Police kill themselves, too – Insight on police suicide

By Steve Bringe
Founder, Stand Up To Stigma

A very sad and troubling article came across my feed concerning police officer suicides in New York City.

NYPD suicide problem grows as eighth officer takes own life this year

I’d enjoy sharing an insight on the great need for safe, protected mental health services in the law enforcement community. Trust me. This is good stuff. It’s useful information gleaned from a firsthand perspective.

When I was developing CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) for the Albuquerque Police Department, part of what was created was internal mental health services for the officers AND their families. This is an excellent service tbat carries an amount of unrecognized cultural complexity.

Having given numerous CIT presentations for APD and having been tasked with recruiting peer presenters, I’ve had the unique opportunity to speak openly with police officers on the crucial conversation of mental health in a safe, honest, and vulnerable setting. And, having been invited to participate in the full 40 hours of CIT training, I’ve gained direct empathetic understanding of the police perspective in crisis situations. This is because APD officers shared their law enforcement stories with me and our peer presenters.


Observation: Being a cop is a rough and high-stress job and cops aren’t proactive in seeking out mental health treatment.


The issue – as I see it – is there’s a self-stigmatizing critique in the law enforcement culture that to seek mental health services is a weakness and shameful. By making the services internal to APD the hope is more officers will get immediate help with the support of their colleagues.

As a peer who has bipolar and severe PTSD, as well as a history of trying to kill myself, if I didn’t have the excellent services I have now, suicide as a mental health treatment solution would continue to be part of my life. It’s no different for cops who experience horror on the job.

As said, I was also invited to take the full 40 hours of CIT, and not only the two hours I developed. The insight I’ve shared – redacting specific officer stories which were shared on a personal level – speaks from my understanding of the training and ingrained responsibilities officers hold in mental health crisis situations. As their job description requires, cops are placed in environments most folks can’t appreciate as unavoidably emotionally rattling. This happens at crime scenes that aren’t pretty or heart warming. As a layperson, some of the stories officers shared with me are terrifying.

These unimaginable on-the-job life events and the psychologically damaging consequences don’t clock out at the end of the shift. The jolting effects follow the cop home and are there when the cop wakes up the next day and the next day and all the next days to come.


The inherent mental
health-impacting job stress in law enforcement can be crippling and exhausting day after day, and suicide is one natural conclusion to untreated PTSD.


Purposely, I saved the PTSD acronym for the last.

Here’s the insight on the law enforcement culture I want people to realize and understand. My feeling is suicide shouldn’t be exasperated by cultural competency. The law enforcement community is incredibly loyal and tightly insular, and the law enforcement community contends with its own internally propogated stigmatization. Police officers both need and deserve specific and special services for their mental health wellness. And, seeking out these critical services must be accepted, supported, and destigmatized to be effective.


The Albuquerquue Police Department is providing these services. Let’s see what happens with the culturally internal stigma about getting mental health services.


I applaud with both hands and both feet – as well as the hands and feet of the (occasional) make believe people in my head – the forward-thinking and active-solution of the Albuquerque Police Department. I applaud the department’s dedication to the officers’ and the responsibility shown in dispensing the permeating self-sigmatization in law enforcement culture. And, in talking with officers on the street whom I trained, these services are being openly utilized. Score.

As a closing comment, I’ve spoken primarily of the mental health needs of law enforcement officers as being consequential of their employment. It’s equally important to address bipolar, schizophrenia, DID, depression, and any other mental health issue with the same considerations as everyone else on the planet. These mental health needs are also part of APD’s in house services. Just so you know. Score.

By the by, I aced the CIT exam. 100% is my score. Bonus.

Kindly reprinted from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

Thanks to medical billing, everyone can be diagnosed with a mental illness

By Stephie
STS Peer Advocacy Presenter

Regardless of what side of the gun debate you are on, think very, very carefully before advocating for rounding up and vilifying the “mentally ill,” whatever that term even means. Facts: Statistically, people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators. Statistically, most mass shooters are not mentally ill. A few here and there, yes. But most are not.

As most know, a provider of any kind must cough up a diagnosis code in order for anything to be paid by, or re-imbursed by, insurance. If you ever report to your doc or counselor that you are depressed, you will get a diagnosis in the DSM-V. If you are worrying and feeling a lot of anxiety, you will get a DSM-V diagnosis. If your memory isn’t what it used to be and a provider notices, you will get a DSM-V diagnosis. Pretty much the entire experience of being a human being is contained in the DSM-V. If your significant other leaves you, or you get laid off from your career and you are distraught and see a provider, you will get a diagnosis in the DSM-V (“Adjustment disorder.”) If your child dies, or your spouse or mother, and you are experiencing extreme grief and tell a provider, you will get a diagnosis in the DSM-V. If your kid is autistic, they are in the DSM-V. If your teen has had a rough time and has been suicidal or needed therapy (pretty common these days), they have a DSM-V diagnosis.

