Raging Bull

I was reading a very interesting article for a paper I am writing for my law class on police interactions with those experiencing mental illness.  The article is from Great Britain and is in a journal called Nursing Standard.  It is about a nurse, Richard Harwin, who spent five years as a police constable.  He has also worked in a medium secure unit and in forensic research at a hospital.  Throughout these different jobs he recognized the need and importance of having police officers who are properly prepared and trained to interact with populations with mental illness.  He is now a mental health intervention officer with the Metropolitan Police and has set up regular trainings with police officers and developed important partnerships with community mental health agencies so that they may work collaboratively with the police.

This sounds great!  I am very excited to use it for my paper.  But a particular quote from Mr. Harwin stood out to me:

“A police uniform can act like a red rag to a bull to someone who is mentally ill.”

I get it.  I think I get it.  Mr. Harwin is pointing out sensitive a situation may be when police are called and someone with a mental illness is involved.  Not to mention the fact that most people in general are not thrilled to deal with police let alone someone who may be regularly misunderstood and abused by those in authority.  That said…the analogy struck a cord with me.  It could be because of this blog and project but comparing someone with a mental illness to a bull, a creature that is often associated with uncontrolled aggression.

It is worth noting that according to “Ask Yahoo!” bulls are colorblind and the red cape is more of a theatrical tradition.  It points out that it is all about breeding a bull to enhance or exploit its aggression.  I’m sure Mr. Harwin did not put this much thought into what was most likely an off-hand remark.

But it struck a cord with me…

Citation for the article:
Sadler, C. (2009). A force for good. Nursing Standard, 24(15-17), 18-19.

Mentally Disordered

Intrinsically Disordered 8.5″x 11″ © William Donovan (http://www.fadingad.com/fadingadblog/?p=1222)

While researching for a paper I came across this article, Police Responses for Mental Health Assistance, written by Dr. Mark R. Pogrebin of the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and published in Psychiatric Quarterly [citation: Pogrebin, M.R. (1987) Police responses for mental health assistance.  Psychiatric quarterly, 58(1), 66-73.]. 

My paper is on the interactions of police officers with populations with mental illness.  Something that stood out to me immediately was a particular phrase Dr. Pogrebin used, see if you can spot it:

The observed increase in the number of mentally disordered people being arrested is believed to be the result of mental health efforts to deinstitutionalize psychiatric hospital patients over the last decade” (1987).

Some interesting issues are raised in that one sentence but the thing that stood out to me was “mentally disordered.”  Coming up with acceptable terms for any population is very difficult.  There is rarely consensus and someone is always offended.  Dr. Progrebin uses multiple phrases in his article including “mentally disordered,” “mentally ill,” and “citizens with mental health problems.”

I’m not saying I have an answer for the “correct” term.  I know it isn’t easy.  I think it is safe to say that “disordered” does not have any real positive connotations…but neither does “ill” and the “mentally ill” is used quite often. 

I have an anecdote that serves as an example of the struggle to come up with appropriate terminology.  A friend of mine and I were coming up with the title of a workshop that was ultimately called “Criminalization of People with Mental Illness.”  That title went through many different computations at one point, in a fit of frustration and the need to release I wrote this:

Criminalization of People With the experience of having a different mental awareness and capacity that adversely affects their way of interacting in the current accepted norms of society with regards to behavior currently deemed criminal by certain populations AKA crazy people get arrested!

Now that last part is absolutely not acceptable, the “AKA crazy people get arrested!” part.  The rest of it though written with some humor in mind and exceptionally wrong is full of qualifiers to make the language the least judgmental as possible.  It may have even been a slight critique of how social work school deals with such things.  Many people may look at that and think, “Whoa, this is crazy…oops.”  It does seem like overkill, I agree especially since I wrote it as a joke.  But I am fully aware that such things are not a joking matter and that language is important and can influence attitudes.

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