So says Patrick Kennedy in his new book on his family, providing a personal performance perspective for all of us when dealing with individuals within our environmental duties who have mental difficulties. The insights that Kennedy reveals can act as a basis for resourcefulness we all need when confronted by the crisis created by the “troubled”. His complex and fragile relationship with his father, Senator Edward Kennedy was dysfunctional at best.
But perhaps the saddest revelation of Mr. Kennedy’s plight was more than an interactive struggle. In time, it became directly personal and even more pervasive. Not only were his close family members victims of the mental illness and addiction, eventually it extended to his own battles with medical, mental, and addictive dilemmas.
However, when I read his book, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through Past and
Future Mental Illness and Addition, I not only felt his critical ongoing circumstances of pain and its perception, but saw its clear application to the parameters of our own performance based plights.
When I was immersed in the enforcement efforts of the criminal justice system, mental illness was a frequent condition of contact with both complainants and perpetrators. Like most officers I responded with both fear and frustration, primarily based upon a lack of understanding and knowledge.
Most of my training was limited to the fundamentals of function, centering more upon calming the individual in order to gather immediate information or conditional cooperation, and then leave. I looked at the individuals as someone else’s problem and burden. I was relieved to remove myself and my colleagues from the endeavor as soon as possible, rejecting any responsibility.
Unlike others in the peace officer brethren, we were able to remove ourselves or turn the subject over at the jail. If I had the opportunity to learn of Kennedy’s insights earlier in my career perhaps I would have accepted an appreciation of the knowledge that an individual’s actions were influenced by a physiological basis than a sheer intentional act. I can’t help but think I would have been more empathic and concerned, more often.
By no means am I saying officers should deny their fears or take unnecessary chances with their own safety with such an individual, but I am saying that the perception of the problem is often founded upon misunderstanding and ignorance. This void surely created a barrier to my efforts and interests during community contacts.
If I had known more, my responses would have been more delicate, patient, and compassionate in my performance.
You are the privileged . . . you still practice the profession. You can benefit from the experience of Patrick Kennedy and his crucial conclusion. And you can better address the problem with greater interest, intelligence, and insight than the one provided by my personal and systemic shroud of ignorance.