So what is mentally ill? What does this even mean? Most people probably have a stereotyped image of a homeless person talking to themselves. And the vast majority of those folks are not dangerous to anyone but themselves.

As a matter of interest, I just heard this past weekend from a person in the mental health field that racism is in the early stages of being discussed as a mental illness, as it constitutes such disordered thinking.
So just what does mentally ill mean? Think long and hard before you start advocating for a “mentally ill registry.” It is not unlikely that you will be on it.

I’m Human, You’re Human, Let’s Talk

I’m Human, You’re Human, Let’s Talk.

by Amanda Jenson
STS Editor

We’ve experienced another several horrific tragedies lately. As someone who knows what trauma and pain feels like I am sorry. I see you. I hear you—even if I can’t know exactly how you feel. I won’t pretend to.

When these tragedies strike the media focuses on the gunmens’ mental health. I don’t deny that someone who creates such heinous misery has some kind of insanity clouding the mind, but we focus so much on his or her mental health that we forget to focus on the survivors’ mental health and what they are now going through.

My friend with bipolar pointed out that the victims still living will not want to seek care for their health now because the media (including president Trump) immediately bludgeons our feeds with the stigma that having a mental health issue means you are violent.

Proof:

“This is also a mental illness problem,” Trump said of the mass shootings. “These are people that are very, very seriously mentally ill.”

“Trump called for reforming “mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people, not only get treatment, but when necessary, involuntary confinement.”

“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” Mr. Trump said. Calling mass shooters “mentally ill monsters.”

Unstable gunmen are dangerous, no doubt, and there are no words for the horror I feel at the actions committed by these people, mental illness or no, but comments like these are dangerous for thousands, if not millions of those who suffer with mental illness. We are now “monsters” who don’t belong in public. I’m appalled at the ignorance and stigma portrayed and a little awed at the uncaring and unfeeling behavior they display to those who suffer with mental illness.

Those emotions sound a little like how they describe the gunmen.

Victims may see their symptoms of deteriorating mental health and equate themselves to being dangerous as well, just like their persecutor was.

Who would want to get mental health care if “involuntary confinement” is being used as a means to control those who may want mental illness help? Chills curled their gentle governmentally-controlling fingers down my spine when I read this.

If the media wants to discuss and accuse mental health as the problem for these violent acts then look at the full spectrum of how mental health plays into tragedies, because we now have many people out there ruminating on a bloody scene that they can’t quite believe was real, trembling in the night instead of sleeping. People are flinching and crying in a corner, trying to cover their ears and heads simultaneously, from every little sound they hear. They are wondering if the generally safe world they once knew was a lie. They won’t let their children leave the house now. Their anxiety has overtaken their body and they aren’t eating. They’re vomiting every time they try, their tears rushing too quickly down their face. They aren’t even sure if they are alive anymore. Did they die in the shooting? They think they should’ve died instead. They wouldn’t experience this horror and guilt that they are still living. Those gunshots they keep hearing? Are they inside or outside of their head? They just want those images gone. Some can’t stop picturing their loved ones lying broken on the ground.

And then you have the other spectrum. You have the people laughing, saying they’re fine—the people who perhaps even make crass and sadistic jokes. Why? Are these people sociopaths? They feel numb. They are thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” and instead of seeking help, close themselves off even further for fear of being dangerous and out of guilt of their seemingly callous reaction. Are they like the gunmen? No. A resounding no!

They are dissociated from horrors that can break the human mind. It’s a natural response to disasters and serves a survival purpose. I would know. I have a dissociative disorder borne of extreme violence and horror in my childhood. My disorder is considered a “severe mental illness”. I still function as a kind member of society. (Yet I know what it’s like to sit in that corner shaking and crying due to PTSD. I also know what it’s like to pop out inappropriate jokes.)

Do I want to go shoot people? Never.
I’m seeking professional and community support for my trauma and pain. I hope those affected by these tragedies will too. I hope they look past the media and governmental stigmas and get the support, love, and understanding they deserve and is naturally needed. There are many of us out here in the community with mental illnesses waiting to hug you, waiting to tell you what services and help you can get, waiting to express how sorry we are and that we know—not exactly, not perfectly, but we know.

I know what it feels like to be cruelly victimized by people. I know what trauma and horror is. It’s stuck in my brain too. Most people with mental illnesses are loving, intelligent people who advocate for others who struggle with mental health issues. Let us hold you now.

