By Jack King
One day recently, Katrina Olguin said, she woke up to find her 4-year-old daughter, Kira, sneaking into her bedroom, not to surprise her with morning kisses, but to catch a black and white kitten cowering under the bed and choke it.
Olguin has other stories to tell, of Kira tossing the kitten around like a rag doll, of how her other daughter has to lock herself in her room for safety when Kira flies into a rage, of how everything in her home has to have a lock on it, from the refrigerator to the toilet.
And yet she sighs when she talks about her daughter. “I don’t want her depicted as a some kind of a monster child,” she said.
Kira, a fragile child with soft brown hair and enormous blue eyes, was diagnosed in May with bipolar disorder, a brain disorder characterized by mood swings that cycle from moderate to hysterical exuberance or rage to depression. She is one of millions of children nationwide who suffer from mental illness, Olguin said.
To increase awareness and offer support for families struggling with mentally ill children, Olguin organized Warrior Moms & Dads, a non-profit group that held its first public event Saturday at Greene Acres Park.
Approximately 10 percent of all children entering kindergarten show problematic behavior, said Erin Wood, early childhood programs director for ENMRSH Inc., a private non-profit agency that helps rehabilitate the disabled under a contract with the state Department of Health.
Eastern New Mexico has a shortage of facilities and programs to help children with mental health issues and support their families, said State Sen. Clint Hardin and other officials who attended the event.
Hardin said a treatment center on the eastern side of the state is a “dire need.” But, he added, the first step is to do just what Warrior Moms & Dads was doing Saturday — create awareness and understanding.
“We can solve anything if we can define it,” he said. “But defining a problem requires awareness and understanding.”
When Olguin and her partner, William Bryant, began to try to find help for Kira, they suffered frequent disappointment and almost constant stress, she said.
A program at Barry Elementary School gave them their first understanding that Kira had a mental condition, but was designed only for children with learning disabilities, she said. A local counselor was nice, but ineffective, Olguin said. Their insurance company provided an “updated” list of doctors that included disconnected phone numbers, and hospitals, located hours away in Albuquerque, Lubbock or Amarillo, often provided contradictory information or, in one case, discharged Kira without developing a long-term care plan.
Cash and time requirements can be crushing, she added.
“That’s part of it,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to go from hospital to hospital. We shouldn’t have to go to one doctor because that’s the only one who will see us. We should be able to get second and third opinions just as if she had a broken leg.”
The constant struggle is the reason she named her group Warrior Moms & Dads, she said.
“Unfortunately, it is a battle and we’re warriors trying to get care and treatment for our children,” she said.
Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher said dealing with mentally ill persons is a complex problem for peace officers, especially when they have to deal with juveniles.
“The ideal solution is to have a facility in eastern New Mexico, where they can be protected, but where they can be close to their families,” he said.