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Today, I was meeting a fellow member of Daily Kos for the first time. The location: Busboys and Poets, a liberal restaurant and cultural community center in Washington D.C. While waiting for her to arrive, I had an experience I'll never forget.

I stood outside the restaurant and saw a young, African American man pass by me, carrying a grocery bag. His whole body was twitching and he was gesticulating and talking to people who weren't there. He seemed confused and disturbed -- not in a threatening way, but almost like an elderly person with Alzheimer's who was lost in a once-familiar neighborhood.

For a full 30 minutes, this man walked back and forth across the same intersection. Sometimes he walked into the street when the light was red, and cars had to stop in front of him as he lurched his body jerkily in different directions, seemingly unaware of where he was, where he was going, or what was going on around him. It seemed like he might be having epileptic seizures. Other times, he mumbled repeated, unintelligible phrases to himself over and over again and seemed to be arguing with himself or an unseen entity. Perhaps he had schizophrenia.

I must have watched hundreds of people walk past this man, who was obviously in distress. All of them looked down, averting their eyes. Most of them gazed intently into their smartphones which were convenient distractions from a human being they didn't wish to see.

Eventually I couldn't bear it anymore. Somebody needed to do something; somebody at least needed to acknowledge that this man existed and to show him that somebody cared enough to offer help. Perhaps he needed urgent medical attention (frankly I think he did). I approached him, looked him in the eye, and said, "Excuse me, sir, do you need any help?"

He mumbled "no, I don't need nothin'." And he continued his frantic, irregular pacing back and forth across the intersection, the wild gesticulation of his arms, his whole body occasionally twitching spasmodically, and the constant mumbling which periodically rose in volume and could not be ignored.

Eventually he walked away -- perhaps regaining some of his faculties, at least for a while -- and I never saw him again.

What remained with me was the utter disregard of this man by so many people who encountered him, or made sure they didn't encounter him although they passed right by him. The people ambling along with their gourmet coffees; the ever-present downward gaze into the "devices" that rule our modern lives.

It was such a pathetic display of inhumanity that I found myself crying, right there on the street, in front of a liberal restaurant and community gathering place. Nobody noticed me crying either.

We are living in a profoundly sick society. The mentally ill man on the street was sick indeed, but there are those who are far sicker -- for the sickness is in their souls. We, as a society, too often allow the mentally ill to be ignored, untreated, and condemned to a life of hopelessness and homelessness.

I am a white, privileged son of a middle class family. I have gone through severe depression and needed mental health care, so I know something of what it's like to face the stigma of mental illness, the fear and the social isolation that tends to come with it. Fortunately, I have never experienced mental problems anywhere near as severe as what the young black gentleman outside Busboys and Poets was going through today. But to be quite honest, he looked like he could have been any ordinary 20-something American. He could have been a college student at one of the universities in Washington D.C. He was not a stereotypical homeless bum.

But because of the attitudes and policies of our society, this young man could become a homeless bum, quite easily in fact. Perhaps he could not afford to see a psychiatrist. Perhaps he could not afford his medication. Perhaps his family is unable to help him, or maybe he doesn't have a family at all.

When you have a full-blown mental breakdown in modern-day America, does anyone care? Does society offer help, or avert its gaze?

Too often, it's the latter -- unless, perhaps, you're part of the privileged class of people. Even then, there were not enough beds in the psychiatric hospital for the son of Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds.

I would like to think this is going to change, but it seems that things are moving in the opposite direction. Today, in America, if you are unable to work for a few months because of a mental illness, that becomes a resume gap that will likely condemn you to long-term unemployment. Without money from a job, you will not be able to afford mental health care. So it can become a vicious cycle. And once trapped in that downward spiral, door after door closes to you, and eyes close as people pass by you in life.

I think we avert our eyes because, deep down, we all know that it could happen to anyone -- even ourselves. And because we have created such a cruel, inhumane culture that discards and ignores people with problems, we are terrified that one day it could be us. So we prefer not to think about it, hoping that by ignoring the presence of mentally ill people among us, they will somehow become less people and more of an impersonal distraction -- like flies buzzing around our heads.

Understandable, maybe. But we can do better. We must. Because none of us ever knows when our status will be reduced to that of an insect in society's eyes. The lucky will escape that fate, but let's not take our chances. Let's build a society where there is always enough help available for those who need it, and where an encounter with mental illness -- or physical illness, or job loss, or any kind of bad luck in life -- doesn't have to be a life sentence of being disregarded as unworthy of consideration.

Updated below the fold.

UPDATE: Thank you to the Daily Kos editors for featuring this article in Community Spotlight. I'm glad to see that my diary has sparked some excellent discussion. I want to acknowledge and address a few points made by commenters.

1. People are ignoring the man because they don't know what to do, not because they're heartless. Probably true in most cases. My intention was not to judge people's moral character, although I suppose the diary may have come across that way. But I do think society as a whole is somewhat heartless in its treatment (or lack thereof) of the mentally ill. And in the case of a man who is repeatedly walking out into traffic, I think somebody does need to check and see if he needs/wants help, because it could be an urgent medical issue going on, such as a stroke, producing delirium. If nobody does anything in such a case, the man could be struck by a car or he could cause a traffic accident.

