By Pallas Hupé

Sacramento (CBS13) — The Alexander Piggee story has divided public opinion; some have called the Sacramento man who admits he started the fire that cost more than $50 million a spoiled punk who knew exactly what he was doing, but others say he may have sounded sane when CBS13 talked to him behind bars, but he clearly needs help.  After all, Piggee told mall workers aliens had abducted his sister.

We are still waiting for the court’s decision on whether Alexander Piggee is considered mentally competent to stand trial, according to a strict legal definition.  We may never know if he has a treatable mental illness.  But we can ask, “How do you recognize the red flags before someone does become dangerous?”

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 We introduced you to Jarad Kidwell once before; the young man from Grass Valley was popular and outgoing up until about age 19, when his family says he started to withdraw, a sign of something more serious they shrugged off until it became extreme.

“What I saw in Jared was isolation – totally- he couldn’t even carry on a conversation with his friends,” says Billee, Jarad’s mother.

Jared’s mother took him to the family doctor who reassured them that nothing was wrong, until a turning point after a family trip.

“When we got back from that trip, within a couple of days we found him sitting totally catatonic,” Billee explains.

At that point, they went a psychiatrist and Jarad was finally diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Luckily, it wasn’t too late to get him help.

“The moment that I understood that it was an illness, it was like it’s treatable,” Billee said.

Ideally, it’s treated even earlier, but quite often early warning signs and gut reactions are dismissed.

“If you’re feeling like something is wrong and it’s not going well you have to stick with it and be persistent,” says Billee.

Jarad’s family says armed with a diagnosis, they pushed to get him into Edapt – an early intervention program at UC Davis – more than a year into his mental illness.

“The kind of early intervention that we’re talking about that really makes a difference means really the person gets in treatment within weeks or months of their first onset of symptoms,” says Dr. Cameron Carter.

Dr. Carter shows how these days a pet scan can even show how someone reacts when they’re experiencing symptoms of Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder.

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“The more intensely they were experiencing psychotic symptoms, the larger amount of dopamine was released,” says Dr. Carter.

But, it’s rare that families can actually see hard evidence like this.  More often, the news comes as a shock, something some frankly would rather not deal with.

“Well there’s a stigma – I don’t want to believe my child has anything like this wrong with him – it not only reflects on your child, but it reflects on me and my family,” explains Dr. Carter.

Dr. Carter points out patients struggle without strong family support.  In Jarad’s case it took vigilance – he tried to commit suicide after he was prescribed medication- and a lot of patience to talk him through delusions as they went through the difficult process of finding just the right meds.

“There were so many different side effects, they were horrible.  The medication didn’t help my Schizophrenia whatsoever,” said Jarad.

Jarad’s delusions would sometimes just take over.

“I remember thinking at one point that I may have been Jesus,” he says

But then there were also glimpses of reality.

“Some people really can’t remember what happens when they’re in the psychotic or if they’re in the manic state, others do remember.  I think it varies from person to person,” says Dr. Carter.

Despite what a person with mental illness looks like to world outside, this family says there’s no way to understand how hard it is to live with the reality.

And if it turns out that Alexander Piggee is Bipolar, as he says he is, Jarad’s family believes he should be hospitalized, not incarcerated.

There are many who strongly believe mental illness is no excuse to avoid paying the price for committing a crime, but that debate continues.

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