Author Joan Becker speaks at Story County Mental Health Expo
Ames Tribune - 9/26/2018
Sept. 26--Author and speaker Joan Becker spoke about her own experience with mental health and tragedy during Story County's Annual Mental Health Expo, Tuesday night.
Becker promoted the night's theme of, "An Evening of Hope and Healing" throughout her lecture. Becker's relevance to the expo comes from her experience with the mental health care system that resulted in a tragedy.
That tragedy later turned into her book, "Sentenced to Life" where she wrote her about the incident and the events leading up to it.
On June 24, 2009 Becker's son, Mark Becker, fatally shot his former high school football coach Edward Thomas, in Parkersburg. Becker's son was charged and found guilty of first degree murder after being rejected for an insanity plea.
Her son was evaluated and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia only three days before the tragic incident.
She had noticed his mental illness years prior to the incident and struggled to find a diagnosis and the help he needed. She reflected on the early signs of his troubling behavior. Her and her husband, Dave Becker, struggled to understand what these changes were.
When she and her husband visited their her son, he told them that he had heard voices, connected to schizophrenia, since he was a child. She urged the audience to always open up and to always take notice when someone changes their behavior.
"There are not many things that Dave (her husband) and I think back and say we should have done something different," she said during the expo in the Great Hall at the Iowa State University Memorial Union. "We regret that we didn't get Mark set up with individual counseling and with our family."
Exactly a year before the incident, Becker said she noticed her son showing more troubling behavior. Their other son, Brad Becker, became fearful due to his brother shifting between being his friend and seeing him as an enemy. More events displayed her son's shift in behavior, seriously concerning her.
"I started to notice that he was out in a different world and not focused," she said to a standing room only crowd. "I kept thinking are you depressed or what's going on?"
During his first psychotic episode in September 2008, her son mentioned Coach Thomas, coaching staff, she and her husband, and how they were all part of a conspiracy. A year of eight psychotic episodes, four county Sheriff contacts, 15 agency and counselors, and three times her son said he was better off dead, led up to his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.
Three days after that diagnosis, the events that led to Coach Thomas' death unraveled.
Becker's son is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole because of his crime. She believes if he would have gotten a diagnosis and help before his disease grew worse, maybe that tragedy could have been avoided.
Becker said she wants to use her family's experiences to help other families and caregivers of those in similar situations. She hopes it can create the change that is needed to reduce the risk of similar tragedies in the future.
"We can make something good out of this tragedy," she said.
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