'These people need help, not jail'

It was December of 2012 when 33-year-old Petaluma resident Nick Xydas first saw things that weren't real and heard voices in his head.

"It was frightening," said Xydas, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder years before when he was 17. "I'd hear voices telling me to do things and see flashes from my past appear on the television screen — as if they were part of the show I was watching. I didn't want to give in to the images and voices, so I'd start to cry, but no one could help me."

Though his family offered words of support and rides to the psychiatrist, Xydas was often inconsolable. On the evening of Dec. 7, 2012, he reached his breaking point and physically pushed his father.

"We were arguing, one thing led to another and I shoved him," said Xydas.

Like so many who struggle with mental illness, Xydas' holiday breakdown caused his family to call the police for help. When Petaluma police officers arrived at the eastside home, they arrested Xydas for assaulting his elderly father — catapulting him into the criminal justice system that has become a de facto first response for treating the mentally ill.

Although the days of locking mentally ill patients in an institution like the one depicted in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" are long gone, exactly how to handle the mentally ill is an issue that continues to plague American society. While other diseases receive public support and empathy, mental illness is haunted by negative stigma, a lack of dedicated resources and the continued criminalization of those who suffer from it.

According to the California Healthcare Foundation, one in six California adults are diagnosed with a mental illness, but only about one-third are receiving treatment. And with so many falling through the cracks, law enforcement agencies are struggling.

Hospital to lock-up

Xydas was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during his junior year of high school. Prior to that, he was a student at Casa Grande High School battling severe bouts of depression.

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