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Mental Health Education a Must for Law Enforcement and Hospitals

Posted Oct 29 2010 8:55am
In a recent article in the Billings Gazette by Cindy Uken, titled
Outrage and advocacy’: Speaker at mental illness conference urges change Uken talks with Angela Kimball, director of state policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness; NAMI.

We are trying to stampede our way through stigmatization and the pitfalls of the mental health care system. The problem is that the law enforcement and health care system, from what I've read and witnessed personally, have minimal training in mental health.

As Kimball says, "If you have a heart attack, they send an ambulance, If you have a psychiatric crisis, a cop comes with a pair of handcuffs and a Taser. I wish I wasn’t saying this but it’s true.” Over my ten years of Bipolar living, I have witnessed how different police act when they learn they are dealing with someone with a mental illness. They have zero apathy. It takes one wrong word, or one wrong movement, and the person who needs help is treated like a violent gang member. Cuffed and thrown in the car.

Once you arrive at the hospital, the feelings you have about those around you are not any better than sitting in the police officer's car. If they have a room for you, they leave you there with an armed guard staring at you. For some reason they need three staff members at different times to ask you the same questions. Answering these questions the first time is difficult and humiliating enough let alone the third.

After this you wait, I have never heard of anyone waiting under six hours. You are having a psychiatric crisis and they put you in a room with a strange man for six hours. They don't check on you. They have absolutely zero apathy.

It is shocking to me that nurses and doctors are really this ill-informed.
For them to put every psych. patient in one category is so ignorant.

The worst of it all is listening to the banter of the nurses talking about,
"Oh that ones going to the crazy bin." Or some other offensive statement.
Once, I watch a very manic man who did not get a room sit in the hallway of the E.R. for six hours. He was manic and seeking help, good for him. Of course he couldn't sit still in that chair for hours, and he was talking to everyone. A very nice guy, but as mania can be, he was annoying people. So who decides to put the man in a manic crisis in a chair in the hallway for six hours? Simply ignorance. (I ended up in the same Behavioral Health unit as this man.. within two days he was a totally different person. I bet the nurses would not even recognize him. I didn't particularly want to talk to him while he was manic either, but I wasn't judging him. Under 48 hours he was a very nice, bright, contributing member to the unit; very helpful to those who were not as well as he.) It makes me wonder if the E.R. staff even knows what happens to a psych. patient after being admitted. Because, the way they talk it's like they have no idea that these patients are going to get better and need help.

I am not referring to one experience. Over my ten years of living with Bipolar I have been admitted a few times. Each time the E.R. is the same, and the same six hour wait.
They put suicidal patients in a room with an armed guard for six hours?
When you finally do reach the psych. unit, you find out that everyone else had to wait 6 hours or more too. This is just asinine.

I certainly Do NOT want to deter anyone who is in crisis from going to the hospital. It has been my saving grace a few times, once past the admission process. After you are moved to the psych. ward or behavioral health, you will have staff educated on mental illness.

I fear that due the admission process, and the ignorance of the medical staff, people aren't getting the help they need because they refuse to endure such a process just to be admitted.

“We still battle old, unrealistic perceptions,” Kimball said. “Though attitudes are changing for the better, we still battle an insidious and tenacious belief that people who live with mental illness are not worthy of dignity, respect or inclusion.”

This is so frustrating, but it is NAMI and people like Kimball who are contributing to the change. As often as I can I will write about those who are affected by Bipolar Disorder and how they lead successful rewarding lives.

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