Lisa Becker Has Patience for the Patients

The bipolar activist wants to cure OC's problem with the homeless who are mentally ill

The occasional tragedies that occur when the police interact with the mentally ill are well-known. But the panelists talk of the opportunities the police have to make a positive impact, such as recommending where the individual can get treatment or the family help. As Scott puts it, "Communicating with family members can avoid possible police-brutality-complaint situations."

Scott, 54, was a homicide investigator with the Royal Canadian Mounties. At 40, his life changed thanks to PTSD and bipolar disorder. "I would be outside in the rain crying; you couldn't tell in the rain. Shania Twain songs had special messages for me. I was on a blessed mission from God to root out all evil. Not good if you're packing a semiautomatic pistol under your arm."

The speakers emphasize that society has pushed its mental-illness problem onto the police. "The hallucinatory voice can suppress the real one," Scott notes. "You're giving commands, and they can't hear you. It can sound to them as if you were talking through Jell-O." He argues that if police can properly identify mental illness in the field, they can reduce their own caseload and avoid tragic outcomes. "Early intervention is key—get them help when their behavior is a two instead of a nine."

The police in the audience are curious, engaged. One asks Woodard, "What was the first sign you saw in your son?"

"Disorganized thinking," he answers. "When customers at Carl's Jr. said, 'please,' he wanted to know what was the hidden meaning behind 'please.'"

Becker is the last speaker. Her sincerity, her story and a certain amount of sex appeal transfix the mostly male audience. "I tell them they have a tough job; we wish we knew what to tell you," she later explains. "I always shaped up when I saw them coming, but some people are combative and don't want to comply. Someone who's psychotic has to be taken to the hospital, whether they want to go or not. Mentally ill people can be tricky and unpredictable.

"You guys—law enforcement—get to deal with that guy screaming at the light pole," she tells the audience. "He's sick, he's high, he's hurting. You're going to see the mentally ill at their worst. You're going to run into the drug addicts and alcoholics who are mentally ill. I went from being quirky to annoying to dangerous. I ruined cars, got drugged, got kicked in the face. Losing control, losing my mind, didn't make me entertaining."Her father's eyes close. "But you're in a unique position to help," she concludes. "Everyone you meet under the bridge has a history. You can save those people. I was saved."

Becker estimates she's had "zillions" of forced hospitalizations. "I've been thrown down on the ground and had guns pointed at me," she says. "And not a lot of the hospitals that take 5150s are nice places. Underpaid mental-health-care workers who are sick of crazy people. You lose your clothes, your phone; I learned to memorize all my phone numbers. I've suffered and gone into trauma. I'd rather sleep under the stars than go into a mental hospital."

She tells the cops that one key to dealing with mentally ill people is simply to listen, as people living on the streets are often lonely. "If you run into a bipolar person, let them talk your ear off for 10 minutes. Sometimes, I'd get ahold of the police when I was lonely and wanted to talk. Be patient, deep-breathe, repeat their name to engage them."

The cops in attendance seem energized. Tom Byrd, of the OC Probation Department, says her presentation gave him insight into mental illness among his probationers. "More information can only help."

Another officer, who asked that her name not be used, says, "Awareness helps. Maybe I can get them referred to the right places." Working with juveniles, she says, "We try to determine whether they're actual criminals or if there's something else going on. Juvenile hall should be a last call for some."

"I think it is invaluable," adds OC Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Dan Dwyer, a watch commander. "On foot patrol, you know the people with mental-health issues. I've seen firsthand the devastation with the family unit. 'What's wrong with our son?' We go talk to them. Family members may not be aware their child has a mental issue—it may not be meth. We're not going to be the ones for the long term. But we have to deal with the person in crisis."

Dwyer believes the key to successfully handling mentally ill people in domestic situations is to not escalate the turmoil. "In one of my patrol areas, a family had a son with issues, so we'd take it slow, talk him down, get him evaluated," he explains. "Most will go cooperatively—the 5150 is the exception to the rule. If someone's running in the street, yelling, action has to be taken. But the key is communications before escalation. Try to build a rapport. Talk them down."

While police have become the tip of the spear in dealing with mental illness, they hardly remain unaffected. Yet the stigma is still so great the officers often feel they have no one to talk to. Becker says hard-bitten cops often pull her aside. "They'll say, 'My wife is acting funny' or, 'My sister is bipolar.' At one CIT, this guy pulled me outside. He told me his girlfriend was bipolar; she had to stop taking her meds because she was pregnant and was acting crazy."

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16 comments
coastx
coastx

Severe magnesium deficiency will produce the same behavior.

joyatorres1
joyatorres1

I am a paranoid schizophrenia. with major depression and I am a Kelly Thomas and I offended by those whom create dilution of all cops are bad...there are a few and being homeless for 12 years before MHSA act I was a true Kelly thomas and now I am his voice and saddened by this article use a true person such as myself or other whom are still out there...:  :( 

Dennis210
Dennis210

133.000 people unemployed in Orange County California

10.7 percent unemployment rate in Costa Mesa equals NO NEW JOB GROWTH.

