Denzil was a troubled man. Looking much older than his sixty years, obsessive worry made each day an obstacle. He lived alone in a small apartment, no friends, no phone, no hope. Severe anxiety made him tremble as someone overcome with fear. A doctor prescribed medication to reduce his anxiety, but side effects made him feel worse. He felt confused, panicky, and helpless.
In desperate moments, he would take to the streets, perhaps asking a local merchant or a familiar face for help. To some, he was a nuisance, constantly seeking advice but refusing to take it. He was occasionally seen collecting aluminum cans from trash bins or dumpsters, until that activity got him arrested behind a local drug store. Fearful of missing court dates miles away with no form of transportation compounded his angst.
Our Saint Vincent DePaul members tried to help him numerous times. We visited his apartment when he would let us in. He would always be fretting over what to him was some insurmountable problem. He missed an insurance payment, he lost some papers he needed, his medication wasn’t working, his doctor wouldn’t listen to him, nobody understands, all the time shivering incessantly as he spoke. He would read us the side effects of his medication over and over again, insisting he experienced all of them. We asked him for the names of any family members we could contact, but he would not tell us.
This past summer, his condition worsened. Not knowing where to turn, we called Adult Protective Services to get help. They sent two caseworkers out who met with us at his apartment. They agreed he needed to get to a hospital, but he refused to go. Police and paramedics were called, but they said they could not force him unless he was a danger to himself or others. APS said they would get him an appointment with his doctor in a few days, but there was nothing more they could do. We tried to calm his fears, brought him some food, and left him.
In the days that followed, members of our Saint Vincent DePaul group spent time with him, looking for ways to get the help he needed. We made another appointment with his doctor and practically forced him into a car to get him there. The doctor told us there was nothing more he could do for him. At our insistence, the doctor called numerous institutions looking for place that would take him for a mental evaluation before finding one that would accept his basic insurance. He was committed for ten days and released.
Two weeks ago, four of our members spent two days trying to help him to no avail. He told us he couldn’t make it through another night. Yet, he refused our attempts to take him to the hospital. We went back to check on him in the evening but he would not let us enter the apartment. He said he had no more answers for us and closed the door.
Last Friday in the cold darkness of another sleepless night, Denzil stepped out of his apartment, shut the door, and cut himself. An upstairs tenant on his way to work at 4 AM found him lifeless on the landing where we had spoken with him so many times.
Stunned but not necessarily surprised, we were left to ponder what more we could have done. What should we have done that we did not do? In this land where health care is supposedly now available to everyone, why could we not get this man the care he so desperately needed? Within hours, authorities were able to notify a relative. His obituary listed a son, a daughter, a brother and three sisters, none of which we knew.
I was able to share this story with our Bishop at a meeting sponsored by Catholic Charities the following day. My hope is that we might somehow better serve those with mental illnesses who may be living a life of torment, especially those who may pose a danger to themselves or others. At the end of the meeting, the Bishop led us in a prayer for Denzil and all those who may find themselves in similar distress. I would like to think the suffering Denzil endured on this earth is sufficiently redemptive for any sins for which he may be culpable. May his soul rest in peace, and may God have mercy on us all.