Hey White House, Media and those with stigmas still, don’t you think some of these people affected by this will be suicidal? Do you think the horror is over for them just because you played the blame game so effectively? Want to save some more lives? Stop insinuating that all mental illness is dangerous and that those of us with them need to be locked up against our will.

Those affected will be suicidal. Some are now. Save the people left too, stop just focusing on the horrors already committed. And for the love of all humanity (literally), stop telling the world that those of us with mental illnesses are all dangerous. Save the ones who won’t get help now because of your dangerous and scape-goat comments. Stop perpetuating the violence you claim you want to fix.

1. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/04/trump-says-hate-has-no-place-in-our-country-after-shootings-in-dayton-and-el-paso.html

2. https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-calls-for-involuntary-confinement-of-mentally-ill-in-shooting-address

3. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/05/us/politics/trump-speech-mass-shootings-dayton-el-paso.html

4. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/04/trump-says-hate-has-no-place-in-our-country-after-shootings-in-dayton-and-el-paso.html

The Lourdes Mobile Outreach Team: Police, Mental Health Specialists, and . . . Peers?

Here is a promising article about the Lourdes Mobile Outreach Team.

When reading this promising article, I can’t avoid noticing a GLARING omission to this field unit:

WHERE ARE THE PROFESSIONAL PEERS?

Peers are infinitely more qualified connecting with other peers in crisis.

Back by (not) popular demand. It’s okay. We’re still willing to chip in.

Have you ever had a sibling you just couldn’t get along with and always bickered with and even though you were at each other’s throat you could still sit down at the family dinner table and love each other anyway?

This is nothing like that.

I am so aware of my reputation in the behavioral health community as a brash, diagreealbe peer advocate who turns people off because I am quick to challenge established protocol and quicker to express peer needs in blunt, direct terms. And my reply?


Good. I’m doing my job right.


You see, I didn’t start out in behavioral health advocacy to make friends with the world and attend hugfests in a peer-hostile echo chamber. I started out in peer advocacy because I had friends in DBSA Albuquerque who didn’t even know how to apply for Medicaid (nor did I) and these friends desperately needed services and medications. Without insurance, this doesn’t happen. So, my friends suffer needlessly. They suffer. And I watched them suffer. Every week I watched them suffer. So why did I start attending meetings like LC2?


I started out in peer advocacy to find the answers to my friends’ questions so they didn’t have to suffer any longer.


Some eight years later, I’m still out there finding answers. Better, I’m out there creating answers. The State of New Mexico gave me this Lifetime Achievement Award in Behavioral Health Innovation I think in part because . . . I have no idea why they thought I’ve accomplished everything I’m going to do by age 46. Am I supposed to stop living now? Weirdness.

In any case, with the help of my friends, we endeavor to help others understand our needs by sharing of ourselves and our life experiences. In this, we have the best opportunity of reaching Muggles, policy makers, providers, legislators, and the community. In fact, this is what Stand Up To Stigma is ENITRELY built upon. Peers openly telling tales of challenge and triumph to help others understand . . . by way of sharing their stories living with mental health issues.

As an important deviation, grammar style guides insist that all numbers between zero and ten be fully spelled out and not expressed with the digit character. Given the example above, “Some eight years later” is proper. “Some 8 years later” means you were too distracted from learning because of passing notes in first grade of the ilk “Do you like me? Yes. No. Maybe.” It must lag hard you got so many “no” notes passed back. Jenny Caruthers’ reply included a sketch of her vomiting all over your head. She showed me. That must be traumatic, any time a woman vomits in your presence. And then draws it. And sends it to you. I know this happened in the Cottonwood Mall food court on Sunday. It’s on YouTube and viral. Go check. You can run away from my blog but you can’t run away from the truth.

Hey, did you know that the beautiful bosque cottonwoods were not always as lush and established as now we enjoy? Farming upstream in the San Luis Valley of Colorado led to increased siltation and seasonal flooding as the Rio Grande passed through Albuquerque. The result was hyperalkaline swamps along the banks of the river making once-profitable farming in Albuquerque a historic relic beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Read up on Aldo Leopold and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy. The reclamation he developed and initiated not only saved farming along the Rio Grande, it also provided the ideal habitat for lush, dense cottonwood forests along the Rio Grande. And, we got Tingley Beach, the Zoo, and the Botanical Park out of the deal. And a country club. And a path for Route 66. Speaking of cool historical stuff to read up on, research the history of Conservancy Beach … Municipal Beach . . . Ernie Pyle Beach . . . Tingley Beach before the polio fright in 1951. By all accounts it was magical.


