"Walk Around Crazy" Is A Horrible Way To Stigmatize - Schizophrenia In our Midst

This is a revision for the original post entitled: "Walk around Crazy - Schizophrenia In Our Midst". "Walk Around Crazy" is a very stigmatizing, demeaning and 100% politically incorrect expression. I certainly wouldn't recommend painting anyone with a mental health history with such broad, insensitive brush strokes (I usually save those for family members). So Alonzo was outta line. I'm slapping my own wrists. I'm sending myself to the corner. Giving myself a timeout. So now my people, can't you just feel the collective Kumbaya Spirit in the air. OK, now that that's out of the way---let me say that I do believe that there are certainly people walking among us who should, or could be hospitalized, or even institutionalized. 

I'm certainly no Doctor, as I've confessed before---so where do I draw my language from? What's my experience? One of my first jobs was as a Kennedy Krieger Aide through the CETA Program. The program was designed to see if college students were interested in furthering their career in a mental health profession. So we worked in "glamorous" (it's not glamorous, but in comparision to the other places it was) institutions like Kennedy Krieger and then we were also placed in Rosewood State Hospital (which is now closed). Rosewood was a state mental institution in the truest sense of the word. It was very brutal. Part of our "Orientation Program" was being given sticks or bats and told to keep people in check. We saw beatings from the staff administered to patients, and we also saw staff being attacked by patients. I didn't consider walking around the grounds of Rosewood to be a safe place. Even the patients who were allowed a certain freedom to "be outside" seemed challenging and confrontational. I'm sure alot of patient's rage came from the environment itself, but whether it came from that or whatever they had going on, it sure felt unsafe, and I never walked outside alone.

However, it was having a son who was disgnosed, and mis-diagnosed (otherwise known as "wrongly diagnosed") by a variety of healthcare professionals that colored my viewpoints in a variety of ways. My son Charles was initially diagnosed (typically) with ADHD right here at Hopkins, and he was seen by several psychiatrists here at Hopkins and Kennedy Krieger. Because of the severity of his condition I became quite familar with the mental health pros who're attached to the Baltimore City Public School System. From the age of 5 till the age of 15 Charles was hospitalized at Hopkins (several overnights) and for extended stays at Spring Grove in Catonsville and Sheppard Pratt. I would say during this period, and again we're talking years, that Charles and I went through a host of interviews, counseling sessions, mental health plans, and extensive therapy. Also, he spent time at a residence for young men diagnosed with similar problems in Hagerstown, Maryland. Over the course of time, I witnessed many people, around Charles' age, who didn't have the ways and means to get treatment. Our "travels" also took us into the juvenile justice system and if you've ever spent a day in juvenile justice court you're probably well aware that what passes for "treatment" for someone who exhibits disturbing behavior is either time in jail, or being released into the care of an elderly family member----who's long past the age of being able to address the needs of someone who has special needs. Charles had Asperger's Syndrome but I never heard those words till he was 12. I don't blame anyone because it was a difficult time for everyone involved and I always assumed that the Psychiatrists and others did their best. 

I don't consider every opinion piece or blog post that I post to be either totally right or wrong. I saw the piece in the NY Times and considered it to be something that contributed to the dialogue that came on the heels of our latest national shooting. I thought (this opinion from the NY Times) exposed part of the growing mental health dilemma behind this tragedy. The article cites the lack of treatment for Schizophrenia. If there was one thing I took away from my experiences with Charles is that there's rarely a commonality behind mental health diagnosis. I was given a variety of rationales for Charles's behavior and at one time had an over-flowing file cabinet full of diagnostic evaluations. 

As with a few other national massacres, and assassination attempts, the Newtown shooter's profile seemed to carry a more-than-passing resemblance to the same "walk around crazy" symptoms described above. But it certainly doesn't take me-and-me-alone to point out the warning signs. We see them everyday. We know people like this. But here's the rub. How do we get care for them? How do we get them treatment? Not everybody who sees a school counselor or a psychologist gets fast-tracked into institutional treatment. Or medication. Or special attention. Part of the profile that seems to fit is that family members may (perhaps understandably) leave them alone and let them go their own way. Being a "disaffected youth" has become almost a new status symbol. Somewhere along the line, the "angry young man" appears to have replaced puberty and become an identity all by itself.   

Again, my apologies to anyone who felt that "walk around crazy" was offensive. These opinions are mine alone. I do find it amusing that in our enlightened times, most especially in Academia, when we run across something we don't agree with, we feel the offending article, or tweet, or blog post must be punished, removed or burned in effigy. Certainly those in the medical and mental health professions will face a host of problems that will challenge much more than their sensitivities.

Feel free to leave comments on the blog (you can you know!). That's one of the joys of writing a blog. It's for the engagement. I don't expect you to agree with all that I have to say. And vice-versa. But you can express your disagreement, agreement or even EXCHANGE ideas. My name and my e-mail are right there.   

 

 

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu


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