Saturday, April 21, 2007


Mental Health Blunders

Driving in the car today, I listened to Mike McConnell on 700 WLW in Cincinnati. McConnell is my favorite radio talk show host. I can listen to his show 6 days a week. On Saturdays, he broadcasts nationwide on many Clear Channel affiliates. He's worth listening to for a logical, common sense view on today's issues.

Much of the discussion today revolved around the shootings at Virginia Tech. One comment McConnell made was that if Cho had been committed a psychiatric hospital, he wouldn't have shot anyone because people don't mail guns to psychiatric hospitals.

But, in at least one case, someone did. During the mid-70's, I worked the weekend shift in the adolescent unit at a state psychiatric hospital in Tennessee. A 14 year old boy in the unit received a package one day. Because of the "privacy" of first class mail, the weekday staff gave the package which contained a loaded pistol to the boy without inspecting it.

Other places I had worked would tell the patient that they could open the package in the presence of staff or the package would be kept from them until discharge. Somehow this alternative never occurred to the brilliant staff.

Needless to say, that weekend, at night when I wasn't there, the boy brought out the pistol. He and some others tied up two staff members, stole a state owned van and drove off. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

This was the greatest of many incidents I witnessed that eventually convinced me that a career in mental health wasn't for me. I just wish I wasn't a slow learner and had headed in a new direction more quickly than I did. In my circuitous route to my present job, I worked at a health club, newspaper, nursing home, substitute taught, sold computers and maybe a few other things. In none of these other settings were the other staff as lacking in common sense or as nutty as most of the people I worked with in mental health.

I will qualify my statements to say that there were a few very good mental health professionals with whom I did work. But, for the most part, they fought a losing battle for the overall effective treatment of the mentally ill.

McConnell's comment brought back that memory that hadn't crossed my mind for years. It also reminded me how many of the mental health "professionals" I had worked with were egotistical and incompetent. And all too often, these were the ones that somehow rose to the supervisory and administrative positions. But almost all of them were very sensitive and caring. </sarcasm off>

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