Is it really community integration when we have ghettos?

As a citizen of London with severe and persistent mental illness I am alarmed by the death of David McPherson and the displacement of a group of individuals with mental health difficulties.

We are giving these individuals our best when they are in crisis but we care less when they are chronic. Many surgeries are discharged prior to what would be considered good health as are mental health patients. What would we think if 25 post surgeries were displaced from a dangerous and disgusting dwelling? We can be proud of how hospitalization for mental illness has been transformed here in London but when I share my mattress with mites before and after it will be like Alice falling through the rabbit hole. Hospitalization will be a bizarre episode in a stupor of squalor.

It needs to be asked why so many individuals with mental health concerns are housed together. Is it really community integration when we have ghettos? When affordability means shared toilets and prolonged periods where privacy is extinct these dwellings essentially become a third world hospital with fewer staff. It should also be asked how much longer these individuals would have been allowed to be unsafe, unsanitary and defiled of dignity had there not been a tragic fire? Solitude is a human need, safety, security and sanitation should be absolutes.

If we are astute enough to recognize that clean and pleasing environments facilitate healing in hospital, why do we not employ it for people who are healing in the community? It all becomes mute when individuals are endangered, denied dignity and are made to endure circumstances and confines that would lead many to mental health difficulties. Possibly we would not remove the revolving door of hospitalization but fewer would need hospitalization if basic human needs were met in the community.

Many fine people and agencies came into contact with this tragedy far before it never should have been. Individuals with severe and persistent mental illness do not ask to be in these circumstances they simply need our assistance. I’m fairly certain it is against the law to do otherwise.

Catherine Zeta Jones

An anti-stigma campaign I follow on Twitter sent me a message that “Actress Catherine Zeta Jones has been living with bipolar for several years and rejects any stigma attached to it.” Easy for her to say. It was further Tweeted that Catherine Zeta Jones says there is “no shame in seeking help.” For someone with fame and finances this might even be true.

For Catherine Zeta Jones, mental health stigma and treatment are vastly different from the experiences of many who also suffer from mental illness. For her being open about her diagnosis and experiences is at least unintentional personal publicity. As they say: There is no such thing as bad press. In the case of celebrities a personal persona and public appetite is created and nourished by being a news story. It would appear that Catherine Zeta Jones has thrown herself in front of an oncoming car for the benefit of many but I would argue that the car has already driven by. The lack of blood and guts, spell evidence.

Catherine Zeta Jones is portrayed as some patron saint of bipolar but what has she really risked? Stigma is at a point that it is rarely rolled out for the famous. I am not inferring that there is no such thing as stigma but little if any cuts through fame and favour. Call me cynical but these revelations don’t seem to affect these individuals beyond increasing their brand, public persona and popularity.

If I’m depressed in bed or manic at the mall, am I apt to seek help or find relief in Catherine’s revelations? The rubberneckers look but the rest of us are too busy trying to survive. These celebrities don’t give interviews in their underwear next to dust bunnies; they follow a loose script in their personal libraries in Bermuda. Speaking of which, what meds do I take to find myself in Bermuda with a maid?

I think “Catherine The Great” has been a source of conversation around mental illness but I would argue that her battle with stigma is similar to Don Quixote who mistakes windmills for giants and charges at full speed. My suspicion is that stigma is a word, for Catherine Zeta Jones. For many stigma is no windmill but a true giant. It affects self image, personal and family relationships, employment and status.

When I think about bipolar I don’t envision a person like Catherine Zeta Jones who uses overpriced shoes for bookends because they’re too cute for closets. In my world people with bipolar have their shoes taken away so they can’t asphyxiate themselves with the laces.

I imagine Catherine’s experience with mental illness has been challenging and difficult but in the scheme of things we are talking about First World problems in comparison to Third World problems. Did she have to wait six months to see a psychiatrist? Were the chairs in the waiting room plastic or leather? Did she have to wonder if she could afford her medication? Was she worried about missing work? Did she have to resort to disability assistance to feed herself?

I’m waiting for one of these famous sacrificial lambs to tell us about their hemorrhoids. That experience is the same for us all and if I knew Catherine Zeta Jones used “Preparation H” I could actually hold my head higher at the pharmacy. There’s little fame in swelling so I shall suffer in silence.

