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After regular Baker Act committals, program helps teen

News-Journal - 5/19/2019

NAPLES 2019--NAPLES -- Caleb Caldwell's delicate peace with himself wavered earlier this year when a violent outburst nearly led to a mental health evaluation under Florida's Baker Act -- yet again.

The 19-year-old from Naples had skipped some of the medications he takes to treat symptoms of his bipolar disorder and got into an argument with his mother and brother.

"He was being very violent. And he did put his hands on me," said his mother, Mellisa Caldwell. "He just gets really out of hand. He does. And he's a big guy."

But given the troubles of Caleb's life, the fact this lapse was not worse is something of a victory.

Caleb, an otherwise soft-spoken young man who finally landed a paying job and hopes to work in sports medicine, spent most of his early and mid-adolescence in and out of mental health crisis units.

It was before his condition had been fully diagnosed, and his prescribed medication was wanting.

He was bullied. He had violent outbursts at home and at school. He regularly threatened suicide. And at one point, he was getting committed under the Baker Act nearly every other week.

The boy's troubling behavior, his later mood swings and propensity to violence -- seemingly without remorse -- even prompted one psychiatrist to tell the Naples family that the boy had "sociopathic criminal potential."

So much happened, and so much of it seems like a blur to Caleb.

"A lot of this has been going on for so long that I don't remember a lot," Caleb said.

Then, when he was 16, after one of his threats to kill himself and another Baker Act evaluation at the David Lawrence Center in East Naples, real progress: a new diagnosis and treatment plan that seemed to better address his behavior problems.

It turns out that Caleb, now 19, was on the autism spectrum, something multiple mental health professionals he encountered failed to notice, according to his family. He got different medications and found a mental health counselor who is helping him control his impulses.

He soon got an internship with the NCH Baker Downtown Hospital as part of the Project SEARCH program, which helps find jobs for teens and young adults with developmental disabilities.

Before his last behavioral lapse -- the first serious one in years -- Caleb said he hoped those days were behind him.

"There are times when I have some issues, but it doesn't get to that point anymore," he said.

But the family knows there will never be a treatment silver bullet. Caleb's problems will never just go away.

They consider themselves lucky because of the help from the David Lawrence Center and that they have the means to aggressively work to find him treatment. But they worry about Caleb's future.

He is transitioning into the working world. He still lives with his parents, but if he is committed under the Baker Act again, now as an adult, law enforcement officers would not be required to contact them.

Mellisa Caldwell is trying to establish legal guardianship of him into adulthood. Caleb isn't quite sure what he thinks about that.

"I feel like there are times that I need it," he said. "But I think there are times when I need my own space and think I'm fine on my own. But I do think there are times -- like when I get Baker Acted - what would I have done if she wasn't there?"

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