Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is Law Enforcement the New Mental Health System?

The thesis is titled "Management of the Severely Mentally Ill and Its Effects on Homeland Security." A sobering title. Even more sobering is the research that Michael C. Biasotti did for this thesis, presented to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., in September 2011.

Biasotti surveyed 2,406 senior law enforcement officials. Seventy-five percent of them have been in law enforcement for more than 20 years. He found that they are overburdened by the "unintended consequences of a policy change that, in effect, removed the daily care of our nation's severely mentally ill population from the medical community and placed it with the criminal justice system."

Seriously? Yes, indeed.

Biasotti, whose day job is vice president of the New York Chiefs of Police, discovered:
  • 84 percent of the law enforcement officers said they have seen an increase in the mentally ill population during their careers.
  • 63 percent reported the time spent on calls for service involving people with mental illness has increased, with another 18 percent saying it has substantially increased.
  • 56 percent said the increase in calls is due to the inability to refer people with severe mental illness to treatment.
  • 61 percent said more people with severe mental illness are released to the community.
  • Mental illness calls take significantly longer for officers than calls related to larceny, domestic dispute, traffic and other things. 
Biasotti reports that the need for law enforcement to run a "shadow mental health system" is putting an unsustainable drain on resources and diverting law enforcement from other important security tasks. He called for the implementation of Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws to improve care for people with mental illness, conserve law enforcement resources and keep patients and the public safer.

It seems that making budget cuts that impact mental health care is having consequences on everyone. Imagine my surprise.


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Sunday, January 15, 2012

When You Want God to Talk to You

Announce that you practice "lectio divina" in a group of good solid Christians, and you may get some funny glances. It sounds a little too holy for thou & company.  But it is really wonderful ... and easy.  If you want God to talk to you, you have to listen.

Lectio divina is Latin for divine reading. It's a traditional prayer that combines the reading of scripture, meditation on that scripture and prayer. You read the scripture for formation, not information. It transforms the word of God into the Living Word of God as applied to your specific life.

Traditionally lectio divina has four steps, although my church often teaches the addition of a beginning and an aftermath.  The four steps are: reading, meditation or reflection, prayer or response, and contemplation or resting in loving relationship with God. If you are an ultra-Myers-Briggs J like me, you have to fight taking the four steps as four things to check off.  This is, like it or not, an exercise of relaxation in God's word.

Prepare: For this to work, you need to be calm. Go someplace quiet. Turn off the ringer on your phone. Perhaps put on some soft music. Invite the Holy Spirit to meet you in this time of prayer. (The Holy Spirit has a significant role in revealing the meaning of the Word of God.) In other words, "Be still and know that I am God."

Read: Slowly read a passage of the Bible, perhaps several times, perhaps out loud. Read it so you hear every word. You also can personalize it by inserting your own name into it rather than the generic "you."

Meditate or Reflect: As you listen to the Living Word, what comes to mind? What word or words catch your attention?  What is stirred up in your spirit?

Pray or Respond: Ask God why these words have caught your attention. What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to you? How does it apply to your life today? Listen for God's response.  (Any true response will be consistent with the Bible.)

Contemplate or Rest:  Rest in God's presence.  And don't worry if you got nothing out of the reading. Sometimes that happens. 

Return: Through the rest of the day, return to the passage in your mind and reflect on it.

If this sounds interesting to you, there are two easy ways to start.  "Solo" by Eugene  Peterson, the genius behind the Message translation of the Bible, is a wonderful introduction with well over 100 lectio divina meditations in it.  It's available for the whole Bible or just the New Testament. I also have it as an e-book on my Nook, so it's convenient for travel.

A podcast called "Pray As You Go" from the Jesuits also does lectio divina in the Catholic tradition each day.  It's available on iTunes as well.

God has something to say about your life. Lectio divina will help you to hear it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rust Never Sleeps ... and Neither Do You

"It's better to burn out because rust never sleeps," wailed Neil Young, back in the day. I think even Neil has changed his mind about that idea by now. Let's make a pledge to avoid burnout in 2012, shall we?

In fact, keeping yourself in reasonably good shape is one of the core principles of being a caregiver.  Put on your oxygen mask first before you help those traveling with you, as the flight attendant says. Yet burnout is a constant threat because of the time-consuming nature of the demands on you.

M. Ross Seligson, a psychologist writing in Today's Caregiver, pointed out that you might not even see the burnout coming.  It's important to listen to the feedback of people around you. They may be able to see it before you can.

Some of symptoms are classic signs of depression: 

  • Constant fatigue.
  • Loss of interest in your work.
  • Loss of interest in your hobbies.
  • Decreased work production.
  • Withdrawal from friends and associates.
  • More use of alcohol or drugs.
  • A lot more eating or a lot less eating.
  • Feelings of helplessness.
  • Feelings of hostility.
  • Too much sleep or major sleep disturbances.
To avoid burnout, put yourself on your to-do list. First, make sure you make time for something you love to do.  Other thoughts:

  • Take a quarterly respite away from home, if that's where the caregiving takes place.
  • Get involved in a support group.
  • Take your nutritional and exercise needs seriously.
  • Focus on what you have accomplished, rather than what you did not do.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Listen to uplifting music.
  • Make a list of people who should be helping you and are not. Visit them with requests.
  • Let go of the guilt. You cannot solve this problem.
  • Be firm in what you can commit to, and don't establish a pattern of breaking your own boundaries.
  • Pray and meditate. 
This is a marathon, not a sprint. So keep yourself in the kind of training schedule that allows you to sustain energy.