Families of mentally ill forced to deal with ‘ticking time bombs’

May 31, 2012, 11:02 PM | Updated: Jun 1, 2012, 12:39 pm

For Ian Stawicki, years of mental illness ended when he took his own life on a quiet sidewalk in West Seattle. He had just carried out a shooting rampage that left five dead and one in critical condition.

Over the years he had become increasingly violent and prone to fits of rage, according to family members who saw the warning signs but felt there was nothing they could do. A police report from 2008 seems to signal the start of his deteriorating mental state.

According to the documents, Stawicki had given his girlfriend a bloody nose and destroyed most of her personal possessions.

“The victim thought that sometime in December the suspect suddenly changed his personality,” the police report states. “Although the suspect always ‘had a temper,’ he began breaking the victim’s belonging when he flew into his rages. This behavior frightened the victim and she resolved to call 911 if it continued.”

But while those closest to Stawicki knew he was in desperate need of help, he refused to accept it.

“I know it can feel for people as if there is no help out there, and they have tried things and they haven’t worked,” said Karin Rogers with Sound Mental Health in Seattle. “And that is very frustrating and very scary.”

Rogers said families often struggle for years to get through to loved ones, often to no avail.

Julia, who wished to have her last name withheld, has a sister who has struggled with mental illness since the two were children. She understands all too well what the family of Ian Stawicki must have gone through.

“I wonder how many of us thought, ‘Yeah. Yeah, that would be my loved one,'” she said of Wednesday’s massacre at the hands of Stawicki. “I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for them […] They’re not the only family.”

Julia’s sister has lived with bipolar disorder for years, she said. While the family was hesitant to accept that she had a mental illness, it became clear when she threatened to kill strangers.

“As much as I knew she had problems, I didn’t realize they were that extreme,” Julia said of her sister.

While the family convinced her to agree to a 72-hour psychiatric hold, the stay did nothing to improve her mental state. Julia’s sister refused further help and refused to take medication.

“We can’t make her do anything,” she said. “Our resources are exhausted. We don’t know what else to do.”

It is all Julia can do now to protect herself and her family. She does not allow her sister to keep guns in her home, out of fear that she is capable of murder.

“If she was armed, we would all be gone,” Julia said. She called her sister a “ticking time bomb.”

It is the same way the family of Ian Stawicki must have felt. His younger brother, Andrew Stawicki, told The Seattle Times he could see the bloodshed coming.

“It’s no surprise to me this happened,” he told the newspaper. “We could see this coming. Nothing good is going to come with that much anger inside of you.”

His father, Walter Stawicki, told The Times on Thursday he regrets the family didn’t do more to intervene, even if it meant lying to get him committed.

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Families of mentally ill forced to deal with ‘ticking time bombs’