Dear John Kastner: Medicine Is Not Media and Therapy Is Not Theater

(http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/forensic-psychiatric-patients-are-ill-not-evil—and-we-should-stop-hiding-them/article18205568/?utm_source=Shared+Article+Sent+to+User&utm_medium=E-mail:+Newsletters+/+E-Blasts+/+etc.&utm_campaign=Shared+Web+Article+Links)

Re: Forensic psychiatric patients are ill, not evil – and we should stop hiding them.

According to the great documentarian John Kastner, “it’s time for forensic psychiatric patients to stop hiding; stop the apologizing; stop begging for understanding and start demanding that people recognize they are called patients…”

I’m not sure whether to weep or wail at John Kastner’s ignorance. As a past forensic patient I have had a well followed blog for near three years. I have been nominated and chosen as a Champion of Mental Health at a regional and national level. I speak publicly at universities, hospitals and conferences. I have been on TV and radio as a past forensic patient. I’m not exactly famous but for a documentarian I’m basically hiding behind a toothpick. I can only guess Mr. Kastner’s blindness is a direct result of his myopic movies.

It seems incongruent that a national note to empower forensic patients included not a word from one. Thanks for the disrespect and disempowerment.

Even the title of Mr. Kastner’s “new documentary about “THEM”: Out of Mind, Out of Sight: inside the Brockville Psych.” Is an affront to forensic psychiatry and mental health care in general. Anyone with the internet can discover that it is not “Brockville Psych” but it is in fact called and known as The Brockville Mental Health Centre. I know nothing about documentary films but shouldn’t the title be the actual name of the facility? Leave the name out if you have no constructive way of wording it. Further, a truthful title would add to Mr. Kastner’s insistence that his craft is other than sensational like the media he accuses of the same.

As an individual who has lived as a forensic psychiatric patient and was found to be Not Criminally Responsible on Account of a Mental Disorder I take great offence at Mr. Kastner’s so called defence of individuals similar to me. Mr. Kastner’s article doesn’t even make it out of the first sentence without draping readers with the derogatory. Mr. Kastner mentions that these individuals were once referred to as “criminally insane” which is as offensive as reminding readers of how we used to refer to African-Americans.To further the insult it is not even correct. Criminally insane connotates psychopathy which is excluded from forensic interventions as these individuals are presently incurable. The insult is truly ignorant when we consider that in the past these individuals were in fact referred to as Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity.

The second sentence of Mr. Kastner’s so called salve to stigma is not offensive but revealing of the underlying ambition of self promotion which he reiterates twice more in an article of eleven paragraphs. Do Canadians a favour and take out an advertisement which can’t be confused with information or objectivity.

Mr. Kastner faults mental health professionals in Canada for keeping forensic patients hidden from public view as though cancer patients can be found in the flyers on my doorstep. It must be inconceivable for someone who puts anything on film to consider that privacy and peace are integral to healing. Privacy and peace are therapeutic, progressive and necessary. My physician does not have a projectAtron in the waiting room but apparently my psychiatrist should. The public needs to better understand the instances and individuals affected but Mr. Kastner’s tone would have me next to the bearded lady in a carnival. Most forensic patients, me included would rather return to the regular and have jobs, friends and families. I forgo the camouflage of the ordinary so people like Mr. Kastner can become informed and leave those I know and understand to the lives they choose. Medicine is not media and therapy is not theater. Filmmakers should focus on their own art and leave the art of healing to clinicians.

Upon first reading Mr. Kastner’s words I figured he had only fouled his first two sentences but he followed with a third. “Here’s how the hiding works: a person suffering from mental illness commits a horrific act of violence.” There are instances of horrific acts of violence but many are involved in forensic mental health care for less serious situations. If Mr. Kastner wove a story about prison we would only be familiar with murderers. There are no headlines or horrors in many instances so Kastner does not cast them. They do not fit into his worldview or preconceived notions. Whether it is a documentary or a newscast we see only bloodshed because it is about blockbusters. Even a documentarian wants to have people watch his film. We would be barely curious to the reality, so it is formed and fashioned into film and footnotes for consumption. The myriad of avenues for coming into conflict with the law are overlooked in the name of ratings and reviews.

