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BROWN: Mother says insurers failed her suicidal son

Joanna Dailidas, whose son Joey took his own life last year with a prescription drug overdose, believes he would still be alive today if health insurers had made it easier for him to get treatment for his mental illness. Photo by Mark Brown.

It was a year ago this week that Joseph “Joey” Dailidas took his own life with an intentional overdose of prescription medicine.

The 24-year-old Lakeview resident had a ticket for that night’s Cubs game to see his favorite team en route to its historic postseason run.

The evening offered an added bonus of Brendan Bayliss, guitarist for Dailidas’ favorite band, Umphrey’s McGee, singing the national anthem.

Dailidas had seen the group perform 72 times. His mother, Joanna Dailidas, still wonders about the hopelessness that kept him from making it one more time.

“He couldn’t live five more hours to see two of his most favorite things come together. That’s how desperate my son was to find peace,” Joanna Dailidas told me Wednesday.

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What bothers her even more is the belief that her son would still be alive today if health insurers had made it less difficult for him to access the proper treatment for his mental health problems.

“I think I would have celebrated his 25th birthday,” she said.

Obviously, I can’t speak to whether that’s truly the case, but I believe there’s a lot of truth in her related observation: “They make it real hard for people to get help.”

Despite laws intended to require insurers to provide parity between coverage for mental health treatment and other medical conditions, many believe mental health and addiction treatment are still getting short shrift.

Joanna Dailidas is making the rounds in Illinois this week to bear witness to the findings of a new Kennedy Forum survey of mental health treatment providers, who report frequent claims denials and other barriers that block patients from getting treatment.

The report concludes more must be done to require life-threatening depression be treated as seriously as life-threatening cancer.

Dailidas heartily concurs.

Joseph “Joey” Dailidas, 24, died by suicide a year ago. His mother has joined a campaign to force health insurers to give mental health treatment equal status with other medical conditions. Supplied Photo.

“I believe mental health is a medical issue that needs to be treated like a medical issue,” she said.

Dailidas is particularly disturbed by the notion that a 30-day treatment program, the standard in the substance abuse field, would be considered adequate for a suffering patient. Nobody says tough luck if the first chemotherapy regimen for a cancer patient doesn’t work, she said.

Even more troubling to her are the insurance protocols that cause treatment programs to release patients early, as happened several times with her son because “he wasn’t deemed to fit the criteria.”

Dailidas said Joey had made two prior suicide attempts. He was admitted to 30-day programs at least five times.

Joey Dailidas had been diagnosed over the years as suffering from major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, impulsivity disorder and substance addictions.

Marijuana was his drug of choice, which he began using as a teenager to self-medicate against whatever psychic pain tormented him, his mother said.

Joey was raised in Lake Zurich and graduated from Lake Zurich High School. He made several stabs at college, including a year at Western Illinois University, but couldn’t handle the stress, she said.

He dreamed of becoming a chef and going into the restaurant business, but never could get himself together.

As his setbacks mounted, he withdrew to a “deep, dark hole” where his family had difficulty reaching him. There were brushes with the law.

“My son, when he was on drugs mixed with mental illness, was no angel,” Dailidas said.

But 1,200 people attended his memorial service, including 350 to 400 of his friends who gave his mother a glimpse into the generous, compassionate side of his personality that his family didn’t always get to see.

“He was charismatic. He was kind. He was very generous,” she said.

Joanna Dailidas has moved to Florida but came back this week to observe the anniversary of her son’s death and to participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s “Out of the Darkness Walk” this Saturday along the lakefront.

You can bet she won’t be the only one out there wishing their loved one had received more help from their health insurer.