If not for Aldo Leopold, perhaps we would visit Hot Topic at Hyperalkaline Swamp Mall instead.


Get this. I embrace my controversial slash & burn advocacy stylings . . . much like I embraced Jenny Caruthers behind the handball court and then told you about it right after recess in algebra class . . . because I’m proud of my ability to weather either reciprocated or reflexive defensiveness from those who tug gently the strings of peer wellness. It’s the frustration of penetrating the geometric din of the peer-hostile echo chamber (PHEC). Frustration. I’m sure destructive interference resonance within the PHEC is annoying. It’s natural to experience something you don’t want to hear as combative. I fault no one. I offer to embrace you if it helps you empower yourself to feel better.

By the by, my primary emotion at many behavioral health meetings is this frustration. It is not the emotion of pissiness. When I see my friends suffering and when I attend a meeting voicing their issues, concerns, and needs and join my friends later sharing that we’ve made no headway, I don’t feel like a very effective or successful peer representative. And by the by again, the honor of peer representation is often mistaken for showing up and being a peer placeholder. A dedicated representative listens to friends and represents THEIR issues, concerns, and needs. And ultimately, what is represented is our peer solutions. And by the by once more, it often feels like I’m talking in some weird moonman language. There must be moonman prejudices on these committees. I heard rumbles of building a wall between the US of A and the moon. For shame.


Or as my fellow peer moonmen would say . . . for shame.


We’ve done a Stand Up To Stigma podcast where I share openly – with the support, encouragement, and love of my dearest friends – my experience with PTSD borne of my choice to be on the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee (MHRAC). The motivation for the podcast was for me to reempower myself through personal accountability and responsibility and create the effective reality of taking back the power I gave others on loan. The gift is as a team member of an independent peer collaborative I no longer am required to ask for permission to do what’s right in my heart and the hearts of my friends. The greater gift is our community now has a pure peer voice guided by this benevolent principle:


Please work with peers to make our lives better. Please understand peers are suffering RIGHT NOW and we need quality services and effective policies RIGHT NOW. And please realize you don’t have to guess what we want. We are happy to tell you if you are happy to listen.


Our Stand Up To Stigma peer focus group is trained, is activated, and is coming to MHRAC. And we’re excited for the opportunity we’ve created for peers. We’re moving into the community. We’re offering our voice. We will share with you the solutions that will work best for us. Free of charge.

I’m happy to share I’ve come to terms with my PTSD symptoms. I’m happier to say I’ve reempowered myself. I’m happiest to say I’m back to the person I know I am. I’ve missed everyone so much it hurts. Let’s embrace.

By the by, this article is just a little tongue in cheek. Only just.

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

For Mental Health Peers, “In the Closet,” “Coming Out,” and “Outing Myself” are naughty, icky, and meanie words

Stigmatization is a cruddy reality for those contending with the symptoms of illnesses, mental and medical alike. There’s a group of terms affiliated with stigmas I really don’t like in the least, the most, and all points betwixt:


“In The Closet,” “Coming Out,” and “Outing Myself.”


I’d like you to look at this photo of the NAMI Challenger. The front page article is one I composed during my time on the NAMI Albuquerque board. I ask you to look at this photo and remember it because when we travel full-circle back to “in the closet, “coming out,” and “outing myself,” the importance of this image will make sense.



So, I’ve got a buddy who is deaf (“Big D” as she calls it), and she is not the best at “reading lips.” That’s great for Hollywood scripts, she tells me, but not so great for actually carrying on a conversation. There are two things that bug her about people:


1.) When they raise their voices to talk to her, as if shouting will bring her hearing back.

2.) When people think she’s stupid, as in intellectually deficient, because her speaking voice is different than those of us whose ears collect noises and whose brains interpret the noises as sound.


These stigmas, when she was young and soon after she lost her ability to hear, had her hiding from the neighbor kids who were once her friends. After the accident that took her hearing, these “friends” became cruel, taunting, and vicious in the teasing and gossip they spread into the community that the accident made her stupid and deaf. She just wanted to hide, she just didn’t want to be with people anymore, she just wanted to die.

Now, she is a strong peer voice in the hearing impaired community (and I use the word “voice” purposely, and she likes it a lot), and she works with children with hearing impairment sharing her life stories and experiences to hopefully spare them the feeling of worthlessness and self-doubt that comes from being stigmatized.

In our chats, I shared with her that I, too, had feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt tied to my bipolar. I had a friend of two decades who stopped calling (after my wife… ex-wife now… told him I had a mental illness), I’d been fired from job after job, my marriage was a disaster and a failure, I’d been kicked out of New Mexico Tech… what I thought of myself was equivalent to what I thought of dog squeeze on the bottom of a nice pair of Nikes. I dreaded that point where someone caught whiff of me and tried to wipe me off on the lawn, the entire time cursing they ever met me… and the bottom of their shoe.