Mr. Kastner in his one man battle against stigma refers to me and all other forensic patients as “glassy-eyed people in jail jump suits. Scary as hell.” Less than a paragraph later he describes himself as “a filmmaker who has helped de-stigmatize many of his subjects…” I would add, at the expense of all others. It all becomes documentarian doublespeak. Mr. Kastner is doing no more for forensic patients than Sun Media themselves.

Mr. Kastner thinks “the secrecy is a terrible idea. You cannot de-stigmatize people by hiding them away.” It makes for easy filmmaking and spectacular shots but few who struggle with mental illness are helped by promotion and publicity. Do you want to see anyone when you have a headache? As a filmmaker I can forgive Mr. Kastner for being ignorant to mental health but he obviously needs reminding of that ignorance.

Many of the advances that were made with me took place behind closed doors. I went to the mall, I went to the library and I went to the park. I sat in a psychiatrist’s office, I sat with a psychologist, I sat with a social worker, I sat with a nurse and I sat with an occupational therapist. I worked through my mental health challenges in privacy, not secrecy. If I took Mr. Kastner’s recommendation I would be on the front steps of the hospital with well wishers honking as they drove past my pain and struggle.

Mr. Kastner’s logic seems to be that practitioners are unhelpful and hide patients. The message they are sending is that “these people are such freaks we dare not show them to you.” I have been around enough mental health practitioners that I have diagnoses for Mr. Kastner. He suffers from projection. As a filmmaker he will be familiar with one of its meanings but it has nothing to do with documentaries. Mr. Kastner concisely and conclusively attributes his own ideas, feelings and attitudes to other people. Here follow his own words; “criminally insane, glassy-eyed, scary as hell, Vincent Li’s, literally raving lunatics, spouting gibberish, often potentially violent, and the Jekyll and Hyde transformation.” I may be spouting gibberish but I can only wonder how Mr. Kastner’s words can be extrapolated from stigma itself into any semblance of a “filmmaker who has helped de-stigmatize many of his subjects.” Mr. Kastner is stigma in action and voice.

I can’t imagine someone so completely blind to the workings of forensic psychiatry or the feelings of those who live and work in it. According to Mr. Kastner he spent 3 and half years in the forensic psychiatric system. Showing up on Tuesday with a TV clearly doesn’t make you informed. I am reminded several times in Mr. Kastner’s article that he has made two documentaries on forensic psychiatry. Mr. Kastner will likely never know what it means to be confined for father’s day without a card or call, family day without family or Christmas without either. I suggest Mr. Kastner has little to no insight into the patient experience which enables him to cast his wounding words. He similarly has no insight into clinician care, knowledge or expertise. Mr. Kastner is a filmmaker. If Canadians need to know about cartoons or colour filters we can call him but when it comes to being a voice for forensic psychiatry or forensic patients he should do us the favour of keeping his mouth shut.

Mr. Kastner believes that hospital staff, who he admits desire to protect their patients are in a “large part responsible for the stigmatization of their patients.” Please Sir, take some credit yourself. Have any of those hospital staff used a national newspaper to call their patients Hyde or lunatics? Save us the sanctimony.

Mr. Kastner has become familiar with some extreme cases and rolled them up into a story he considers complete and most ashamedly now the public considers the same. His focus, language and footage have in no way illuminated anything but a figment of his imagination and a projection of his paltry and pathetic brush with the forensic system and sadder yet forensic patients.

Mr. Kastner calls forensic patients out to “start demanding that people recognize they are called patients…” In approximately 10 paragraphs he did not call me or my friends a patient. I was “criminally insane, hidden, a resident of a psych, someone who has committed a horrific act of violence, glassy eyed, scary as hell, Vincent Li’s, monsters, freaks, raving lunatics often potentially violent and someone who spouts gibberish. If ever he reads this, gibberish may not be the first descriptor he uses.

Mr. Kastner offers me and my friends hope and allays the public’s fears by explaining how “after just two or three injections of anti-psychotic ‘drugs’…many literally returned to their senses.” What he calls the Jekyll and Hyde transformation. I have been a consumer of mental health services for over 35 years and not once have I been injected with a “medication.” I was found Not Criminally Responsible but before, during or after I have been no more Jekyll than Hyde.

