Mary Vradelis: Police and Mental Health

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Racial inequities in policing have been a focal point in 2020, and that includes differences in how police can react to people experiencing mental health crises. Mary Vradelis has this Perspective.

I am a white woman, raised in the 60s by a single mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was often a painful and scary time. And yet, I now realize how lucky I was, just because of the color of my skin.

Daniel Prude, Tommie Dale McGlothen Jr. and Walter Wallace Jr. were Black men who had psychotic episodes. Their families called 911, hoping they would be taken to a hospital for the care they needed. Instead, two were fatally beaten, and Walter was shot in front of his mother. Each man had similar stories to my mother’s … but with very different endings.

Throughout my life, my mother had frightening psychotic episodes. Sometimes those episodes went into the streets … similar to the recent stories of the three Black men. In the quiet suburban town we grew up in, her late night ramblings rattled my neighbors. She would knock on their doors, revealing what the fairies had told her, or warning them about the other neighbors trying to poison her. She was often incoherent, and always irrational in those moments. There was no way to reason with her. Frequently, the neighbors called the police. The police would arrive and take my mother to a hospital even when she strongly resisted.

One time, my 50‐something, 5 ½ foot mother kneed one of the policemen in the crotch. And despite her physical attack, and her proximity to his gun, they took her to the hospital without further incident. There were no repercussions … just a story for my family to chuckle about.

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But Daniel, Tommie and Walter left their families and friends with grief not funny anecdotes. And by sharing my story, I am not dreaming of the good old days. I know that people of color were and still are disproportionately at risk of violence. But now, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, we have greater awareness and I don’t want that to fade away.

In a world that feels complicated and confrontational, I am hoping and asking that we find a way that all people who have a mental illness like my mother will receive the calm, care and respect they need and deserve as fellow human beings … because their lives matter as much as my mother’s did.

With a Perspective, I’m Mary Vradelis.

Mary Vradelis is an interim executive director, management coach and trainer helping organizations and individuals.