Stigmas abound beyond only medical and mental considerations. I gave a presentation to a group of kids at Polk Middle School earlier this year, and part of the presentation is asking the kids what stigmas they contend with in their lives. The typical teen-angstiness identified “We’re always on our phones,” “Everyone thinks we’re lazy,” and “All we think about is boys/girls.” I think they meant teen crushes, but I didn’t explore that one.

One young man shared a stigma that broke my heart. And, I could sense when he shared his stigma with the class that there was an implicit understanding with his peers:


“Everyone says if you live in the South Valley you’ll wind up in prison or working at Walmart.”


The quality of this stigma, the impact it had upon the class, was tangible. It was real. It was beyond “always being on the phone” or “being boy/girl crazy.” A young lady followed up saying “That’s why I never tell anyone where I go to school.” Too many of her classmates nodded in agreement.

That sense of accepted worthlessness is something I realize and understand is part of any marginalized group’s mainstay. It’s a community bond built upon a foundation of presumptions, misconceptions, and lies. These kids believe that people think less of them because of where they live, and that this stigma they overwhelmingly feel is part of their identity is a preordained limitation on what they can accomplish. I’m not too proud to say I started tearing up when I heard the kids speak about this unfair assumption.

The word “unfair” is thrown out there so much and so often that it’s all but lost meaning. It’s unfair I have to wait until Sunday to see Force Awakens. It’s unfair she got to go to the company picnic while I had to stay at work and finish billing reports. It’s unfair he buys a brand new car every year and I’m stuck driving this clunker. Given these qualifications for “unfairness,” it’s easy to see why “unfair” is a nearly worthless word.

Yet when you hear from these Polk Middle School kids, the word “unfair” is afforded a clarity all but lost in the vernacular, that the magnitude and direction of vectored fairness is so real and succinct that stigmatization is unavoidable. These kids were all a part of a leadership class, and there is no mistaking why they were chosen for this class. Their leadership talents define them so much more than the geographic locality of their community.

That’s the crux of stigmatization. It is unfair and immediate, created by an unenlightened, self-appointed mob judiciary over generations. More than that, though, is stigmas become so pervasive and saturating that the people being marginalized come to accept the prejudice, and when this happens stigmatization mutates from prejudice to shame.

What is shameful about living in the South Valley? For me, it’s a gorgeous place to walk the old trails and follow the irrigation canals between neighborhoods. The history and culture are rich and so much more a part of New Mexico’s identity than my tract housing neighborhood. For some reason, though, kids living in the South Valley are ashamed to tell other kids where they live and where they go to school, and this is baffling to me. If anything, being part of such an important community is a trophy of pride and not shame.

Looking at different stigmas, and looking at my own life living with bipolar and how I’ve often devalued myself, there is a common link expressed almost universally by marginalized groups:


Shame.


In fact, the shame is so powerful that people feel they have to hide themselves from public view and scrutiny. My Big D friend hid from kids who used to be her friends. The young lady from Polk Middle School won’t tell other kids where she goes to school. And me? I pretended that I was “normal” and dreaded that people would see the symptoms of bipolar that alter my behavior so detrimentally (read: I’m weird, I know it, and I hope nobody notices me because I just can’t handle another failed job, failed relationship, and failed self). I was ashamed of myself for having bipolar.

“In The Closet,” “Coming Out,” and “Outing Myself.” We touched on this at the beginning of this article, and as promised we’ve gotten to the reason I started the article talking about “in the closet,” “coming out,” and “outing myself.” This is a concept attributed initially to the LGBT community (I don’t know the full acronym any longer – please send me the entire list of letters if you know it and I’ll edit the text). Being “in the closet” was being homosexual and not sharing this with others. There are valid reasons for this, with the policy of the U.S. military being a fine example. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was actual policy and not just a catch phrase. Serving our country, protecting our freedom, rights, and liberty meant you couldn’t tell anyone you are gay. Where’s the logic in that? And yet there it was, and it was a policy that if you wanted to commit yourself to serving our country, it meant you couldn’t be homosexual, of if you were, you were required to hide it. It’s shameful to be gay while serving our country. It was official federal policy to keep people “in the closet.”

Now, stating proudly “I’m a guy who likes guys” or “I’m a girl who likes girls” is part of our American culture. Being “in the closet” has become more passe than “coming out of the closet.” Yet, the term remains. To share with those you love that you are gay still entails the idea of “I’m coming out of the closet,” shortened as “coming out,” and the choice and act of leaving “the closet” as “outing myself.”