2. Some people should not try to interact with people behaving erratically (e.g. petite women, people who themselves have mental issues such as PTSD, etc.). Yes, I completely agree. Interacting with mentally ill men on the street is not for everyone; perhaps it's not for most people. I chose to talk to him because I am young, healthy, male, relatively tall, and have no dependents (so if he assaulted and killed me, nobody would be left without a father). I also happen to be an ordained minister and consider attempting to help people in need to be an aspect of my purpose in life. Furthermore, I have a friend who has suffered with schizophrenia, and I know that when his illness gets acute, he does need people to try to persuade him to seek treatment; in fact, people's intervention has saved him from being incarcerated.

3. We have to respect the freedom of the mentally ill to refuse treatment. I have mixed feelings about this one. I can see the argument for that, but I can also see that in some cases, untreated mentally ill people become a danger to themselves and others. I tend to think society has gone too far in the direction of leaving the mentally ill to fend for themselves, because of an ideological doctrine of freedom. Although I believe in most cases the mentally ill should not be forced to take medications or be confined in a psychiatric hospital, I think there may be some cases where that would be appropriate. Tragically, many mentally ill people who don't receive or who refuse treatment end up committing crimes and enter the prison system, which is not the place where they should be. One commenter shared a heartbreaking diary on this subject, My Daughter Sleeps in Jail Tonight.

Originally posted to Eric Stetson on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:46 PM PST.

Also republished by Mental Health Awareness and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for doing this Eric. Mental illness runs (36+ / 0-)

    part of my family line. We should be totally ashamed of ourselves that we do not take of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, children and fellow humans in need, any better than we do.

    And, Paul Ryan just announced a budget for 2015 that cuts almost all social programs.

    Have we no shame America?

    "Seriously, Folks, WTH?" - ("What the Heck? "h/t Joan McCarter, Seriously, Florida. WTF?)

    by HoundDog on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 08:08:39 PM PST

  •  Thanks for an important diary. (19+ / 0-)

    My late husband struggled with bipolar disorder and PTSD. Mental illness is real, and it effects so many people's lives.

    Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

    by commonmass on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 08:45:12 PM PST

  •  Good on you. (27+ / 0-)

    It can be intimidating to approach someone behaving so erratically.

    I once found myself in a similar situation on the light rail between downtown Minneapolis and the mall of America, which at the time I used in my work commute.

    A guy was talking to himself, arguing with himself, saying word salady things -- clearly he was schizophrenic. And everyone was avoiding him.

    I talked with him. I no longer remember what was (briefly) exchanged, but I spoke with him just long enough to determine he wasn't homeless, that he had a place to live (which was a group home) -- and that everyone else on the train could see that if you talk to a person with mental illness he won't suddenly shank you or anything.

    And it scared the hell out of me to do this -- even though I intellectually knew that mentally ill people are not significantly more of a danger to others than the general population, but still, emotionally, it was a scary thing to do.

    So good on you for taking a moment to see if he was okay.

    "Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base is the marks." -- Chris Hayes

    by raptavio on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 09:00:03 PM PST

  •  It probably did help him. He may remember it for (11+ / 0-)

    a while too. My opinion. Bless you.

    Thank you for posting. You said important things that need to be heard, and acted on.

    There is something terribly wrong with us that we have, as a society, become so cruel, so uncaring about our fellow humans.  The man you saw needs help.

    But the people ignoring him may be in worse shape in some ways. They seem to have lost the human part of themselves.

    •  Thank you. Regarding the people ignoring him, (14+ / 0-)
      They seem to have lost the human part of themselves.
      Either that or they are afraid to interact with someone acting erratically. I don't want to judge anyone, and it's possible that my diary came across as a little preachy or judgmental, but I can't help but feeling that a lot of the people who avoid interacting with the mentally ill are doing so because they have in some subtle ways dehumanized the human beings around them who don't provide them with any personal gain or benefit. It's a form of self-absorption -- and people are doing this probably without even being aware of this shift in their attitude.

      I think technology contributes to this pervasive isolation, in which we see people in close physical proximity to each other, every individual staring into their own screen and ignoring the human beings around them as if they're not there. I don't fault the individual people for this; I fault the culture of our society which makes us feel that this kind of ignoring each other is somehow more socially acceptable than actually talking with each other or acknowledging each other's presence.

      I find myself increasingly unusual, because I like to see and hear what's around me -- the people, the birds and animals, the scenery -- and take it all in rather than trying to block it out. I feel that I learn more about the world and about myself this way. Some of the richest, most memorable experiences in life come when we are just watching things happen and being present in the shared reality.

      The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

      by Eric Stetson on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 09:43:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  They are afraid, they have no idea how to help, (15+ / 0-)

        or they think maybe they'll make a bad situation worse by further antagonizing or upsetting the person. Any number of reasons... I think many would help if they knew how.