I can only hope Mr. Kastner’s documentaries and words do something for himself for they are of little use to those he claims to champion. If a person wants to find fame by filming the forensic please leave your delusions at the door.

I am and we are so much more than Mr. Kastner has ever stopped to imagine.

“Let them drink Scotch”

I read with fascination about the prime minister’s visit to the arctic. I have read about John Franklin’s expedition that disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage in 1845. I’m happy the prime minister has a history hobby but as a Canadian it raises some serious questions. One headline read “Scotch tumblers were raised last month on the bridge of HMCS Kingston to the search for Erebus and Terror.” Many Canadians are interested in Franklin’s ships but outside of the prime ministers personal obsession, I fail to see the national significance.

Stephen Harper and the conservatives should be paying attention to the terror of the 21st century not the ‘Terror’ of the 19th century. Someone should point the prime minister to a newspaper and highlight a few current concerns. We have a war in Syria, the Ukraine-Russia crisis, conflict in Israel and Palestine, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Ebola, global warming and closer to home the economy, murdered and missing indigenous women, prostitution laws, marijuana laws, the tar sands, the torture of mentally ill offenders and poverty, homelessness and hunger.

It is time the prime minister pulled himself away from the pages of history to take a glance at the misery faced by many Canadians and their children. I’m not sure I could raise a tumbler of Scotch to a dead explorer being the leader of one of the few developed countries without a national meal program for children. It is not liberal or in any way political to ensure all children have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

Fifteen percent or almost 4 million Canadians are considered “food insecure.” While the prime minister is drunk on his hobby many Canadians are unsure of where their next meal is coming from. These people can be sure that next meal will not come from this prime minister. Stephen didn’t say it out loud but his actions and attentions scream, “Let them drink Scotch.”

The conservatives are drunk on perpetuating their power. Stephen Harper is politically shrewd and has clearly calculated a balanced budget is his only key to re-election. He has also calculated that 4 million hungry people don’t stand in line to vote because they are across town in a food line. The prime minister would rather drink Scotch on the bridge of a ship with his conscienceless cronies and imagine an explorer who risked it all for the benefit of a nation. “You sir are no John Franklin. Nice mittens by the way. Take them off and roll up your sleeves. Your nation needs a builder not a bookworm.”

It is not frivolous to feed people and it is fiscally responsible. Hungry children are sick more often and struggle academically. The medical and social costs are future expenses but you were elected to look ahead not look back. Children under 18 represent over 40% of food bank clients in Canada. If the prime minster wants to look back he should travel back to 1989 when Canada made an all-party resolution to end child poverty. I am not geographically gifted but the answers are not in the arctic.

The search for Franklin is a joint public-private partnership. I’m not sure what the unemployed or hungry think but I feel this historical hunt could and should be entirely privately funded. This government can’t find food for families but they dredge dimes from Canadians to find Franklin. With respect to the dead the man and his mission are beyond saving. The voices of the past are important but meaningless in comparison to the voices of hungry children. This prime minister needs to toss the tumbler and drink in some empathy and social responsibility.

We have two Canadian Coast Guard ships propelling past the permafrost on government gas. What exactly are we giving Canadians? I usually save my swear words for when I’m through the drive thru but Canadian school children don’t give a FROSTY about Franklin when they can’t find food.

Sucking back Scotch with the prime minister were Industry Minister James Moore, Environment Minister Leona Aqlukkaq, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and billionaire and Blackberry profiteer Jim Balsille was there to represent common Canadians. The Inuit on shore who pay $8.99 for a head of lettuce and the rest of Canadians were too ashamed to participate, or, a shameful reminder. Billionare Balsille “was very proud. It was a nation-building moment.” Anyone familiar with Jim Balsille or Blackberry might question his perception of building.

There’s nothing wrong with being a geography geek, a history hound, a billionaire or a bureaucrat but when your interests are at the expense of taxpayers and citizens without work or food, you become a “figurehead” of folly. The ass end of a ship is the best place for such individuals. Presently we can’t do much about many of these idiots but when the conservative ship capsizes we won’t have to yell “man overboard” as there weren’t any to begin with.

Canadians will no doubt sleep better when we find splinters of these historic hulls. Too bad the prime minister and his cronies will be the few who have food in their teeth to make use of the toothpicks.