I don’t like “in the closet,” “coming out,” and “outing myself” in word and concept, and this goes to the etymology of the phrase. The connotation retains the artifact consideration that “coming out” or “outing myself” meant I was hiding something that I felt was deeply shameful, and that I didn’t like who I was based upon others’ presumptions, misconceptions, and lies about what it is to be someone with bipolar.

I don’t like “in the closet,” “coming out,” and “outing myself” with such directed, purposeful zeal that it is part of my peer advocacy playbook. I don’t feel like I’ve “come out” to the public to share openly that I have bipolar. When I decided to start speaking in public about my challenges and triumphs living with bipolar, I wasn’t “outing myself.” I share openly that I have bipolar because I like who I am, and I’m hoping that my openness can inspire other peers to have the innate pride in themselves that every person on the planet has a right to.

Exactly like with “journey to recovery” versus “recovery journey” (I NEVER say “journey to recovery”), I NEVER say anywhere at anytime that me sharing my life experiences with others is the a process of being “in the closet,” “coming out,” and “outing myself.” You will NEVER hear me say “I’ve come out of the closet as someone with bipolar, and when I did I outed myself and you can, too.”

Why? Because while I felt inferior at the beginning of my recovery journey, and I felt I had to hide my shame away, the way I feel about the world and my place in it has evolved dramatically, and I’m exceptionally proud of who I am, and part of that is being a peer and a peer advocate. When I first began this peer advocacy phase of my recovery journey, I discovered in myself that I had no shame of having bipolar and I didn’t feel I had to hide my bipolar symptoms. There was no “coming out.” I didn’t “out myself.” There was only me sharing my life experiences with others in a celebration of life and all the quirky nuances that is the human condition.

So here is that photo again, zoomed in on a very specific sector of the article. “In the closet,” “coming out,” and in this article “outing myself” is not part of my vernacular, and I actively advocate removing “in the closet,” “coming out,” “outing myself” from the vocabulary of my peers.



That “outing myself” is presented in italics is a good indicator that my original article met with less-than-adept editing skills prior to publication. Sorry if anyone got the wrong impression, which many peers did at the time questioning, “Steve, ‘outing myself’ doesn’t sound like something you’d say.” Exactly. And please notice the “journey to recovery” kicking off the article as well. I covered this in an earlier “Letter to the NAMI Editor” article. “Journey to recovery” and “outing myself” in the same initial paragraph of my article are not my words or what I submitted for publication. Quality control and professional editing was not a priority for this issue of NAMI Challenger, so let this serve (vanity press) notice in lieu of a wordy editorial retraction in a future issue of NAMI Challenger.

If you’d like a copy of this NAMI Challenger issue, I’d highly recommend this specific issue. There is a very good article on WRAP, and a free WRAP class is taught at the NAMI Albuquerque office every Sunday.

Okay, so here’s the rub. I’ve learned a lot about myself as I understood more about stigmas. For you, I share a pocket-size version to take with you:


There is nothing shameful about having mental health challenges. There is nothing to hide.

And what I’ve discovered during my recovery journey is that while there are so many stigmas surrounding mental health peers, others weren’t stigmatizing me as strongly as I was stigmatizing myself.

I hope you learn something similar about yourself in your recovery journey.


Dedicated to Mary Tabor, for without your warmth, leadership, and encouragement this article would not be possible. Thank you for everything!

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

A response to the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program

This week an article was posted to the Topeka Capital-Journal website concerning a program the Topeka Police Department has requesting citizens with behavioral health issues to voluntarily enroll in “Premise Alert.” The goal of Premise Alert is so responding officers will know ahead of time that there is an individual in potential mental health crisis, allowing officers to “make more informed decisions” because they know they are encountering a peer.

The goal is honorable. Safe, positive encounters between peers and police is what all of us want. However, I’m not pleased with programs like Premise Alert because I feel officers should be trained to deal with unique crisis situations and NOT an assumed predetermined threat. Education. I’ll say it again and again.

Following is my response to the article.

—–

Topeka police encourage those with behavioral health issues to enroll in Premise Alert program
http://cjonline.com/news/local/2017-04-02/topeka-police-encourage-those-behavioral-health-issues-enroll-premise-alert

—–

I am president of DBSA Albuquerque (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance based in Chicago, Illinois) and sit on the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, the DOJ mandated committee of community stakeholders who volunteer their time to help the Albuquerque Police Department develop better skills in engaging peers in crisis.