        •  Probably so. I hope so. (7+ / 0-)

          Probably more awareness/education is needed about the fact that most mentally ill people are not violent. I bet a lot of people might be worried that an unstable person might pull out a gun, so they just want to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible.

          The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

          by Eric Stetson on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:39:21 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  they don't understand (10+ / 0-)

            they don't know enough about schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar, ocd, the entire basket of disorders, so they simply fear, or make fun

            they like to laugh at them, or disapprove with bitter moues on their faces, tsk tsk that person should, get a job, find a place to live ... fill in the rest

            it's not about guns, that's a rationalization, they fear being touched, being spoken to, being powerless, being robbed, being approached, being anything, they think the person is doing this stuff intentionally because that's how they live their life, in control, so everyone else must as well, they don't look at it any other way

            reminding them that the person may be in a breakdown and be 'off his drugs' usually stops the prejudice

            thanks for this diary, its remarkably sensitive

          •  That's exactly right. I don't expect the average (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            eyo, ladybug53, RiveroftheWest

            person to walk up to a mentally ill stranger and ask if they can help. It's human nature and should not invite some ivory-tower looking down upon. I try to be kind in my dealings with people, but I'm not going to engage someone who's mumbling and jerking around. The miasma of uncaring evil in my soul? Or common sense?

          •  The mental health crisis is a morass that needs (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Kidspeak

            major renovation. It's wrong to blame the victims who fear law enforcement or institutional mistreatment, but blaming people who simply don't know how to help isn't the answer either.

            Recognizing that there is a big problem is a start.

        •  I think no idea... and the need for permission... (4+ / 0-)

          When driving in the thick of the city one evening I saw a man lying passed out in front of set of stairs leading to a duplex. As I drove past I witnessed one person walk around the body and another jog past plugged into her music. Now that man could have been lying there for a number of reasons including medical. I turned the car around to check and make sure he was breathing and okay. As soon as I stopped, two other pedestrians stopped as well, and I was able to confer with them from my car and make sure the man was alright. Turned out he was drunk, but still, passed out drunk in front of your house is not a safe thing to be in the city. The other two people who had stopped assured me they would make sure the man got into his house and/or call help, so I continued on my way to an appointment. I still wonder about that. Was it because these two passerbys saw me stopped, and it somehow gave them permission to show some compassion as well, or if it was just coincidence that they were not as callous as the other two.

      •  I have a son with schizophrenia (18+ / 0-)

        and sometimes interaction is not the best thing.  He really would prefer not to be interactive and likes to be left alone.  He is often afraid of people and will act warily when approached.  I don't think it is evil or bad for people to ignore a person like this.  I usually watch from a distance while around a person like this and wait to see if they need aid.  I respect my son's decision to live in this state of being.  He doesn't want to medicate or receive services.  His condition breaks my heart and it has taken me a long time and many tears to get to the point of acceptance.  He is a person who deserves to make his decision about his own health and he chooses his natural state.  

        Everyone! Arms akimbo! 68351

        by tobendaro on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 04:41:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I wonder if he had (7+ / 0-)

    Tourette's syndrome. Makes it hard to fit into the world, for sure.

    Sad thing is that this guy's story, whatever it is, is hardly unique. Nobody wants to pay for mental health care. I hope the Mental Health Parity Act has the effect of moving resources to help people who struggle with mental illness and addiction.

    I often think that people are too overwhelmed themselves. I don't want to think that they are being mean when they walk by someone who might need help. (Of course, some people are mean. I want to think that most don't know how to approach it.)

    Thanks for the diary. Thought provoking stuff.

    "Broccoli could take down a government. Broccoli is revolutionary." --Kris Carr

    by rb137 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:15:43 PM PST

    •  Yeah, some of it seemed like Tourettes. Maybe also (8+ / 0-)

      tardive diskinesia, which can develop in some people as a result of taking antipsychotic medications.

      Unfortunately, he probably had several problems going on all at once.

      I don't think most people are being mean or intentionally aloof when they ignore somebody like that. But I think it's more of a cultural thing in our society where it's seen as the norm to do nothing in such situations, rather than to talk to a person or offer help. I actually think we have a culture where many people feel embarrassed to do anything other than ignoring the person. I'm not sure how that cultural attitude developed, or when, but I have a feeling it's worse now than it was in the past -- probably as a result of the constant use of phones everywhere we go, so people tend to ignore their surroundings more than they did before.

      The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

      by Eric Stetson on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:35:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Or could be (6+ / 0-)

      a result of meds called dyskinesia.

  •  What are people supposed to do? (7+ / 0-)

    As someone with mental health problems who had to fight to get care while uninsured for 15 years, I can tell you that there are simply no options available to the MI who refuse care but are not a threat to others.  

    You can't force people to get treated even when resources are ample.   For someone who does not meet the strict criteria for court ordered treatment, there's pretty much nothing that can be done.  I'm of mixed feelings about if forcing psychiatric treatment on people who don't want it is the right thing to do even if resources were available.

