Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
In “60 Minutes” interview, Sen. Deeds talks about son Gus’ mental illness, suicide and the system’s failure
State Sen. Creigh Deeds told CBS’ “60 Minutes” news program Sunday night that Virginia’s mental health system killed his son Gus.
Gus Deeds, who had had a history of mental illness issues, attacked Deeds at their Bath County home last November, stabbing Deeds in the head before shooting and killing himself.
Deeds has made it a mission in this General Assembly session to change Virginia’s mental health laws, in an effort to save other families from what he’s going through, he said.
Deeds spoke to “60 Minutes” about a month after Gus’ death. He told the Roanoke Times this week that a national show like that was “the biggest megaphone I could think of” to talk about the system’s failings. You can watch the interview here:
In the interview, Deeds described Gus’ mental health as being on a downward spiral. Gus was at the College of William & Mary, posting strange things on his Facebook page about how his professors were out to get him.
“I told Gus that he and I needed to talk to somebody together,” Deeds said.
Deeds went to a magistrate for an emergency custody order, and Bath County sheriff’s deputies took Gus to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. But Virginia law only allows a person to be held under an ECO for six hours if a bed can’t be found for them. And no bed was found for Gus.
House of Delegates members tried to probe why on Friday in a subcommittee meeting on mental health issues.
In that subcommittee hearing, the director of the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, which evaluated Gus Deeds, said the clinician who saw Gus thought that the closest state hospital, Western State, was moving to a new facility that day and not accepting patients, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Deeds said Gus was pacing the room at the hospital.
“i just had this sinking feeling that he wasn’t going to be hospitalized,” Deeds said.
If Gus came home, he felt, “there was going to be a crisis.”
But Deeds said a clinician told him that Gus wasn’t suicidal.
“The system failed my son tonight,” Deeds said he responded.
“It’s clear the system failed. It killed Gus.”
He took Gus home. They sat at the dining table, Deeds eating and Gus writing furiously in his journal.
He knew Gus was upset, but “I had no reason to think there’d be violence,” Deeds said.
The next morning, Deeds went to feed the horses, he said, and Gus came across the yard.
“I said ‘Hey, bud, how’d you sleep?’” Deeds said. “He said, ‘Fine.’ I turned my back … and he was just on me.”
Gus stabbed his father twice in the head.
“I said ‘Gus, I love you so much. Don’t make this worse than it is.’ But he just kept coming at me,” Deeds said.
He described Gus turning back for the house. Deeds himself fled, to a nearby road where he was picked up by a neighbor, who called for police and emergency services. At some point, he said in the interview, he heard a call on the police scanner for a victim of a gunshot wound to the head. It was Gus.
Later, Deeds said, he read that journal Gus was writing in on that last night.
“He had determined that I had to die, that I was an evil man, that he was going to execute me and he was going to go straight to heaven,” Deeds said.
Deeds’ interview was part of a story about the broader problems with mental illness treatment in the U.S. Anchor Scott Pelley visited an emergency room in New Haven, Conn., where all 52 psychiatric beds were full. Seven young people were waiting for beds, but doctors there feared their insurance wouldn’t pay for some of them to stay in the hospital much longer.
Pelley also talked to a group of seven Connecticut mothers of children with mental illness about their difficulties in getting treatment for their children.
Broadly, Pelley reported, there are not enough psychiatric beds to take people having mental health crises. There are not enough facilities to then care for them long-term. There is not enough money, there is not enough insurance coverage, and there are not enough community resources to keep track of people and make sure they’re doing ok.
Deeds’ tragedy prompted a number of bills in this General Assembly session to change how the state handles mental health emergencies. Some of them are from Deeds, who has proposed extending the emergency custody order window to 24 hours — something he says other states do. That has been opposed by some who say it would be impossible for rural sheriff’s departments that may have just one or two deputies on duty. It’s also opposed by the ACLU, which argues that the person’s rights must not be infringed.
Deeds is also proposing that the state have a digital registry of psychiatric beds and their availability, something that the state is working on. He also wants a comprehensive review of the state’s mental health care delivery system.
One proposal of his has already passed the Senate — a bill calling for a review of the qualifications of the workers who evaluate people in crisis. While current regulations call for those workers to have a master’s degree or equivalent, or similar experience, Deeds said that “based on my experience” he’s not sure that’s always what’s happening.
Most of the mental health bills proposed this session are still making their way through the committee process. Both the House and Senate set up special subcommittees to hear the mental health bills. The Senate subcommittee’s report is expected at the next full Senate Education and Health committee meeting this week.
Deeds said on “60 Minutes” that he hopes Gus can be the impetus for change. But he doesn’t want his son defined by what happened in November.
“I want people to remember the brilliant, friendly, loving kid that was Gus Deeds,” he said.