Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds speaks about mental health reform at The National Press Club, March 31, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Creigh Deeds Tells Son's Mental Health Horror Story

Deeds lost his son to suicide in November. Now he’s working to change Virginia’s laws. 

Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds speaks about mental health reform at The National Press Club, March 31, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds speaks about mental health reform at The National Press Club on Monday, March 31, 2014  in Washington, D.C. Deeds was stabbed by his 24-year-old son Gus Deeds multiple times Nov. 19, 2013, at his home in Bath County, Va.

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What happened to Democratic Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds last November rattled the political world.

Deeds, who was the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia  in 2009, was stabbed multiple times in the head and chest by his 24-year-old son Gus. Gus then committed suicide outside the family’s rural Virginia home. For the last three years of his life, Gus Deeds struggled with bipolar disorder. Today, it’s mental illness – preventing future tragedies and destigmatizing these diseases – that drives Creigh Deeds.  
“Events last fall took my son, but I survived,” Deeds said, as he spoke before C-SPAN cameras Monday at the National Press Club. “I hope the results of my survival is that my son is remembered for his living and not for his dying.” added Deeds, whose face was left scarred by his son’s attack. He recalled his son as a sweet, gifted individual, not a monster.

“In every sense of the word, my son was my hero,” Deeds said. He remembered a boy who was so smart he “didn’t grow into his brain,” a child that could read simple books at age 3 and learned to play the drums, harmonica, piano, guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandoline. A child who learned Spanish – the different Latin American dialects and all – and who, as a young man, studied Arabic and Cantonese. “And he was the valedictorian of his class,” Deeds said. “He was handsome and witty, he had it all going for him.”

[READ: Virginia Legislator Creigh Deeds Stabbed, Son Dead]

But like with many mental illnesses, Deeds’ son started showing signs of problems around age 21. Gus Deeds bounced between living with his parents, who by this time had split up. He left William & Mary and had trouble holding down a job.

“My brilliant valedictory son was a dishwasher,” Deeds said.

Gus Deeds was hospitalized twice, but the only diagnosis that Creigh Deeds could get (because his son was over 18) was that Gus was “somewhat bipolar” and to be treated with medication. Gus got better, but then he got worse. “Sometime in the springtime of 2013, Gus stopped taking his medicine,” Deeds said. “As parents we continued to believe we could get our son back.”

Creigh Deeds wouldn’t talk about what happened over those two days in November.

He did speak about how a magistrate couldn’t issue a temporary detention order to someone experiencing a mental health crisis unless a bed in a facility was located. Gus Deeds was released after authorities said they couldn't find a bed for him within the six hours allotted by law. 

“That makes absolutely no sense,” Deeds said. “An emergency room cannot turn away a person in cardiac arrest because the ER is full, a police officer does not wait to arrest a murder suspect or a bank robber if no jail space is identified.”

When Deeds returned to work, which was not an easy feat, he set to work on new legislation that would give similar scenarios the gift of more time. “I could either be lost in my grief or I could act – I chose to act,” Deeds said. The bill that eventually passed both the House and Senate in the General Assembly upped the amount of time from six hours to 12 and, if beds aren't found, state hospitals will have to admit patients after eight hours. 

“Nobody lost sight of our incredible needs in the area of mental health," Deeds said. "Not this session, when I was there everyday with scars and tears."