Altering Perspectives: Life, Death, Military, Mental Illness and Kaepernick 

By Pete Rearden

I’ve had some…interesting experiences in the past 43 years. I’ve had some real high points, made some friends who are probably better than I deserve, and managed to live through it all so far. I’ve also had some incredibly low points, be it from costly misadventures, poor personal decisions, or poorly advised career moves. When I was just beginning my path through adulthood I started on a real low point. Within eleven months, eleven months to the day if we are going to be precise, I had buried both my younger brothers. The white sheep of the flock, Marc, was the passenger in a car destroyed by a freight train. My partner in crime, my fellow black sheep, my best friend, Paul, stepped between me and a crackhead mugger’s knife. He bled out in my arms on his second grade teacher’s doorstep.

My brother Marc and I loved each other, but we weren’t friends. Youth doesn’t always lend itself well to understanding. His death hurt deeply, but in comparison to later events, it wasn’t a deeply scarring trauma.

Paul’s murder made Marc’s death a veritable emotional cake walk. Seeing the blood pouring from his neck, seeing him fighting for air that wouldn’t come, watching his eyes glaze as the ambulance arrived…that broke, no, that trapped a part of me on a suburban street corner where it will always be October 13, 1995.

In 1996, the burst of blinding rage, the hyper-vigilance, the nightmares, and the long sleepless vigils were given a name: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.

It has shaped who I am, both in terms of what President Abraham Lincoln called the “lighter angels” of my being, as well as the darkest demons. Over the years I’ve learned to ride the horse rather than simply clutching the reins. Sometimes you lose your grip on those reins though.

As the years went by, I lost more friends to the grave too early. I saw death up close. Sometimes it was at a car wreck, sometimes in a medivac chopper flying in and out of firefights, sometimes in hospitals, sometimes on street corners after the world had turn to all heat and noise and smoke and screams.

Each death made me a better rider of the pale horse I’d saddled that night in October all those years ago, but it also made that pale horse a little stronger as well.

I can’t see a needless death of a mother’s son on a quiet street, a child struggling to breathe through an oxygen mask as their body shakes from the chlorine they’ve breathed, or any other number of tragedies so frequently on display in the news without the parts of me that were trapped forever in the darkest moments of my past screaming out.

It makes me mean, it makes me cruel, it makes me vicious; not physically, but a sharp tongue can cut deeper than the sharpest blade.

I’m lucky. I don’t drink myself to sleep. I’m not strung out on pills. I don’t have traumatic brain injury as well as PTSD. I’ve learned to know my demons and how to keep the harnessed for the most part.

There are men and women who’ve served us who aren’t so fortunate.

Rather than talking about Colin Kaepernick, why not start a conversation about our veterans, as they are the ones the flag worshippers are claiming to be defending the honor and dignity of.

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Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during National Anthem. Photo  by Chris Carlson/AP

This is what angers me. When it is convenient for them, many of those on the right – and make no mistake, this is a behavior peculiar to the more conservative voices in our nation – will fetishize our veterans. Sadly it is never convenient to fetishize and adulate when a veteran can’t find a job, when the part of a veteran trapped on a battlefield half a world and half a decade away drinks him to death, when a veteran sleeps on the streets cold and alone, or when a veteran sees his own death at his own hand as a blessing.

This disingenuous and hollow hero worship is sickening. Claiming that a man refusing to worship what at times has been little more than an American swastika as you turn a blind eye to the veteran slowly dying on the street is beyond hypocritical. It is the act of a callous and callow opportunist. To those who know intimately what these men and women deal with in the privacy of their own minds, it is a disrespect to our veterans far greater than refusing to worship a symbol.

Why don’t we turn the conversation away from how Colin Kaepernick is a bad person for respectfully protesting injustice, and turn the conversation to how we are all, regardless of race or creed, the agents of a great injustice.

Why don’t we see and talk about the injustice Kaepernick, and an increasing number of athletes are protesting with far more dignity than a person waving a trite sign on a corner, with an eye on the marginalized people who these athletes are protesting for.

To use the service of others as a political tool is a dishonor to their service. Why don’t we leave our soldiers and veterans out of this fight. They’ve fought enough.

pete Pete Rearden is a photographer, photojournalist, and opinionated commenter on America. Photo by Steve Watkins.

Mental Illness: When You Can’t Count on the Police

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Matthew Ajibade
Kristiana Coignard
Kristiana Coignard

Parminder Singh Shergill
Parminder Singh Shergill

By Dr. Samantha Madhosingh

Just last week, a friend called me because she was worried about another friend’s husband. He was not “acting in his right mind” (her words) and they were trying to get him to voluntarily go to the hospital without success.

