For many people their initial experience of psychiatric hospitalization is a one of overwhelming trauma and injury. They are handcuffed and put in the back of a police car and transported as someone to be feared, punished and controlled, not as someone needing help. The experience colors everything that follows it. I have listened to person after person tell me the horror, the inhumanity, and the horror stories of their transport. It is not done with any respect for dignity or safety. It leaves people scarred. For many people it leaves them so scarred that they are intent they will never “be helped again.”
I have listened to Commissioner Doug Varney talk eloquently about what these experiences mean to people and how they affect the rest of their life. I have heard him talk about the need to find a better way to do it. One of the things I have heard the commissioner do is to point out that the stereotype of the out-of -control mental patient who is a danger and must be chained up is a myth. He points out that he has had 35 years experience at all levels of the mental health system and the “dangerous, out of control patient.” is at best 1 out of 100 committal. He seems to understand clearly that mental health care that starts off with radically traumatizing those you claim you want to help is not likely to be very effective.
Nami Tennessee several years ago championed a bill called the “transportation with dignity” bill. It is a great idea. It allows family to transport committed family members. It has not taken off though and many doctors are extremely reluctant to let someone they have judged as committable be transported in such a fashion because of the liability they believe it exposes them to.
My proposal is a little different. What I propose is that certified peer specialists be hired either by emergency rooms or by crisis response teams. An integral part of their duty would be to take part in transports. Police could still transport but someone else would be in the car with them trained in dealing with people in crisis, people who may have at one time had the same experience themselves. The purpose to reassure, process, acclimate, and answer questions of the person being committed and at the same time to act as kind of a quality control to the hole process. It would be a position that a peer specialist would be uniquely qualified to handle and a position which might help countless people.
I will be sending a copy of this to officials at the Department of Mental Health asking that this idea be given serious consideration in the upcoming contracts of crisis response providers. If it is not possible to institute it in the whole system then surely a couple of pilot programs could be developed to assess the validity of the idea and the impact of adding this important role to the system.
If you like this idea I am asking you to let your voice be heard also. Treatment with dignity is an idea whose time has come.