Our chapter collaborates closely with APD, including the 40 hour Crisis Intervention Training that was once a voluntary additional training and is now required of all APD officers. Peer involvement in creating those solutions that will protect both peers and police in crisis situations is key to successful, positive outcomes.

Many times, the topic of voluntary peer enrollment in a program such as this has been brought up at behavioral health meetings, and every time the concept meets with nearly instantaneous resistance to outright moral outage from peers. As one peer from our focus groups said last year, “Do they expect me to volunteer for a Tag & Release program?”

As an individual managing the symptoms of bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD, my reaction to this concept is also more than hesitant. The reason I share this is because often foreknowledge of a person’s behavioral health history can unduly affect a first responder’s attitude and readiness in a crisis situation. It may even have the exact opposite effect, something I can attest to personally. In one encounter with APD, officers focused entirely on asking if I was dangerous and not what help I needed.

Beyond the practical considerations of crisis response, there is a larger, more far-reaching concern among peers that has to do with the archiving and use of any database generated from an enrollment program. Let me share one example.

Say we have a peer who deals with alcohol misuse and schizophrenia (a condition the DSM V defines as co-occurring). Alcohol misuse exacerbates this individual’s schizoid symptoms to where police involvement is regularly required. However, when not misusing alcohol, this individual functions well and does not generate the type of crisis intervention needs.

Let’s say this individual voluntarily enrolls, under the auspices of “protecting all involved.” The idea doesn’t seem too horrible. Who doesn’t want to be safe?

Now, let’s consider this scenario:

A neighbor calls to report this individual’s yard is messy and the individual isn’t being cooperative in cleaning his yard. In fact, there was a heated argument over this to where the neighbor calls for the police.

The police arrive, already aware this individual has a prior co-occurring crisis history with police. There was an argument and police are dispatched “ready” for a situation where the individual.MIGHT be in crisis.

There are a few truths to consider:

1.) This individual is not symptomatic and in crisis.

2.) Neighbors get into yelling matches from time to time.

3.) They have been neighbors for 20 years.

4.) This individual experienced several crisis calls with police, and his neighbor witnessed this.

5.) The individual is 12 years sober.

6.) This happened to a friend of mine.

Granted, there was no enrollment program, and the foreknowledge provided police is from the neighbor of 20 years. But there was no crisis and responding officers treated my friend as if he was in the throes of co-occurring crisis. My friend is 12 years sober and only was a safety issue when drinking.

This illustrates striking concerns. How far does the enrollment record go back? How do you get yourself off the list once enrolled? What kind of information is collected and is this information guaranteed confidential? After all, the police are not medical providers and aren’t bound by mandates like HIPAA.

There are so many possible and real scenarios that all ultimately speak to one thing:

People with behavioral health issues are more than their symptoms and do enjoy significant recovery.

I’m not a sum total of my bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. I don’t say “I’m bipolar.” If I’m trotting out self-proclaimed identities I’d go with I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a geologist, I’m a boyfriend, I’m a peer advocate, and I’m a really great left defender on my soccer team. Enrollment in a program like this places symptoms I manage with exercise, medication, therapy, peer support groups, and personal responsibility above who I truly am. It’s too easy to mistake having foreknowledge as being forewarned.

The real, sustainable solution is education. Officer preparation doesn’t come from a list, it comes from training officers with the skills necessary to help peers help themselves to make good decisions. A single peer’s crises are not the same thing every time. Every potential crisis situation involves a unique individual under unique circumstances. Education is the key to being well-prepared. Crisis intervention training allows for officer safety, peer safety, and deescalation through a spirit of collaboration rather than predestined community peacekeeping.

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.
Originally published April 5, 2017.

As peers, we’re really counting on you to “get it.”

I was intending on including this in the prior article. However, it’s a crucial concept that , as said, folks from agencies from DRNM to NAMI seem to neglect from their empathy toolbox and thusly their understanding of the Peer Experience.

Listen up.


As peers, we REQUIRE you to listen and understand when we are generous and share our life experiences.


Anything short of this is morally disingenuous and intellectually dishonest. What is the hazard? It’s simple.


Good intentions with bad information is the recipe for poor behavioral health policy.


To this end, Stand Up To Stigma has our first fully-trained Peer Focus Group that will be attending many public forums and advisory committees to ensure the proper information is shared and understood. Good information, good intentions, good policy.

What do you do with a dog with no legs?

You take him for a drag.

Gotta be me.

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

Advice for Muggles concerning AOT – Assisted Outpatient Treatment – Kendra’s Law

This will be one of the shortest articles I offer on Thoughtcrimes, and it is special advice for the Muggles in the audience.

When it comes to AOT (Assisted Outpatient Treatment), rather than trying to convince peers AOT isn’t forced treatment try sharing what AOT can do to benefit peers instead.