     

    We want to build cyber magicians!

    by VelvetElvis on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:47:33 PM PST

    •  I see your point, but... (11+ / 0-)

      The particular person I saw today was acting in a way that was dangerous to himself and others. He was continually walking into a busy city street, for one thing. There could have been a traffic accident as a result (fortunately there was not); he himself could have even been struck by a car.

      I honestly don't know what can be done in such situations, and whether or not it's appropriate to force a person exhibiting such behavior to be medicated and/or held in a psychiatric hospital.

      But, I do think that people can at least ask the person if they need help. The thing is, when we see something happening like that, we don't even know if the person is aware of their surroundings or not, until speaking to them. If the person can respond appropriately to a person who talks to them, then at least that shows that they are able to respond to their surroundings and are not totally detached from reality. Knowing that information changes things somewhat.

      If, on the other hand, the person was unable to respond to a person attempting to talk to them, then I would probably say call 911. They might be having a stroke. That's actually what I wanted to find out, and I was prepared to call 911 if he proved to be unable to respond to my question.

      The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

      by Eric Stetson on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:53:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A Twilight Zone of no good options (20+ / 0-)

    The reason that there are many mentally ill people who could use some sort of care and treatment are walking the streets is that the greater issue of mental health treatment is itself a giant Twilight Zone of no good options.

    Years ago a very progressive idea was to do away with the Bedlam style hospital where mentally ill people were simply shut away, mostly without treatment, mostly for life.

    The companion proposal was to increase the funding at the community level so that people could find a way back into the social swim of local life and maybe self sufficiency.

    On the way to implementing this objective we ran into the budget cutting of the Reagan era.  Suddenly there were a lot of homeless people on the streets.

    Most people have no idea what to do about serious mental illness.  It strikes a relatively small minority of families.  The primordial fear we have of the mentally ill comes probably from a sense that crazy behavior could get us all killed or could possibly be contagious.  

    We feel attacked at our core because of the sense you get that there is something off center and you can't figure it out.

    These primordial attitudes are pretty ignorant, as most of the base prejudices are.  

    Getting people help who need it has become a giant hassle.  The default is the police, who can only arrest people if they appear to be threatening public safety or are disturbing the peace.  Then, all they can do is jail them.  

    There are many jurisdictions that can only jail them and then let them go back on the street, as they have no funding for a better option.  

    Hospitalization can only be required if legal definitions can be applied in a court hearing.  This gets tricky because only the most extreme cases may meet the criteria.  

    Thus, people are back on the street.  

    The street, therefore, is the default treatment option.  We call these people homeless in a generic sense that removes any more precise definition because we don't really want to borrow any trouble.  

    The problem is, we need to decide what kind of society are we?  Are we a society that puts old people out for the bears?  Or are we one in which compassion guides our policy?  Do we cast mentally ill people out into the woods to wander as they will?  Or do we intend to instead seek compassionate treatment and education in order to progress towards a more civilized ideal?

    That there are lots of people wandering the streets is mute testimony to the fact that we really can't decide.

    So a question we might ask ourselves is whether the society we live in is sane.

    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

    by Stuart Heady on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:35:40 PM PST

  •  Mehh.. our mental illness issue (5+ / 0-)

    is just one of at least twelve critical issues facing our nation-- all of which most of the nation is in total denial about.

    "We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense." Gore Vidal

    by Superpole on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 03:23:50 AM PST

  •  Eric, you might have considered calling 911. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    catwho, RiveroftheWest, raincrow, Kidspeak

    In the scenario that you just described, I think I would have phoned 911.  When someone is behaving that erratically - and I believe you mentioned that he was wandering out into traffic as well - it scarcely matters whether he told you he didn't need help.  Clearly he did.

    It was certainly worth getting an ambulance down there, so trained medical professionals could at least observe the guy, talk with him, and make their own determination.

    All that is necessary for the triumph of the Right is that progressives do nothing.

    by Mystic Michael on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 05:56:14 AM PST

  •  Great diary, thanks. (5+ / 0-)

    I grew up in an upper-middle-class area--a resort town, actually. We didn't have homeless mentally ill people walking around. After high school (during the Reagan era), I moved to a big metropolitan area to attend college. And there were plenty of obviously mentally ill people walking around. I can remember it haunting me. In particular, as a college freshman, I can remember thinking how my situation differed from theirs only because of fate.

    You're right. It's easy and it's comforting to turn the other way when somebody approaches us dressed all in rags and talking to themselves. What we need to do is look.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 05:56:31 AM PST

    •  I noticed that, too. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53, Kidspeak

      Because I volunteered with mentally challenged people at the time, I also encountered mentally ill people as well.  Professionals travel in similar circles.  I began to know some of the homeless as well as the people who assisted them.  The whole spectre became less scary, although it was a cobbled together patchwork of assistance.  I often thought we could do much better than that.