I have been applying for jobs for the past 4 years and have not heard nearly a thing from any employers and they are still laying people off in order to cut costs.

70 more people just lost thier jobs in Costa Mesa California yesterday when the City handed them their firing slips before Christmas, after they elected Republinut Jim Righeimer to the Mayorship position, I voted against him for his lost initiative Measure V that lost by a 10 to one margin at the polls so why is that fatso in the mayorship when no one likes him, to outsource the jobs that have cost the county millions.that they could have invested but instead squandered away on useless projects.

We the citizens will not work with Jim Righeimer in the Mayorship. I am one of those citizens and I will not work with Jim Righeimer, I do not care if he is the mayor. Take him out of the mayors chair.

Who is the dumba** that put the concrete pylons up in the middle of Broadway Street in Costa Mesa and ruined the bicycle lanes?

Dennis210
Dennis210

"80 percent of all cops are criminals and they violate the laws while they are on duty" And they are getting paid to be the criminals against the citizenry - So the cops are themselves the criminals but they look at you the citizen as more of one than they are then why are you giving them the pass for committing crimes that they do not understand. They are using violence against the citizenry, and this is allowable in extreme circumstances because they have guns strapped to thier sides and they use them sometimes not all that effectively, even the tazers that they carry have inflicted death upon people that did not deserve it because of the extreme electricity that they mete out,so what is the real answer and sometimes thier isn't one after they have deceased a person even with the tazer.

opinion11
opinion11

A high functioning patient with bipolar disorder such as Lisa's does not compare to a person suffering the neurological developmental brain disease of schizophrenia. She could understand the pros and cons of treatment and the risks of refusing medical treatment. She appears to be spared the frontal lobe damage most with schizophrenia develop. So until there is a cure for schizophrenia, and we have the political will to use the millions of dollars in MHSA money this county receives annually meant to supervise, monitor and treat these high risk, unengaged patients-such as Kelly Thomas-they will continue to become homeless, commit suicide, compromise community safety, and be left for law enforcement to manage the "gap in care" our county behavioral health department has been allowed to ignore.

MommyDissident
MommyDissident

This is Jennifer Hoff,

You have used our story as footing for your own.....Lauras Law is not meant for folks as well as Ms. Becker....it is for the sickest of the sick....those like my son Matthew Hoff (story by Michelle Woo) you referenced in your article.  

My heart is breaking and I will share why.

You are helping the MI reduce stigma by writing about this inspiring woman's journey to recovery yet by linking her quotes "if my mom had a bad hair day...." to OUR STORY you have created a false sense of FEAR like most media outlets do....Fear that we will somehow start running around and "locking everyone up" against their will.

Let me break it down for you a bit:

1.  The OCHCA does not care about our SERIOUSLY mentally ill...those without insight who think they are from the sky are left to die in the gutter (KELLY THOMAS)

2.  Without Lauras Law folks as sick as MY SON will continue to got to JAIL instead of a hospital....in other words his behavior is dangerous but our county does NOT have to offer any treatment because we have not adopted mandated outpatient treatment.

3.  Families like ours are DESPERATE to educate the public about the small but very sick population of individuals like my son...we want to keep the COMMUNITY safe and our loved ones safe but are being PREVENTED from doing so because our county does not want to spend the $$$$ on treatment for this population.

4.  The bleed to lead media descends on stories about violence with MI then claims GUN CONTROL as the culprit not a nation wide mental health crisis or the need for Reforming our Civil Commitment Laws so families like ours can keep our loved ones and you alive.

Please consider contacting us next time when you point to our story as a validation for assumptions your are drawing through the treads of your writing....the take away from this article is to be afraid of mandated outpatient treatment.  

I urge your readers to believe the opposite...that WITHOUT mandated treatment no one is protected.

Thank you,

Jen Hoff 

EqualJusticeForAll
EqualJusticeForAll

Great article.

Too often law enforcement officers have no option to deal with mentally ill other than taking people to Royale....where they are often released within 24 hours, or Royale cannot take them because they are at capacity.

The key is finding the right combination of medications that work, and more importantly, for the patients to take their medications on a regular basis. The most common complaint I hear is that patients do not like the way the medication makes them feel, even though it helps them. Also, some patients enjoy the extreme highs they get, the memories of which seem to outweigh the extreme lows they also hit.

While I certainly respect patient rights and understand both sides of the forced medication argument, law enforcement, the courts and mental health professionals need to have greater leeway in making this happen.

