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Sarah Palin's Mental Health (Record)

Posted Sep 07 2008 8:38pm

I'm digging around to find out what I can about Sarah Palin's feelings on mental health issues. I know she accepted federal earmark money ($500,000) to build a mental health center, which gives me warm fuzzies.

Sadly, the guy she fired in the Troopergate scandal was a serious mental health advocate, according to Tom Davis, who was a recipient of the Roslyn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. He wrote about Alaska's approach to dealing with mentally ill offenders. From Davis' piece on HuffingtonPost:

Palin dismissed Monegan from his state public safety commissioner post in July, and has not provided a consistent explanation for the dismissal since then. But there has been a consistent and ongoing effort to discredit Monegan and impugn his integrity, and dismiss the case as nothing more than a politically motivated hack job.

None of this, however, jives with the Monegan I interviewed for 90 minutes in February 2005 when, as chief of the Anchorage Police Department, he was presiding over a crime prevention program that was revolutionary in terms of treating people with mental illness.

That year, I was one of six people in the nation who received a Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship to write about mental health issues. I chose the judicial treatment of mental health as a topic - and mental health experts and police departments throughout the country all gave me similar advice:

"Go to Alaska," they said, in so many words. "Talk to Walt Monegan."

As I wrote later, in an April 2005 article for The Record of Bergen County, N.J., many in Alaska suffer from the cold, the constant darkness and the isolation of the state's mountain towns that are inaccessible by car. The state consistently has had among the highest suicide rates in the nation.

Monegan's department was teaching its officers how to deal with a mental health crisis, and serving as a model for other police departments in the country - such as Memphis - who were doing similar things.

At the time, 10 percent of his 330 officers were "crisis-intervention" trainees who were learning how to speak to, deal with and ultimately handle people with psychiatric disorders. They were attempting to wipe away the "psycho-killer" approach to handling crime scenes that almost always yielded the same results: somebody at the crime scene dies; or somebody gets arrested, then thrown in jail, then released from jail and, ultimately, commits another crime.

Monegan understood this. He was a native Alaskan who, according to his biography, was raised in "bush Alaska" in a town called Nyac, by his maternal grandparents. At that time, according to his biography, Nyac was a gold mining community with a population of 54 people and a one-room schoolhouse. "People used to drive their cars for miles on the frozen ice," he said.

He was inspired to change the department's approach, he said, because he was tired of watching the same people - all displaying symptoms of mental disorders - getting arrested over and over, only to end up back in the streets, untreated.

Read Davis' HuffPo piece for more on Monegan. Sounds like a stand-up guy, and if Palin did, in fact, fire him simply for vengeful reasons, that's a serious abuse of power, and a great loss for people with mental illnesses.

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