She mentioned that they managed to get him to the hospital the previous evening, but the hospital released him without really doing anything.  Now he seemed to be getting worse and more agitated.

I thought about how best to advise them.  My primary concern was, “How can we get this man to the hospital safely without making it a bigger crisis?”

The reality is, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), 1 in 4 people in the US has a mental health problem and as many as 10 million have a serious mental illness.  This includes schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Mental illness crosses all gender, race, socio-economic, religious, region, culture, and sexual orientation lines.

Almost all families have a close or distant relative who has been or will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.  Since the closing of many psychiatric facilities and decreased funding for mental health services, the police find themselves frequently engaged with the mentally ill. Families call the police out of desperation, scared both of and for their loved ones, but wanting them to receive help – not jail or death.

So as my mind scanned the possibilities two options came up, “the police or an ambulance.”

I quickly crossed off the police because he might refuse to go with them.  I’d just read about 22-year-old Matthew Ajibade whose family called police because he was exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder.  He died in the custody of Savannah, Georgia police at the beginning of January, reportedly alone in an isolation cell.

I recalled reading about 43-year-old Parminder Singh Shergill, a Gulf War veteran suffering from PTSD.  Shergill was killed by police in Lodi, California after his family called for their help to have him hospitalized.

With these incidents in mind, I advised my friend to call an ambulance and provide specific language to the dispatchers with hopes they would take the situation seriously without involving the police.

Thankfully, he went without incident.  He was hospitalized for several days undergoing observation, assessment, and treatment in a psychiatric unit.

After the call, I was saddened that I didn’t trust the police to handle a mental health crisis safely and effectively. The police have a very difficult job, but are woefully under trained to handle mental health emergencies and, more often than not, the mentally ill end up in jail or dead, instead of in a hospital. While many might argue that my concern is unwarranted, the statistics tell a different story.

According to a 2012 published report by the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Sunday Telegram, almost half of the 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year nationally are mentally ill. In some states like New Mexico, that number may be as high as 75%.

Without proper crisis de-escalation and mental health training, the police, unfortunately, often end up escalating the situation – putting themselves, the individual, and the community at large at risk of harm. Their tactical training leads them to push too quickly to control a situation and enforce compliance, which can often make things much, much worse.

They don’t recognize that the erratic behavior associated with some mental illnesses cause individuals to not respond to authorities in the manner they think they should.  The police treat these situations as simple cases of noncompliance and situations escalate quickly. Police officers are trained to use deadly force. If they fire their weapon, they must shoot to kill – not maim.

The deaths of Matthew Ajibade, Parminder Singh Shergill, and most recently 17-year-old Kristiana Coignard (Texas), were completely preventable. After watching the publicly released video of Kristiana Coignard’s death, it’s hard to fathom why the 17 year-old was shot and killed.

There appeared to be multiple points when she could have been restrained and handcuffed. These victims do not have age, gender, race, religion, or region in common.  What they share is mental illness and a life cut short needlessly due to their interaction with police.

So what must we do?

In some jurisdictions, police departments are creating crisis intervention teams of officers who have specialized training to de-escalate situations with the mentally ill without using deadly force. However, it is imperative that all police officers be properly trained on how to identify people with a psychiatric illness and how to appropriately, effectively, and safely de-escalate crisis situations involving people with psychiatric problems who are in an erratic and agitated state.

Resources must be spent to improve the sensitivity and knowledge of the police force so they are not inappropriately acting out of fear.  Dispatchers should notify officers when the situation is a mental health emergency, so they are prepared for the situation.

Families with loved ones who are mentally ill are desperate for more mental health resources that provide assistance and support. Resources are needed for community mental health, community living for the seriously mentally ill, and psychiatric hospitals providing acute and long-term care.

As a society, we must also focus on reducing the stigma associated with receiving mental health support, as well as providing funding for prevention and early intervention programs.

145Dr. Samantha Madhosingh is a #1 bestselling author, psychologist & speaker.  A frequent media contributor and sought-after expert for both local and national media, she has appeared on FOX, NBC, CBC, Emotional MoJo, Daytime and Heart&Soul. Her book, Strike it Happy! 101 Reflections to Revolutionize Your Life is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrSMadhosingh                Instagram: @DrSMadhosingh

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drsmadhosingh

www.askdrsamantha.com

Check out my bestselling book, Strike it Happy! 

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www.askdrsamantha.com/strike-it-happy

 Sam