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Bipolar Disorder and Law Enforcement
Many of us who have bipolar disorder have a history of explosive
behavior. Some may call this rage, mania, violence, anger, etc., etc. None of us
are the same. Some of us have become involved with law enforcement and some
fortunately have not.
It is important to note that if our behavior involves us with law enforcement
that we are dealing with a mental disorder - antisocial personality disorder (a
criminal mind) or a substance abuse habit that we are trying to protect, we are
not making a rational decision to act inappropriately as such to involve law
enforcement. Our brains have betrayed us with bipolar disorder and we have
become out of control needing law enforcement to keep ourselves and/or those
around us safe.
Thus it is imperative that information of our disorder is given to law
enforcement and that we are treated as such. Another reason that makes us
different from someone with the antisocial disorder is that our disorders can be
treated. If there is a treatment for the antisocial disorder, I am not aware of
Most of us still live in a society where a great deal of stigma exists and
mental health disorders are not understood. So if someone calls 911 due to our
out of control behavior, instead of receiving treatment, many times we are
treated just like someone with anti-social disorder.
This is not always the case however. It depends upon where you live.
If you are so out of control you are at risk of harming yourself or someone
else, of course law enforcement will have physically take control of the
situation to keep everyone safe. The immediate safety should be the number one
Where to take you should be to a mental health agency for evaluation instead of
a jail cell. You need mental health care, not jail obviously.
You may need to be hospitalized and again, this will be evaluated.
The following information is from the NIMH (National Institute of Mental
"- People with serious mental illness are frequently arrested for minor
offenses, many times as a result of homelessness, and then they are
incarcerated in jails where their mental health needs are not met. There are
also significant numbers of persons with serious mental illness who come in
contact with the police, but are not arrested.
- The U.S. Department of Justice reported in 1999 that 16% of all inmates in
state and federal jails have a severe mental illness. 283,000 people with
serious mental illnesses were in jail or prison - more than four times the
number in state mental hospitals. The average daily number of patients in
state and county psychiatric hospitals has steadily dropped from 592,853 in
1950 to 71,619 in 1994.
- 40% of families of persons with mental illness reported that the individual
had been arrested at some point in their lives.
- A recent Department of Justice report found more than three quarters of
inmates with mental illness had at least one prior prison, jail, or probation
term. Some individuals are incarcerated scores of times. Probation systems are
also affected, as 16% of probationers were persons with mental illness.
Steadman, H.J., Morris, S.M., Dennis, D.L., "The diversion of mentally
ill persons from jails to community-based services: A profile of
programs." American Journal of Public Health, 85, 1630-1635 and Steadman,
H.J., Deane, M.W., Morrissey, J.P., Westcott, M.L., Salasin, S. and Shapiro,
S., "A SAMHSA Research Initiative Assessing the Effectiveness of Jail
Diversion Programs for Mentally Ill Persons." Psychiatric Services, 50,
- Offenders with mental illnesses can place a heavy toll on the criminal
justice system, draining significant police resources as these encounters may
take a considerable amount of time. In most communities, officers face
significant problems when they bring individuals to local community mental
health programs. These programs may be reluctant to take the person due to
reimbursement issues or previous history with the individual or due to drug
and alcohol problems. Hospitals will accept persons deemed dangerous to self
or others but only after lengthy assessments. As a result, police can spend
hours waiting for resolution on a single case, and the person with mental
illness often returns to the street almost immediately.
- When incarcerated, offenders with mental illnesses may present problems,
particularly when they arrive in a disoriented or psychotic state. Once in
jail, they remain longer than others with similar convictions. Often their
condition deteriorates without appropriate treatment and issues concerning
behavioral management arise.
- There is little planning when an inmate with a mental illness is released.
People leave jail without supplies of needed medications, public benefits to
pay their living costs or Medicaid for community-based mental health services.
As a result, many simply recycle back into the criminal justice system."
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Copyright © Patty Fleener, M.S.W. All