Start the conversation with:


I appreciate you feel AOT is forced treatment, and there might be benefits to peers being overlooked. I’d like to share my thoughts with you.


This will require some homework and analyzing AOT from a peer perspective. I feel we’re worth the effort.

You’re welcome.

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

My neighbor of 45 years needs some SUTS education

My Dad lives in my childhood home; our family moved in just before I turned three, and it’s been a Bringe stronghold ever since. I get to sleep in my childhood bed when I come home to SoCal, a bed I outgrew when I was 12, where I began sleeping on the diagonal progressing to tucking my knees under my chin to remain completely upon the available sleeping area.

Today, before heading down to my HB stomping grounds at the beach, my neighbor who I’ve known for 45 years now came over to chat and catch up on what he’s been doing and what I’ve been doing. He’s a retired aircraft engineer (I think . . . he is an engineer of some flavor) so most of his conversation centered on his two girls and what they’ve been up to in their adult life. It’s tough thinking about the little girls next door being old enough to have adult lives. I’m aging. It happens to the best of us.

If it hasn’t been mentioned, ever since I was a very young child my academic and career trajectory was lasered in on being a geologist. I think my neighbor was expecting me to be talking about geology, which I did, although it was talking about geology in the terms of the pure joy of exploring the world (like when I was a kid) and not gazing upon the world as a commodity (which is where my mind naturally matured, since geology was now my profession).

Instead of talking about my latest geology gig, I said I had repurposed myself and was now working with Ryan and Sarah (and Megan) on behavioral health advocacy and education. I talked about developing and presenting peer-experience education for the Albuquerque Police Department – there was some discussion of the DOJ mandate because that’s where most people who have heard of APD want to go – as well as community presentations and going inpatient places like Turquoise Lodge Hospital.

It was that mention of Turquoise Lodge Hospital that revealed my neighbor has severe misconceptions of peers who receive inpatient services. I explained the Laugh It Off program and how we do a peer support group as the wrap up, or more accurately, how we use humor to let our friends in Turquoise Lodge know it’s safe and fun talking about our struggles with mental health issues and substance use issues.


His reply was, “That doesn’t sound fun at all.”

My reply was, “Really, it’s a lot of fun. It’s my favorite presentation of the week. And, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

And his reply was, “I can see it being rewarding. But aren’t you scared of what might happen to you?”

And my reply was, “What do you mean?”

And his reply was, “It’s dangerous, those people.”

And my reply was, “I’m one of those people. And it’s a serious misconception that peers are dangerous. That’s only what the media enjoys reporting because it’s sensational. Peers, we’re pretty straight forward and non-violent. Kind of like everyone.”

And his reply was, “So what do you have?”

And my reply was, “Bipolar, PTSD, and anxiety. Don’t worry. It’s not contagious. Except avian bipolar. I don’t have that.”

And his reply was, “……………………………………..”

And my reply was, “Dude, I’m messing with you. Avian bipolar is a joke.”

And his reply was, “Yes?”

And my reply was, “Dude, I’ve always been a wiseass. Don’t you remember how many times I made your kids cry with my teasing?”

And his reply was, “Yes, I remember that. So you’re still funny?”

And my reply was, “Yep. And it has nothing to do with the bipolar. And you’re ample proof my bizarre sense of humor predating the bipolar stuff. Can you be a reference for me next time someone attributes my humor to having a mental health diagnosis?”

And his reply was, “Sure. Did you know I went to Branson?”


Let’s get back on track. I’m going to pull out the salient parts of the conversation for reflection now, the part of the conversation dealing with our Laugh It Off program presented in Turquoise Lodge Hospital.


“That doesn’t sound fun at all.”

“I can see it being rewarding. But aren’t you scared of what might happen to you?”

“It’s dangerous, those people.”


My neighbor is a great guy. He helped me with calculus 2 when I was in high school. He’s a great dad and loves his family. He is well-read and very creative. Still, he harbors a kneejerk stigma very close to the surface. From his unfiltered reaction, going into Turquoise Lodge Hospital is inherently dangerous because the inpatient peers are inherently dangerous. I explained I’ve been inpatient a good dozen times since 1999, and that I’ve had issues with binge drinking through my recovery journey. I’m not a dangerous dude. Nor are the folks we meet inpatient.

So, unlike folks in the behavioral health industry and disability rights industry who have difficulty grasping the importance of peers sharing their life experiences, I felt no disappointment with my neighbor. What I felt was:


The peers who present with Stand Up To Stigma . . . we have a lot of work to do.

Challenge accepted.


– Steve Bringe