Commercials Don’t Cure

Times have been tough for many Canadians but thankfully we have Prime Minister Harper to keep us afloat or is it aloof? All I see is a scripted tight lipped dance of deception. The Prime Minister keeps his ministers on leash with such consistency they can only foul where they walk. Parliament is becoming putrid.

Minister of Veteran Affairs Julian Fantino according to Wikipedia was a security guard, serves with Criminal Intelligence and is currently preoccupied with ministerial moronity.

With one in six full-time members of the Canadian Forces experiencing symptoms of mental health or alcohol related disorders, propaganda has become a prescription. Veterans and their calls to Fantino are often not returned and even individuals who show up in person are sidestepped. Accountability In Action; all we need is a sign on the road. Fantino closed 8 regional Veteran Affairs offices and pumped it into propaganda. The conservatives have increased their advertising to veterans by about $4 million. TV therapy.

One would assume a minister responsible for veteran affairs would be slightly familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but what is the political gain in that? PTSD includes a disturbance of day-to-day activities and avoidance yet we have the conservatives dishing out information during the most expensive periods of Stanley Cup playoff hockey. Individuals with PTSD are unlikely to be dialed in to Don Cherry.

Many who are experiencing PTSD and other symptoms are uninterested in hockey let alone the commercials. It makes about as much sense as printing this propaganda on Cheerios cereal boxes. Not everyone eats Cheerios and fewer still read the box.

Canadians are not stupid. It is not difficult to see that this government is more interested in promoting itself than assisting veterans. Who benefits from increasing advertising by $4 million while cutting veterans programs themselves? It’s basically a going out of business advertisement without the bargains.

Fantino defended the spending increase in advertisements as an attempt to communicate directly with veterans. I’m not one to sidestep stupidity but that one seems best left as it was uttered.

I don’t know much about the military but from what I can glean from this government’s actions, veterans are issued TV’s for communication and are without telephones or mail service. I’m a simple man but when I want someone to know something I often use our precarious postal service or pick up the phone. But then Canadians wouldn’t see what a great job the conservatives are actually not doing. If this government was doing a fair job they wouldn’t have to figure out ways of confusing Canadians.

Spending $ 103,649.00 on promoting Tweets does little good to veterans who haven’t a Twitter account. This government is more interested in reaching out to those who haven’t yet been betrayed. You’re an idiot if you need 144 characters to message a hero. It is unfortunate for all Canadians that we are lead to believe by this government more than we are led.

We just passed a huge tribute to World War 1. The same heart that took Vimy, stormed Dieppe and battled Afghanistan. We mustn’t pay tribute only to one conflict or simply the fallen. It is a slap in the face to others who withstood and endured. The conservative answer to selflessness is self promotion and pitiful politics. We must support these brave men and women whenever and wherever they need a hand. We do not leave these men and women injured in the field of battle but we are doing just that at home. It is the epitome of disrespect and I am ashamed that the conservative government thinks more of self promotion than the sacrifices these individuals have made. The blind can see and they can also vote.

For further reading search my blog for “A Disservice To Common Sense.”

It’s A Plane Shame

“A plan by Correctional Service Canada to move female inmates who are mentally ill from prisons across the country into a new, specially equipped unit in Ontario’s Brockville Mental Health Centre is on hold because governments have yet to finalize a funding agreement.”

“Last May, Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney held a large news conference in Brockville to announce a pilot project as part of the government’s response to the death of Ashley Smith. The 19-year old, who was mentally ill, choked to death in October 2007 in a Kitchener, Ont., federal institution after tying a piece of cloth around her neck. Guards stood outside her cell and watched — they had been ordered not to intervene.”

Forgive me for referring to Minister Blaney as Minister Baloney, it’s just easier for me to read.

“Federal corrections officials have acknowledged that between 20 and 30 female inmates are in need of psychiatric care that can’t be provided in prison. Baloney said at the time the two beds in Brockville were a first step in addressing those needs.”

Minister Baloney said, “The death of Ashley Smith was a terrible tragedy. This is why we need to take action, so such a thing never happens again.”

A news conference and announcement are not action, they are advertising. Thanks for the propaganda.

