I arrived at the state hospital not as a novice any longer, but with approximately five years of direct clinical work under my belt as a psychiatric social worker. I had worked with families with issues involving mental illness and / or substance abuse related problems in a variety of contexts. However, I also realized very quickly that I was far from an expert in my field, and that there was much to learn in order to better assist my patients.
Law enforcement agents do have the right to protect themselves from “imminent” violence aimed directly at them. However, I have to believe, in my clinical opinion, that much more mental health education and training, including role-playing exercises, need to occur to greatly enhance their ability to manage these events more effectively. It’s impossible to expect all to become mental health experts, but their overall responses can improve through this enhanced educative experience across all law enforcement in the country.
These are tricky illnesses and, yet, I fully believe that the more that we embrace a delivery of care that is rooted in dignity and respect, and promote the values of non-shaming and anti-stigmatizing experiences, the more adults will be more likely to reach their own personal acceptance sooner rather than later.
The longer that Howie remained at Greystone, the more he began to be called by different nicknames. The most popular (and, remember, his peers were all 15 to 17 years old) was “Crazy Howie”. Over time, amongst the large group of peers we both knew, I became known, by extension, as “Crazy Howie’s Little Brother”. I didn’t like the nicknames for Howie or for me. I like it even less, at this time, as I recognize it for all of it’s insensitivity and rudeness. It reminds me of the greater level of both a pervasive unknowing and a continued heightened level of ignorance which still exists today.
My parents have since told me that, at that time, Howie was telling them both things that sounded fearful to the point of paranoia, and that he was frequently agitated and depressed. I remember sitting with my parents at the small, round, cluttered dining room table and asking them, “What’s going on with Howie?” They told me that they honestly weren’t sure, but knew that he was suffering inside emotionally. They told me that they had made an appointment for Howie to be seen by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. I remember them looking perplexed, exhausted, and seemingly helpless to what was going on. It was exactly how I felt.
When I was all of about 7 or 8 years old, my mother decided that she wanted my two-year older brother, Howie, and I to finally meet her older sister, Phoebe, who had lived for years in upstate New York. She also told us that Phoebe had some health issues. Bless my mom’s heart, but based on cultural, familial, and generational issues, she did not forewarn my brother and I that her sister actually lived in a sanitarium.