I once arrested a guy who had assumed a completely new persona and identity. Fingerprints revealed his true identity. I tracked down his family in another state, contacted them, and they said their schizophrenic son had walked out on his wife and three kids (also in another state) two years earlier and they had not heard from him since. They said their son does very well when medicated. I confronted the son about his true identity, which he completely denied. He had no warrants and had no reason to be lying. I put him on the phone with his father, and the son got very angry that the stranger on the phone was claiming to be his father. It was not an act. I called out the CAT team in an attempt to 5150 him, but they denied my request, because the guy was taking pretty good care of himself physically (bathing, eating, seeking shelter, etc.). Yet he was so mentally ill he literally did not know his own name.

This was a guy who, after a few days of forced medication, would have awakened from his illness, realized that he had abandoned his loving family and children, and had wasted two years of his life on the street. As it was, because I had verified his true identity, I had no choice but to release him from jail with a citation for a minor violation.

Very frustrating. There is also a stunning lack of available drug and mental health services for indigents who would like to seek treatment.

Also....while I sympathize with any parent of a schizophrenic, please stop identifying Ron Thomas as a former OCSD deputy until a reporter actually has questioned him about it and verified the details of his alleged employment.

whhackett3
whhackett3

Well written, great topic.  Now we just have to hope society at large starts to understand that mental health is just as important as physical health.

fastgurrrl
fastgurrrl

@MommyDissident I'm sorry for your situation sister, and though I enjoyed this article for a variety of reasons, I agree with you, and I am not an expert of any kind, other than having a neighbor for several years with schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder who would not take his medication because he didn't like the way it made him feel. Those were some of the worst years of my life, it was absolute hell listening to him all hours of the day, and no one can comprehend the things we heard. He was violent against himself, threatened himself and others, we called the police multiple times, they said it's not against the law to be crazy. He was finally kicked out and had to move somewhere else, but I feel sorry for his new neighbors. His parents and friends basically have left him to rot, and they don't seem to really care about him, or anyone else around him, because they have not forced/pushed him into treatment or hospitalization. I truly think one day I will hear that he blew his brains out, hopefully not setting the building on fire wherever he is first.

opinion11
opinion11

Schizophrenia is a brain disease. Its a neurological developmental brain disorder. Its not "mental" its not "behavioral" its "physical" its a biological organic brain disease-period. We do have diseases that occur in the organ of the brain-the brain is not magically exempt. Society just lacks real education on brain diseases and its signs and symtoms.

MommyDissident
MommyDissident

@fastgurrrl @MommyDissident That you very much for the kind words.  It sounds like you experienced first hand what is like to be a neighbor of someone who is very sick....and the sad thing is even if his family wanted to help our laws actually prevent parents from intervening after age 18 despite everyone "knowing" they simply have NO rights under the law to help their loved one get help....the Health Care Agency is our gate keeper to care in the OC....and they only help....well actually not sure if they help anyone who is not 100% voluntary.  If we lost Kelly Thomas (homeless, beaten) to their system then the system is set up to help absolutely no-one.

whhackett3
whhackett3

@opinion11 She doesn't have schizophrenia, she is bipolar.  While I'm sure, ultimately, we'll learn that all "mental illness" has a physiological basis I suspect that we are years away from that.  Besides that, nothing you state changes what I said, society turns a blind eye to any disorder that lacks "empirical" evidence.

coastx
coastx

@whhackett3 @opinion11 True schizophrenia presents as a brain anomaly.  Schizophreniform is metabolic and generally occurs concurrent with magnesium deficiency.

opinion11
opinion11

thats the problem>>the term "mental health" includes everything from stress at work to the disease of schizophrenia. You can measure everyones level of  mental health-same as measuring everyones cardiac health-it ranges from great>poor.. No wonder society is confused-the disease is one side of the coin and the persons ability to recover is the level of their mental health/wellness. Its also confusing to have a diagnosis that is also a symptom-ie: anxiety/depression. Many of these disorders need to be renamed to represent the true underlying medical condition.

whhackett3
whhackett3

@opinion11 I've represented a variety of clients with mental health issues.  One of the most difficult is severe depression.  I almost had to pull on the tongue of the "Medical Expert" at an SSI hearing to get him to admit that depression can have physical symptoms including pain.  

opinion11
opinion11

No she doesnt have schizophrenia..she clearly states she has bipolar disorder. The two are vastly different. She helps educate officers about mental illness-which includes the brain disease of schizophrenia. Im concerned society will look at her and believe all patients with "mental illness" can recover to her level. Society is vastly confused about brain disease and mental health. They get the two mixed up. There is heart disease and then cardiac rehab/recovery. Rehab depends on the severity of the underlying disease process. People who need more "emperical evidence" probably dont believe Alzheimers exists either. None of the neurological diseases have a specific blood test. They are all diagnosed by a neurological exam and brain scans. Brain damage clearly shows up on a MRI for patients with schizophrenia-while there is none with bipolar disorder.  

 
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