      Moving to DC during the days of Mitch Snyder raised my awareness considerably.  We have some awesome facilities for homeless and undernourished people down here.  People are doing hero's work, indeed.

  •  Last week, someone told me he was hearing voices. (10+ / 0-)

    I was sitting at a bus stop here in NYC, waiting for my ride, when a youngish (perhaps mid-30s) AA man came along, and sat down next to me as if he was also waiting for a bus.  A few moments later, he turned to me and asked me to phone 911 for him.  I didn't respond immediately, but when he saw the quizzical look on my face, he said: "I'm hearing voices."

    Fortunately I had my mobile phone with me at the time.  I made the call.  What ensued was a somewhat unusual (I'm guessing) dialogue with the dispatcher, in which I had to explain the purpose of the request - several times - before it was heeded.   She promised to send an ambulance.

    As my bus arrived just a couple minutes later, I didn't stick around to observe what happened next.  But I had provided 911 with a good physical description of the guy.  And I asked him to sit tight, assuring him that help was coming.  Hopefully he did indeed received help.

    All that is necessary for the triumph of the Right is that progressives do nothing.

    by Mystic Michael on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 06:14:40 AM PST

    •  Next time: 1-800-LIFENET in NYC (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53, raincrow, Kidspeak

      It's easy to remember.  Ask for a MOBLE CRISIS TEAM.

      Also

      1-877-AYUDESE (1-877-298-3373) in Espanõl
      ► 1-877-990-8585 for Korean and Chinese callers (Mandarin & Cantonese )
      ► 1-212-982-5284 (TTY for hearing impaired)

      New York's got it going on!

      Better to call them than the cops, for now, until the new mayor can turn some things around.

  •  Not going to be a popular opinion (13+ / 0-)

    But I ALWAYS avert my eyes. I spent four years in a state mental hospital and was assaulted more than once. I make it a very strict rule with myself not to engage with any person I don't know who appears mentally ill for my own safety and to calm my PTSD. I come off as mentally ill in real life so I've seen people do the same to me and I don't begrudge them for it. I am very jumpy in public and oftentimes talk to myself without realizing it. I don't blame anybody else for feeling nervous when I feel the same way when the situation is reversed.

    Why do I have the feeling George W. Bush joined the Stonecutters, ate a mess of ribs, and used the Constitution as a napkin?

    by Matt Z on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 06:17:59 AM PST

  •  They almost always refuse help (14+ / 0-)

    That is the great tragedy of mental illness.

    My sister has schizophrenia.  Her medication is slowly killing her.  It suppresses the voices but also keeps her mentally incapacitated - she talks with a thicker voice than she had when she was younger.

    When she stops taking her medicine, she feels better briefly and proclaims that God has cured her.

    Then the high wears off, and the voices return.  She's ended up in the hospital many times.  She ran away from home once after she stopped taking her medicine, and they found her three days later on the side of the road, with the family dog, crying for help.

    It is heart breaking.  We need better treatments - we need medicine that allows someone with schizophrenia to function without feeling dulled.

    The Cake is a lie. In Pie there is Truth. ~ Fordmandalay

    by catwho on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 06:33:13 AM PST

  •  It isn't all negative. (7+ / 0-)

    I would point to the Silver Alert system (aka Golden Alert in some states) implemented in most states.  In Kentucky, it's a Golden Alert, and this just flashed across my Twitter stream:

    (Whitley County is roughly 2 hours' drive south of Lexington, but it's a straight shot up Interstate 75, so broadcasting the Golden Alert in Lexington gives it coverage along the most likely route of northward travel.)

    Several states have extended their Silver/Golden Alert programs to encompass not only seniors, but also those youth and younger adults suffering from mental health concerns.

    Now, it's true that Silver Alerts won't be of help to those folks without family or caregivers (since it is they who must open a Silver Alert), but I would suggest that these programs indicate that our society has not become quite as heartless as your experience might suggest. I believe that these alerts do a great deal to alleivate the fear that many folks feel when interacting with a (potentially) mentally ill stranger, and that they prepare law enforcement to handle the situation properly if a 911 call should bring them into the picture.

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 06:39:58 AM PST

  •  You know what I think. :-) (5+ / 0-)

    Tipped and rec'd.

    Sure once I was young and impulsive, I wore every conceivable pin. Even went to socialist meetings, learned all the old union hymns. Ah, but I've grown older and wiser. And that's why I'm turning you in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 06:51:35 AM PST

  •  Republicans have SAVAGED the safety net (9+ / 0-)

    and Managed Care has ravaged mental illness treatment opportunities.

    I work in one of those opportunities: a Medicare-based partial hospital program. The government HATES this program and has been chopping away at it for years.

    At this time, a person with a mentl illness crisis can go sit on a hospital bed for $800- $1000/day and that money will pay for a full week of treatment here.

    But nooooooo...... it is the mentally ill the government hates: they're poor. More useless than just a poor person: the mentally ill are poor people who need help that isn't cheap and them managed care has fucking their recovery down to a science. There are all manner of issues that affect the CONSISTENT treatment and recovery of these people with these illnesses.

