At the core of any proposal for an increase or reliance on coercive interventions in the mental health system is a substantial faith in the myth of a basically benign system. You must believe that the system knows what to do, has the ability to do it and, and above all else, will not hurt or do damage to the people it claims to help. The basic claim of the Murphy Bill is that the coercive system it proposes is basically benign and in the best interests of those in need. It seems a hard sell to me.
For the last week I have watched the coverage of Baltimore and wonder how many people still believe that a system based on the increased encounter of people in crisis with the police is either safe or wise.
The police are too often, for too many people dangerous and life threatening. They deal with dangerous mean people often under the worst and scariest conditions. They don’t get near enough credit. Many do a great job. But sometimes they are the dangerous people and sometimes they create the worst and scariest conditions and too often they are not held accountable. It is not just the killing of poor people, black people or the mentally ill. It is the beatings, the trauma, the victimizations that rarely make the paper, that never get investigated that many people know as a daily threat and ever present fear. I know of black parents that are afraid for their kids to go in public. I know of parents whose children have mental health issues who have the same fears.
I am meeting more and more people who say they would be afraid to involve police with the mental health crisis of someone they know. It is not just the string of shootings in the national news or the string of tragedies in the last couple of years of police interactions with people in mental health crisis. It is more and more people talking about personal experiences and near tragedies they know of, not simply what they see on TV.
It is the 70 year old man whose schizophrenic son was beaten by police who thought he was a surly drunk. It is the mother who watched her son almost be shot by police who were scared because he was yelling. It is a million episodes that never make the news that make what is in the news even more terrifying.
Many, many officers as I said before do a great job in very difficult circumstances. But basic faith, to the degree it ever existed, has been broken. There is a police problem. It is the Russian Roulette dilemma. Eventually, many people believe, the next time you call the police the chamber will be “loaded.” And no one knows when.
The video below is a nightmare. It is of a man in Dallas whose mother described him as “off the chain.” He is dead now. The chamber was loaded.
A system that says we need, if we are really meeting the needs of the people we are trying to help, to make it easier to commit more people may set the table for tragedy. I believe, at least where I live, that is almost a certainty.
Aside from the tragedies (Look on You Tube under “mentally ill killed by police.” It is sobering and very scary.) is the very real trauma of coercive care. People who find it dangerous to seek help don’t.
On a personal level my nephew committed suicide. The central fact in his early life was what he saw as the victimization of his mother in what he saw as a cruel mental health system. Not only did he need help but he put tremendous effort into making sure no one knew how desperate he really was. He didn’t want to take a chance. He didn’t want anyone to know.
A system that doesn’t look honestly about the damage it does is less than credible when it talks about the help it offers. The mental health system has helped and continues to help many people. It has helped me. But blind faith is simply blind.
First do no harm. First things first.