Her grandson attacked her. Now, she advocates for mental health reform in Virginia

Woman desperate for mental health reform after being attacked by grandson
Posted at 1:26 PM, Aug 03, 2021

CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. -- Victoria Dickerson says she doesn't want to remember the person who violently attacked her with a wrench inside her home in March. Instead, she wants to remember her grandson Jeremiah as the loving and talented young man who once made sports headlines and earned a full scholarship to college before being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

"When he came home from college, it's just been down a dark road ever since," Dickerson says. "I have not got any help since then."

In and out of jail for the past decade, Dickerson says her grandson's illness has grown worse, despite her many efforts to get him help. While Jeremiah received medication and was committed to four months at a state mental hospital a few years ago, she said the pandemic has created more roadblocks.

The grandmother says she's now frantically searching for a mental treatment facility where Jeremiah can go once he's released from jail. So far, she hasn't had any luck.

"I can't have my grandson come back home to me," a tearful Dickerson says. "I'm scared and I want to leave this house. I don't want to be here no more. I want to move. I've never seen Jeremiah like that."

Dickerson is not alone, as thousands of families in the Commonwealth are struggling with a mental health crisis that's grown worse over the course of the pandemic, leaving both private and public mental health centers overburdened and understaffed.

"The bottom line is we need more community support than we ever did before," says State Delegate Patrick Hope. Hope serves on the Health, Welfare and Institutions Behavioral Health Subcommittee. "We need to connect people to services within the community before they go into crisis."

Last week, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia plans to commit $485 million in federal and state funding to address challenges in Virginia's behavioral health system, including support for state mental health hospitals, community-based services and substance abuse treatment and prevention programs to help people struggling with mental illness. Lawmakers will consider the funding in a special session of the General Assembly which convened on April 2.

Hope says the immediate need involves funding for staff development and training at state mental health facilities to help ease bed shortages and staff burnout. He says longer-term goals involve funding for private hospitals and community-based programs and prevention services.

"We need to connect them to services within the community before they go into crisis, before they get picked up by law enforcement or before they present before a court a temporary detention order," Hope says. "That's a long-term strategy to make sure we get people in services."

Dickerson says she's fearful of what will happen if her grandson doesn't get the long-term mental health care he needs once he's released from jail.

"If they release my grandson, I don't want him to get killed out here, I don't want him to get killed in jail. I want him to get the help he needs," Dickerson says.