Am I off base to expect leadership and integrity from my government? I can deal with avenues I do not agree with but basic human needs should never be politicized. When a person or government clings to a tough on crime agenda to the point where citizens are tortured in solitary confinement I take issue.

The conservatives didn’t have a problem finding monies for Minister Tony Clement to purchase votes in his home riding. Minister Cement was at the time responsible for cutting excessive expenditures. Ha! This jackass moved a good portion of $50 million into his own riding. I’m sure most Canadians are pleased or complacent in the fact that much of this money went into parks, walkways and gazebos. I suspect that those who sleep in parks and under gazebos are less impressed.

Then we have the Teflon Toupee himself painting his colours of shame on his plane. Every prime minister who preceded him in the age of flight was fine with the drab military grey the military mandated. The new design in conservative colours cost an extra $50 000.

“Hey Tony, what should we do with this $50 000?” I suspect Minister Cement’s first suggestion was to paint the gazebo but clearly the prime minister had higher aspirations for vanity.

When paint on a plane precedes and precludes social justice, human dignity, healthcare and the humane treatment of any citizen in need of mental health services it not only illustrates incompetence but it highlights conservative callousness and their complete disregard for a disadvantaged and vulnerable population.

I don’t even know all the prime ministers but have we ever had one as colourless, stale and stiff? He is like a Pez dispenser. His friends hold out their hands while he coughs up partisan gems while the rest of us would do as well if the candies just spilled on the floor. In short, do we really need him?

When a government plans and pursues policy that produces votes at the expense of compassion, re-election is not a mandate as much as an accusation. History books will fill pages about Prime Minister Harper’s abilities as a strategist. Harper may even find majorities in the future but in the minds and hearts of Canadians he will be remembered for little else.

The prime minister and his ministers in their rush to be conservative have failed to read the definition of compassion that even in a lifeless dictionary precedes the other.

In ending I think we could find the funding by eliminating the Protective Policing Service provided to the prime minister by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Stephen Harper has no vital organs, so what’s the point.

