This entry first appeared at Mad in America on August 2, 2013.
The last sentence in a recent New York Times article entitled “Program Compelling Outpatient Treatment for Mental Illness is Working, Study Says” tells of the police taking a man to get his monthly Haldol injection under the involuntary treatment law.
For years I worked on a community based team that helped homeless people in extreme states who had histories of being frequently hospitalized.
I met them wherever they lived – on the streets, under bridges, in abandoned buildings, and in parks. I formed close, trusting connections by being open-hearted and harmlessly helpful. I wasn’t trying to “treat” them or enforce medication compliance.
Many people made remarkable changes because I had truly befriended them, pursued them with compassion to where they lived in isolation, helped them get food, wash their clothes, find safe housing.
It breaks my heart to see that police-state tactics such as forced Haldol injections are understood to be the only thing that can reach some people. I know it isn’t true.
I remember the supervisor of our county hospital psychiatric emergency unit contacting me, because a long-time homeless man who I was helping, hadn’t been there in over six months.
He had been the most frequently-hospitalized person in our large county mental health system. He often had been brought to psychiatric emergency by the police – sometimes several times a month. He had spent long months in the state hospital.
The supervisor really couldn’t understand that my simply spending time with him on the streets almost every day was making the difference.
But it was.
That simple friendly contact – when we are not forcing anything on someone, but instead are harmlessly helpful and kind – is precisely what helps someone relax and choose to pursue the basic things they need, like food, clothing and shelter.
But more, that frequent time spent with me simply listening and warmly feeling concern for the homeless man, began to gradually reduce the intensity of the extreme emotional state he usually was in. He became more and more present in the moment, more lucid and at ease.
That gradual shift into a more focused and relaxed state, has happened with many other people in extreme states that I have spent time with in that heart-centered way over the past 35 years.
You might want to see one of my related MIA blog essays, “Responding to Madness With Loving Receptivity: A Practical Guide.”
I hope that our society doesn’t persist in the fear-induced reaction that forces people in our communities who are experiencing extreme states to experience violations of their human rights as well.
It’s not right, and It’s not necessary.