    They live in fear of the mentally ill getting too much treatment.

    They have totally fucked up the mental health delivery system in Georgia - it is needlessly unsupportive while we pour money into foreign wars and just give it to the fucking rich.

    Mental Health Care? I'm providing it right now.

    Legal means "good".
    [41984 | Feb 4, 2005]

    by xxdr zombiexx on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:06:37 AM PST

    •  I'm glad to hear that you're working in that pos. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, ladybug53

      You and I have gone back and forth a couple of times over a couple of things- and while we don't agree on everything, I know that you're not an asshole, and I know that your heart is very much in the right place.

      As the spouse of someone who's been in a similar program, thank you. We need more folk like you doing this work, and fewer people without any passion. The right person can make an immense difference, and the wrong person can do a lot of damage.

      Should we ever meet, I believe I owe you several beverages.

  •  I've lived in a neighborhood with a (5+ / 0-)

    fair sized population of homeless. I was friendly with several, and they warned me from a few. I thought I could tell if someone was harmless. Saying that, I was riding a train one day, and an attractive, young white man was  muttering to himself. He reminded me of someone I'd known years before and I looked at him, then realized he wasn't that person. Our eyes met. He began to get louder,  then began spinning from a tight circle to larger and larger and all averted their eyes until he lunged with his hands toward my throat. I struggled through the people to escape and he thrust toward two other women before turning back to me the doors opened and we leaped out and began running. The doors closed before he got off. We three stood gasping and laughing with relief, the other two women asking if I knew him, why did he seem to want to kill me? I'd never seen him before.

    I try to watch discretely when I notice someone acting bizarrely, because sometimes they are dangerous. A policewoman was killed here a couple or so years back by a man she approached who had been reported as acting oddly. His family was sick over it, saying they'd been trying to get him institutionalized but no place would keep him long-term, always releasing him. I blame Reagan that these people are not in facilities receiving help, or at least basic care - if that is all that can be given. I remember when that policy went through, the temporary group homes as patients were "re-integrated" into society. I remember walking up on two men ahead of me who I recognized from a local group home, and hearing them discussing how to grab and rape a woman. (I stopped walking and let them get far ahead and then took another route.) Some mentally ill people are dangerous. If one doesn't have the training, one should use caution, a high amount of it, before approaching someone displaying unusual behavior. I don't see those others as acting heartless by ignoring that man; the heartlessness is perhaps that we are not fighting to fund and open facilities where these people can live.

    "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." Mohandas Gandhi

    by cv lurking gf on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:09:17 AM PST

  •  New List for Available Beds (8+ / 0-)

    Since you mentioned State Sen Deeds in your diary, I want to share some good news in the aftermath ....the Virginia database for mental health bed vacancies went live yesterday.  I heard about it on the radio.  

    Psychiatric Bed Registry

  •  I call it the "invisibility cloak" (6+ / 0-)

    As a physically handicapped person, I'm pretty obviously "not normal" in every social situation. Few people will ever offer help unless I ask specifically, and sometimes not even then. Sometimes they are mysteriously deaf and strategically blind. Sometimes I've struggled for 20 minutes to open a heavy door, and then, just as I get it under control, a "helper" will appear. It's sort of like the social rule is, "if I pretend you're not there, I will have no obligation to help you until you've proven you can succeed without my help." (Unless, of course, I am creating an obstacle that they need to get around.)

    Human nature, I suppose...

    •  My son will spend all of his life (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, suzq, blueoasis, ladybug53

      Struggling with heavy doors. He is a kid now so plenty available to help him.  Your post reminds me that there is so much work left to do.

    •  I was in the store the other day (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, viral, suzq, ladybug53

      and a woman in a chair was trying to reach a higher shelf.  

      She was missing her legs, and people were clearly uncomfortable.  I think it's human nature, but it's a shitty part of human nature.

      At first I wasn't sure how to react, you know, do you approach a stranger?  Will she feel embarrassed?

      I decided to just offhandedly ask if I could get her something, and she told me and I got it.

      You know, like she was normal or something (being snarky here).  Of course it is like any other person being too short to reach stuff (like me) but we aren't sure how to approach.  

      My mom had polio as a child and it ravaged her legs, although she was able to walk with a pronounce limp.  People stared all of the time.  It pissed me off!  But she just said "fuck 'em".  (Literally she said that).

      People just couldn't stop themselves from staring.

      As I said, humans can be such assholes sometimes.

  •  Thank you for telling us that (4+ / 0-)

    story. It really helps to raise awareness. My daughter is sick, and like Creigh Deeds's son did, enjoyed the privileges of a comfortable life.

    My Daughter Sleeps in Jail Tonight

    •  Thank you for sharing your daughter's story. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, ladybug53

      I am so sorry to hear of her struggle and that of your family. Your article is a much-needed testimony about the reality of mental illness and how it affects people from economically comfortable backgrounds just as much as the poor.

