Iowa City mother using snickerdoodles to prompt mental healthcare changes

Published: Dec. 26, 2019 at 7:15 PM CST
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Leslie Carpenter is baking cookies this holiday season, as a way to support her own son's struggles with mental health.

The Iowa City mother hopes snickerdoodles might be enough to change the conversation on mental health in Iowa.

They’re her son’s favorite cookie. Now, Carpenter has turned that treat into an avenue for advocacy.

Her son is diagnosed with a rare and difficult to treat brain condition, a combination of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder called Schizoaffective Disorder.

“He has a serious brain disorder, and many times he'd be in psychosis,” Carpenter said. “A good sign that he was coming out of his psychosis is when he would start asking us to bring him snickerdoodles.”

But he didn’t ask for the cookies for himself.

“They were for him to give to the other patients, because they had no pleasure,” Carpenter said. “In a psych unit, it's a really, really stark, sad place where people are suffering.”

Her son is now 28, but started showing symptoms when he was 17.

Through those years, they've noticed missing ingredients in mental health care. So they hope a well-made cookie can help change that.

“Snickerdoodles, for us, represent a transition from advocating for just one, to advocating for all,” Carpenter said. “It began our journey.”

The baking warms her own soul, too.

“We learned to kind of process the grief, of losing our son and learned to let go of feeling like we were the only ones solely responsible for his outcome, because honestly his outcome may not end up being very good."

One of the key ingredients to that was support, like at NAMI of Johnson County's Family to Family classes.

“There's just this nice round education for the community to learn about mental illness and what that needs and how people can get help support and hope for the future,” said Mary Issah, NAMI Johnson County executive director.

“It's really hard to explain to somebody that has no exposure to the system that yes, our son is still in psychosis, and they're still going to discharge him tomorrow, we're still feeling like he is not safe, we're still feeling that he is suicidal,” said Carpenter. “It's hard to explain that to people that don't know that that’s the reality of what happens in our state.”

Leslie said she wants to loosen HIPAA laws so family members can be included in treatment plans, and reclassifying conditions from behavioral health diagnoses to neurological ones.