Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

A Day with the Coppers

November 17, 2009

I spent today in the local Police Station.

One of my clients rang me this morning. He either had to hand himself in or wait until somebody came to arrest him. He decided to hand himself in. So I picked him up and took him to the station. We spent the rest of the day in the charge room. And in the afternoon as I went to my next client, he went to the court cells to wait for his bail hearing tomorrow.

It’s not everybody’s idea of a day well spent. But being a prison chaplain means I spend my days differently from most. This client has paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and personality disorder. He’s a difficult person to deal with sometimes, such as when he is not taking his meds, which is most of the time.

His life is like a centre of gravity that draws everything towards it. It draws the heavy things faster, and they do greater damage. This means that while most people live lives that are somehow “normal”, this man lives his life with heavy things coming at him pretty often. Tomorrow he will probably get another lagging. That’s a heavy thing.

My presence in the place made a difference for him and for the officers. I was able to keep him calm, and the officers were able to get their work done calmly. It was not like that the last time. He spent the time shouting at the officers and punching the perspex cell door and raging around the tiny cell in the charge room. Today they didn’t have to lock the cell door, it stayed wide open and we both sat there talking. As long as there is somebody to listen to him he can manage the turbo-charged thoughts in his mind. It’s not a task that I would be able to take on for more than a few hours at a time.

I worked with him through a crisis some months ago. Back then I managed to get him back on his medication and his life started to settle down after a few days. He didn’t end up in the police station that time. This time he hadn’t paid the gravity bill and everything came rushing at him faster than he could manage. I spoke with my assistant about him this afternoon. We recognised that perhaps being in custody is the only way that he will get medication at the moment. That’s a heavy trip in my opinion.

We sometimes like being the centre of attention. But it is a very different story being the centre of gravity.

Mental Health First Aid

August 26, 2009

I’ve worked for many years in an environment where a significant proportion of my clients have mental health issues. The environment? Prison chaplaincy.

Most prison inmates have, or have had, some kind of mental illness. And in my present work area, post-release support, the trend continues.

But one of the anomalies of this work is that there has been no training for recognising, understanding, or dealing well with mental illness. This week that changed.

Mental Health First Aid is a program of education similar to medical first aid courses. Instead of teaching people how to deal with physical accidents, it aims to teach people how to recognise mental health issues, how to respond in a crisis, and who to call for follow-up treatment.

This week I spent two days learning the basics. Perhaps I should say, trying to learn the basics. The course was packed with information and I came away, not only with the standard book produced by the training organisation, but with more pages of additional resources than I can get through in a week.

Perhaps the most profound thing for me was learning the extent to which such things as MRI scanning have contributed to understanding what goes on in the brain, thereby enriching research into mental illness treatments. The course was filled with references to dopamine, seratonin, SSRIs and such things. But underneath it all was the passion of people who’s goal is to see the fine balance of brain function restored to those who suffer in ways we outside can’t really understand.

The people running the course are
Check them out for courses running in your area.