Taser Use On Mental Illness

What is the specific need for a 370 percent increase in Tasers for the London Police Force? What exactly is happening or about to happen in London that there is call for an increase in the arsenal of officers?
An enforcement perspective may not provide the best response for the public. I mainly hear enforcement agencies calling for Taser use and proliferation and I am worried that such endeavors are more important to enforcement than public safety when it comes to mental health.
I attended a presentation by the Chief of Police at Regional Mental Health Care London. During the questions following, someone asked about the use of Tasers on mentally ill individuals. In answer, the chief insisted its use was preferable to other measures and rationalized its use as nothing to be alarmed at as officers themselves shoot each other. My question to that anecdotal argument is how many officers were at the time suffering from a serious mental illness? To assume it is harmless because officers themselves have tested it is short sighted and dangerous. What a healthy individual can endure and recover from can be an entirely different point for someone who is not healthy or specifically mentally ill.
In mental health matters sometimes a voice command is ineffective. Consider that behaviour creates the police response and symptoms are responsible for this impairment and may further hinder the individual from effecting a safe and healthy interaction with police. Warning someone who is unable to respond appropriately is seemingly productive but predominantly pointless.
The chief seemed pleased that 24 of the times the Taser was pulled individuals complied with voice commands. Possibly he needs to consider those who in fact hear other voices. Voice commands may not induce co-operation in a mentally ill individual. If the Taser is present and pulled in an instance of mental illness I would argue that the rate for its use will be higher. Symptoms create the non-compliance so they need to be reacted to as an illness rather than using only enforcement guidelines. This is a health concern and I doubt 12 weeks at Ontario Police College qualifies anyone to administer a potentially lethal voltage to mentally ill civilians.
Fifty thousand volts causing uncontrollable muscle contraction and pain I fear will become some sort of police prescription for people with mental illness who are better served with alternative means of communication and apprehension.
Exposing an individual who is displaying mental illness; a health issue or even disability to an electrified incapacitation has yet to be documented as safe or ethical. If we are applying volts to a medical condition what specifically is officer training in its application to mental health. They don’t let the custodian administer Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) in a hospital but we will have police trained mainly in enforcement doing something similar and without anesthetic.
There are no reports specifically addressing the mental health effects of Tasers. I can think of no better indicator of disregard for mental health than to market and procure a product which has not been proven safe as applied to individuals with mental illness. In a study of 184 Taser related deaths 19 percent were people with mental illness or as they say one in five. Why are the one in five overlooked regarding the safety and efficacy of Taser use?
Tasers may contribute to an already high level of arousal in agitated individuals and thus death. It should be brought to the chief’s attention that people taking prescribed anti-psychotic medications are already at increased risk of sudden cardiac death. I would like to know what protocol is in place to ensure the use of a Taser in the case of mental health matters is considered a potentially lethal intervention. There are individuals who should be considered dangerously susceptible to the adverse effects of Taser use and who are at risk of death.
There is no information on the long or short term effects of Taser use on individuals who have bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia or any mental health disorder. The Taser is a product being used on the public and as such should be conclusively proven to be of little to no risk to all individuals in society but specifically for those who are compromised by illness and vulnerable to police interaction. These individuals are disabled in many cases. Taser International should answer for the oversight but also Chief Brad Duncan. Having such a keen eye for mental health matters I am surprised he so readily embraces a means of enforcement that has no footing in science with respect to its application in mental health matters.
The effects of Taser use on the mentally ill will hopefully never be known as it would be unethical to discover and counterproductive to a civilized and compassionate society. To assume harmlessness on the basis of self use is being callous to the experiences and suffering of those who experience or are touched by mental illness. When the police are involved in a mental health call, enforcement needs to mesh with medicine. To not consider or study the traumatizing effects of Taser use on mental illness is stigma.
It needs to be considered that the use of Tasers is the worst intervention for those with mental health needs. We would assume as much if it were epilepsy or diabetes. The Taser has been attributed to deaths and increasing its availability will increase its use which in turn increases the likelihood of tragedy by a percentage similar to its proliferation.
I don’t see a request for funds to increase officer training and education in mental health but the chief needs 350 000 dollars for the purchase of a product which has not been studied let alone proven to be harmless to individuals suffering from mental illness. The chief himself has pointed out the ballooning mental health scenarios police are involved in. To increase the presence of Tasers on such contacts creates a health concern for some of London’s most vulnerable citizens.
The chief may not be unbiased in the implementation of Tasers as his perspective is enforcement rather than medical and he is charged with keeping his officers safe. Are we increasing officer safety while decreasing public safety or at least the safety of a vulnerable segment of our community? I can understand that the Taser is a means of gaining compliance and would possibly mean deploying fewer officers but should it be over someone’s dead body?
The chief also overlooks that the use of Tasers in mental health emergencies has a negative impact on subsequent engagement with mental healthcare. It increases the perception of coercion. Consider the likelihood of seeking assistance after being traumatized by a Taser. These are patients we are processing not criminals we are dissuading.
The use of police services can exacerbate the difficult life circumstances facing people with mental illness and their families. Do we sincerely wish to expose these individuals to Taser use? It becomes difficult to dismantle stigma when we are witness to law enforcement over involved in mental health care. When we use the police we expose those who suffer from mental illness to enforcement practices rather than best practices.
People with mental illness on average have three to five times more contacts per year with police. They are two to three times more likely to be charged and four to six times more likely to be arrested. Being charged and arrested at a rate that is disproportionate to the general population leads to a disproportionate susceptibility to Taser use. I’m sure the chief of police would agree that an increase of 370 percent of any weapon would make an impact on incidents of use.
If the police are going to apply 50 000 volts to mental illness it should be investigated to truly understand its dangers and effects both long term and short term. If the chief is as concerned about mental health as he claims he owes it to Londoners to do everything he can to have officers reaching for skills rather than weapons no matter how innocuous he claims they are.
Chief Brad Duncan used the words that need to be budgeted for: de-escalation, dialogue and communication. If we arm officers with these tools of enforcement we wouldn’t need more Tasers.
According to the chief, police respond to behaviour and agitation is used as an indicator for Taser use. People with mental illness have a higher probability of displaying behaviours which create an interaction with police. When these behaviours are symptoms of a health concern the police must be mindful of their actions worsening an individual’s health or contributing culpably or not in the death of an ill person. As police were it your brother hearing voices, confused, scared, agitated would you be as comfortable with applying those volts?
In reference to policing and mental health the chief said we are “spending a lot of dollars not well” $350 thousand to be precise.