Chandler man details his mother's struggle to raise awareness about mental health treatment
Allen Carson witnessed at an early age what can happen when a mental health condition goes untreated.
His mother, Mannie Sue Wantland, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1963. She went off her treatment at times and had relapses. Eventually, the state took custody of her children.
In 1989, Wantland was caring for her 4-year-old daughter and drowned the child in a toilet at the downtown Oklahoma City bus station. Carson said he was shocked by his little sister's death and couldn't understand how his mother could do such a thing.
“I remember reading that and feeling like all of my insides fell out on the ground. At that point, I really didn't understand,” he said.
Now, as a consultant with Oklahoma Systems of Care for children with mental health disorders, Carson said he spends his time reaching out to families and trying to help them understand their child's condition.
On the move
At an early age, Carson, 39, of Chandler, said he remembers his mother leaving him and his sister alone for days and weeks at a time. Sometimes they would visit neighbors or spend the night at their older siblings' houses.
“Growing up in my home, I always thought that what we had was normal. I didn't know there was anything wrong with it,” he said.
When he was 8, his mother came back one night and took him and his older sister on a drive. The family ended up spending a few nights in motels and even slept in the car by the Wiley Post Airport, Carson said.
His mother eventually drove them back to the house to change clothes. That's when police cars surrounded the house, he said.
A vivid image Carson remembers is the sound of his mother crying and screaming, “Don't take my babies!”
“They took my mom in one car and my sister and I in another. We didn't have any idea where we were going to go or what was going to happen,” he said.
A shift to normalcy
Carson spent the next year in foster homes and shelters before being able to move in with his older brother. Being able to build friendships and stay in the same school was a refreshing change, he said.
At age 12, he started talking with his mom about moving back home with her and his little sister, Teresa. In the end, he decided against the move and ceased all contact with his mother. Carson said he felt bad about getting her hopes up, but told a judge a year later that he never wanted to see her again.
“I didn't really know how to face my mom after making these plans,” he said.
From middle school to high school, things started looking up for Carson. He was about to become the second person in his family to graduate from high school and had just been accepted to the University of Oklahoma when he received staggering news.
His sister Teresa had died at the hands of his mother, who said she feared the end of the world and tried to baptize her daughter in a bus station toilet before the rapture.
Today, Carson encourages people to reach out for support and treatment if they are diagnosed with a mental illness.
“I mean if she would have stayed taking her medication, stayed going to therapy, stayed doing the things she needed to do, my mom was fairly stable and Teresa could have probably stayed in the home and been fairly safe,” he said.
To raise awareness about children's mental health, several statewide and community organizations have teamed up to participated in a picnic celebration at 3:30 p.m. Monday at the state Capitol.
Lynn Golberg, communication and events specialist for Oklahoma Systems of Care, said the day will consist of outdoor activities and training opportunities for families to learn about service providers.
“We want to bring awareness to the children's behavioral health system in Oklahoma and to prevent stigma,” she said. “We want all Oklahomans to feel comfortable talking about brain disorders.”
According to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, about 39,000 children in the state are living with a serious mental health condition.
Gary Blau, chief of the Child Adolescent and Family branch of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said there is a lack of mental health treatment for children across the country. He said about 70 percent of the youth that need treatment don't receive it.
Other data have helped the agency discover that about 20 percent of youth ages 0-21 have a diagnosable mental health condition, Blau said.
“We're constantly evolving our knowledge,” he said. “I think we're going to get better at treatment and identification issues. It's important that we're attending to all of these concerns. Children can and do get better, especially with the right help.”