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Guest Commentary | Untreated mental illness – An ignored health crisis

By DOTTIE PACHARIS - Mental Health Advocate and Author | Mar 28, 2024

Dottie Pacharis

On June 29, 2023, the police arrested Tyler Boone, age 35, for the death of his roommate at an apartment they shared in Fort Myers. Tyler was charged with second-degree murder. A psychiatric evaluation found Tyler to be “mentally incompetent at the time” of the fatal beating, and he was transferred to a state mental hospital.

Tyler’s childhood was that of an excellent student and outstanding athlete. This came to an abrupt halt when he reached middle school and began to struggle with severe depression. Tyler lost all interest in sports and his grades declined. His mother, Jennifer, took him to a child psychiatrist who provided no diagnosis.

Tyler continued to struggle throughout high school. He became very paranoid and hid in the bathroom for hours. Tyler was evaluated by a second psychiatrist. Once again, no diagnosis, but the doctor prescribed medication to calm him down.

Nevertheless, Tyler’s mental health continued to deteriorate. He fluctuated from mania to depression. He was hearing voices, believed he was Jesus Christ, and did not sleep. His mother took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a devastating incurable brain disorder. He was 23.

Tyler was prescribed medications which worked well, but he, like so many struggling with mental illness was not medication compliant. Tragically, for the severely mentally ill, not taking antipsychotic drugs can lead to a multitude of woes — relapse, hospitalization, homelessness, and episodes of violence.

In December 2021, Tyler’s mother enrolled him in an assisted outpatient treatment program at a behavioral health treatment center in Fort Myers. Tyler also began participating in a program that supports adults who have had their lives drastically disrupted by mental illness. This is where Tyler met his roommate and the two became good friends.

Tyler’s struggle with mental illness accelerated. During the period July 2022 – June 2023, he was Baker Acted six times. The Baker Act is a Florida law that allows for the temporary detention and examination of people showing evidence of mental illness who are in danger of harming themselves or others. It can be initiated by judges, law enforcement, physicians, or mental health professionals. Individuals who are Baker Acted are transported for involuntary examination to a Baker Act Receiving Facility. Currently, there are only two such facilities in Lee County.

Each time Tyler was Baker Acted, he was suicidal and homicidal, making statements about weapons and harming himself. Two of the six times, Tyler was released from the hospital because the 72-hour Baker Act hold expired before a bed became available at one of the two Baker Act Receiving Facilities. The Florida Highway Patrol once Baker Acted Tyler for running into traffic on I-75. During one Baker Act confinement, Tyler assaulted another person in the unit, yet he was discharged the same day after being given oral medications.

On the day of the beating, Tyler’s mother became so concerned that he might hurt someone that she attempted to drive him to the hospital. He refused. Several hours later, Tyler beat his roommate to death with a baseball bat while shouting, “Get Out of Here Satan.”

Two mothers lost their sons that day. The following morning, the victim’s mother, Teresa Tiner, told Tyler’s mother, “I don’t blame you for my son’s death. I blame mental illness.”

Tyler remains at the State Mental Hospital near Miami where he is being forced to take his meds to restore his competency to stand trial for second-degree murder. Once restored, he will be returned to the Lee County Jail and await his new court date.

There is something very wrong with our system when we force people with a mental illness to take their meds after they commit a crime, yet we don’t force them to take their meds before they commit the crime. Our jails have become our de facto mental health institutions. We are incarcerating people who need treatment, not punishment.

Florida has a severe shortage of psychiatric beds and psychiatrists, a high bar toward getting into a hospital for treatment, and frequently releases patients before their symptoms have fully stabilized with no plan to coordinate continued care. Florida has a mental health care crisis!

Dottie Pacharis is a Mental Health Advocate and author of Mind on the Run, A Bipolar Chronicle.