member of the Florida Bar.) There was no justice.
My search was embarrassing and painful. Do you know that some lawyers
will turn down cases just because you have a mental illness diagnosis?
After losing my children, I began a new job. The second day at work, my
medical insurance application required me to list my physicians and medications.
I take lithium; I have done so continuously since I was first diagnosed
Five weeks later, my weekly paycheck was written by a newly created corporation
of fewer than 15 employees. This corporation was created so that I would
have no ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) rights. Again, no justice.
So I had lost my husband, my children, and my career. But then I was
called to a new career, which was most challenging and rewarding, among
the most inspiring people I have ever met. I was called to be a mental
health advocate and educator.
The Florida Supreme Court heard my plea and, in a landmark Bar Rules change,
has allowed all Florida lawyers the opportunity to learn basic facts about
mental illnesses through continuing legal education courses.
To borrow from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., we will not be " free
at last" until all school children grow up learning that they can
get mental illnesses and recover, just as they can get heart disease and
recover, or heal a broken leg. National student education about mental
illness will solve the mental health crisis and educate all future leaders.
Borrowing from the Reverend King again, justice demands that we "Let
freedom ring" in our nation's courthouses, with lawyers and judges
who understand mental illnesses; in our jails and prisons so inmates will
be properly diagnosed and properly treated for their mental illnesses;
through our news and entertainment industry, as writers teach Americans
the truth about both mental illness and recovery; and in America's classrooms,
so other mothers and other employees will not suffer as I have, due to
ignorance and misunderstanding.
When the media, educators, faith leaders, and the legal community all
work together, we will stop the needless destruction of our families, the
addictions, the incarcerations, and the tragic suicides.
Ending stigma and discrimination through education will restore, once
and forever, justice for all.