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One mother's battle with her son's mental illness

6:59 PM, Dec 20, 2012   |    comments
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ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- "I missed the road, I don't know."

Denise Haynes has made several wrong turns trying to find her son. As she makes another U-turn in heavy Alpharetta traffic, she says, "I think he'll stick out like a sore thumb."

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Denise Haynes is searching for Phillip, her only child. She has not seen him in months and is terrified what she'll find.

"Not knowing is horrific, and knowing is horrific," she said.

Denise said Phillip was a typical, slightly quirky, video game obsessed kid, home schooled and bright.

"He was funny, nice, articulate, intelligent, very social," she said. 

But then he began to change less than two years ago.

"I saw him withdrawing," she said. "It was that lone wolf syndrome. He started to withdraw. He started to not do anything."

Denise said her 25-year-old son thought he was King Solomon and that he had 500 wives.

"And he would look at women until he thought their faces turned red. I know it sounds bizarre, but it's true." When asked if she was scared of her son, Denise answered, "At times, yes. Because he made me very uncomfortable."

She had him committed this summer. He was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and delusions but was let out of the facility because they did not find he was a threat to himself or others.

The stack of papers that sits on Denise's kitchen table is the story of her search for help for Phillip, with every avenue winding up a dead end. Because he was not threatening others or himself, there was nothing she could do because he was an adult, and he refused help.

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Then he disappeared.

"I thought he was dead," she said. "We were calling hospitals."

For Denise, the Connecticut shootings were horrible, but possible. She said when she saw the news, "I started to shake. In my own mind, I could see how that could happen." 

She imagined what Adam Lanza's mother had gone through before her life was ended by her son. "I really don't think she thought her son was a killer. I really don't think so. I don't think my son is, but after seeing that, he could be. I'm not willing to take the chance."

The day of the shootings, Denise heard Phillip was living behind an abandoned shopping center just minutes from her apartment. We went with her, and she searched the center until she found him, and Phillip agreed to talk to us.

When we found Phillip, he was sitting on a sidewalk beneath a small awning, his belongings spread out around him in various bags, a scarf tied around his head. He is unkempt and friendly. Denise tells him what she wants him to do.

"I have a place I would like to take you so you can get the help and medication that would be helpful to you so you could function in a better life than you are now," she said. 

At first Phillip seems amenable to the idea. She asks him, "Do you want to be helped?"

He answers. "Similar to the stray house cat, I'd like to be helped."

But then Phillip realizes his mother is talking about another mental facility. He thought she had been talking about a hotel. His tone changes. "Oh no no no. I'm not interested in that. I'm not interested in a facility."

His speech becomes confusing. "It depends if I'd have black level complacency." When asked what that is, he responded, "I don't know. Solitude has driven me mad, similar to the deranged hermit."

He grows irritated as she continues to offer help and he says he only wants money. "If you want to help me financially that's fine! If you don't have faith in me, that's OK."

Denise tries another tactic, snapping a photo of him with her phone and showing it to him. Holding it up, she said, "This is what you look like."

Phillip looks for a moment at his photo before saying, "I'm not giving up. I'm not able to be defeated." She then shows him a picture of how he looked one year ago, clean cut, well dressed, smiling. He barks out a laugh. "And you know where that got me? It got me here."

With Phillip refusing all help, his mother prepares to go.

"Mom can you help me financially?" he asked.

"No," she said. "I will help you get help, the help you need."

Denise says she'll never give up, but she has run out of options. She gets in her car to drive home, missing a son who is lost to her.

"He's a shell of what he used to be," she said. "He's no longer him. There's no core, he's absolutely empty. There's nothing inside except madness." 

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