      The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

      by Eric Stetson on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 09:58:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It doesn't only happen (5+ / 0-)

    in extreme circumstances, a guy mumbling to himself on the road.

    It happens every day to people who suffer depression or anxiety.

    No one wants to be around them.  Or they laugh because they can't fathom how it feels, the person must be fucked up to 'choose' to be so crabby.

    Even the slightest variation in reaction will make you a pariah.  For example, I tend to need a few minutes in the morning at my cubicle before I'm ready to engage with people.  At the same time, people who I know can't stand one another say "Good morning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" to each other.  That is something I will NEVER be able to do, to pretend to be joyful to see someone if it's phony.  I'm cordial and friendly but that bullshit is for the birds.

    So my quiet entrance and moments at my desk are perceived in a really negative light.

    And so I'm tagged as "weird", perks bestowed on everyone else and they look golden even when their bad behavior impacts my ability to do my job.  Surely it's always the weird one's fault, right?

    People don't get it, and they distance themselves, and they never ask what's wrong or offer to help.  They get angry or disgusted, and reject you.

    If they do that to someone who is merely depressed, why would they not distance themselves from someone way further along the spectrum?

    •  Don't Even Think About Your HR File (4+ / 0-)

      The last place I worked, I raised and gave away flowers and plants all the time, mostly just to screw with people's expectations. I'd email the whole group, and I gave away a lot of stuff.   So when I had the final rodeo with HR they were grilling me about my mental health (highly illegal) and asking me what I do with my spare time.  I said "I cultivate plants and flowers and give them away," and the HR person practically snarled "Yes we know about the flowers."

      Assume every email you ever wrote is going under a microscope.  And remember, every sexual harasser, embezzler, alcoholic, and even Jerry Sanduski got away with it as long as they did because they some pathological "enabler" in HR had their back every step of the way.

      Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

      by bernardpliers on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 09:28:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've already passed (0+ / 0-)

        the point of no return with e-mails.

        I stopped caring because the absence of e-mail evidence has been used against me, and the presence of e-mail has been used against me.

        At this point if an e-mail creates evidence of a conversation, I will write it even if the writing of it makes me look bad.

        I have a Union, which is helpful.  

        Recently I asked for assistance with some clerical and mid-level stuff (which I normally do myself but is expanding exponentially to the detriment of high-level programs) and the answer was NO.  I'm working unpaid overtime.  I'm stressed out.  

        They say I need to be more organized, so NO.  Never in my life have I asked for help like this.  But . . . NO.

        So this other woman (cheerful, yay!!!! sort of woman) has about half as much stuff to do, blows me off (although I am her superior at least on paper though she doesn't officially report to me) so I can't get my own projects done, and flits around the building making friends everywhere . . .

        A few years ago I worked at a professional level on a project in a subject very dear to my heart.  I developed and wrote guidelines, worked with consultants, etc.  The entire subject matter area was moved to another division so I was no longer involved.  Major sad.

        A year later we've hired this woman, and she wanders over to that other division and just sort of insinuates herself into that subject matter area - as if we have nothing to do in our unit.  She was told to lay off but oh, well, you're already doing XX, so feel free!

        Fast forward to yesterday - because of her joyful personality and exposure to people in a subject area (and indeed, a particular project I'd been working on) she co-opted without permission - she was appointed to a high level task force regarding this issue.  

        Ohhh, 4 people recommended her, though!!  Like she didn't lobby?  Seriously?

        I wanted to cry.  Instead I failed to be adequately poker-faced (let alone joyful!) and now look really petty.  Shit.

        And the boss says "Nothing to see here, it's just the type of personality you have."

        •  You Can Only Hope She Doesn't Utterly Destroy It (0+ / 0-)

          That's the really bad part - that people like that are often devastating and spend years riding projects into the ground.  Somehow they walk away without a scratch and move onto their next glorious fiasco that was built on someone else's hard work.

          Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

          by bernardpliers on Fri Mar 07, 2014 at 08:25:49 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Even worse, (0+ / 0-)

            she'll do a great job, look pretty doing it, and will have a blast.

            Meanwhile, today I got perhaps the single most insulting comment from my boss that I've ever gotten from any boss:

            "I've watched you and [despite never having given you feedback about this] have concluded you just don't have the bandwidth for your job."

            Not good.

    •  Pervasive Accusations Of Mental Illness (4+ / 0-)

      Perhaps the greatest enigma in this whole topic is how many mentally ill people constantly accuse others of being mentally ill.  This is pretty much a full time job for the various personality disorders.  In an office situation where a PD and their minions are running the show, they will target and eliminate anyone not mentally ill by accusing them of being mentally ill.

      This makes HR the ideal playground for someone raised by abusive alcoholics. They get to believe they are a "people person."  I could not do that job because I would know that at least half the time I was simply a tool in some personal vendetta that was going to repeat itself over and over and over as new hires got tossed into the meat grinder.

      Employment lawyers are kept busy by the bad HR people who illegally accuse workers of being mentally ill while the HR person engages in stereotype personality disorder activity of stalking someone to "prove" they are sick and punish them for the (imaginary) sickness.  

      Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

      by bernardpliers on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 09:56:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  America is the land of the "fake smile." (5+ / 0-)

      We have a culture in this country where everyone is expected to act happy all the time, not even just emotionally neutral. Many workplaces actually enforce happiness (or acting happy under all circumstances and conditions).

      I think this originates from the American culture of slavery, in which the subordinate human being (the enslaved person) was expected to demonstrate that he/she was supposedly happy to be a slave, by constantly grinning in all interactions with the master.

      Nowadays, anyone in a job that's not considered executive level, is expected to display the emotional affect of the slaves of the antebellum South -- not as extreme, but the same basic idea: affirming/pretending happiness under all conditions, even when one is suffering in the job, in life in general, etc.

      Many cultures around the world find the American habit of constant fake smiling to be quite weird.

      The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

      by Eric Stetson on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 10:05:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Also Abusive Families (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        delphine

        .....because secrecy is what holds the group together, only the abuser is entitled to have any emotions, and the group will unify and attack anyone that complains or even states the obvious.

        Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

        by bernardpliers on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 01:38:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The Last Beds Are Disappearing (4+ / 0-)

    Consider the case of VA state senator Creigh Deeds whose son went berserk and then killed himself.  There was no bed available for him the previous week, so he was only under observation for a couple hours.  

    http://m.roanoke.com/...

     A neighbor reported something similar after his son flipped about and spent 24 hours under observation in the ER because there was nothing else available.

    Too many people like this are going to get tasered and shot because they can't get admitted for 72 hours.  

    Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

    by bernardpliers on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 09:22:39 AM PST

  •  women alone, particularly young women alone (3+ / 0-)

    should not engage in that situation.  I occasionally do now that I have reached middle age, but talking to a clearly mentally ill man on the street is an invitation for sexual assault.

  •  Gender difference? (4+ / 0-)

    As a petite woman who isn't trained in hand-to-hand combat, I generally don't make eye contact with anyone on the street.  Call me heartless, but my personal safety is more important to me.

    "Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." -- G.W.Carver

    by northbronx on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 09:50:57 AM PST

  •  There's another question, too. . . (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53

    I've been thinking that having a national healthcare system in place would allow us to treat some of these people. Strictly speaking, I wonder if it could be expanded to include anyone who's homeless.

    I'd struggle a bit with borderline cases. What can be done about those rare individuals who'd take tests to pass as objectively rational who "choose" to be homeless? I'm thinking anyone who would choose to be homeless shouldn't be considered rational.

    Nevertheless, I think this is the main problem with our current healthcare system; that there are so many homeless people.

    The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

    by Pacifist on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 12:12:56 PM PST

  •  Mostly we jail the Mentally Ill for lack of a (0+ / 0-)

    better alternative.

    "If Wall Street paid a tax on every “game” they run, we would get enough revenue to run the government on." ~ Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 01:34:14 PM PST

  •  My son has been (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VelvetElvis

    in that situation, I'm sure - he is homeless some of the time. Only his mutterings tend to the paranoid and belligerent, so that he often gets beat up or ends up in jail. He is banned from several stores and restaurants in his neighborhood, and in a couple of others, the managers have told me "he's like that, don't let it bother you" so they tolerate him and give him enough space.

    Our hospital beds have become jail cells, so he can add to the profits of those who feed on human misery.

    I also have mixed feelings about the right to refuse medication. But courts are available to mandate treatment when it's absolutely necessary, and I have gone to court for him a few times.

    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

    by ramara on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 02:41:00 PM PST

  •  Out of curiosity: as you watched him for 30 min., (0+ / 0-)

    what thoughts and feelings did you experience, and what finally triggered your conclusion that someone -- e.g., you -- needed to do something?

    Fight them to the end, until the children of the poor eat better than the dogs of the rich.

    by raincrow on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 03:03:41 PM PST

    •  I was somewhat reluctant to talk to him, but (0+ / 0-)

      the longer it went on, the more I felt that somebody should try to do so. The more times he walked out into the street, the more I felt that I should try to find out if he was aware of his surroundings. I admit I felt a little bit nervous when I approached him. I was a little bit relieved when he was able to respond to me.

      The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

      by Eric Stetson on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:36:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The woman who drove her van into the ocean (0+ / 0-)

    Only a few days ago in Daytona Beach was less than 2 miles from where I live.  Someone I know was one of the eyewitnesses.  Thankfully the pregnant woman and her three children whom she apparently tried to drown by driving her van into the ocean are in good condition thanks to beach patrol and pedestrians.  It has since become known that she was very mentally ill.  

    In Florida we do have the Baker Act, which allows authorities to take a person into custody for mental health evaluation for a set period of time if they seem to be a threat to themselves or others.  But for some reason the police let Ebony Wilkerson just hours prior to her trying to kill her kids despite Ebony's sister telling officers her sister claimed to be talking to demons.  FAR too many people fall through the cracks.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/...

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