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When will we learn from past mistakes?

Part of my morning routine is watching/listening to Sunrise on Hawaii News Now as they broadcast the news. This morning one of the segments advertised the Arthritis Foundations Walk to Cure Arthritis event on June 1st and a 10 year-old girl from Waialua who was diagnosed with a form of arthritis when she was 2 years-old was interviewed. Just from looking at the little girl on the TV, my husband (a physician) began rattling off the symptoms and consequences of what she may be experiencing from her condition.

The next story was about the shootings that occurred on Friday night in Santa Barbara, California by a disturbed 22 year-old man who went on a killing spree after posting a string of ominous videos on You Tube. The newscast showed a sheriff telling reporters that they had gone to the young man’s apartment to do a welfare check a few weeks before and that he was “polite and courteous to the officers” so they saw no threat. (If you're trying not to get caught doing something wrong, I think it might be fair to say that if a police officer is knocking on your door that polite and courteous is all you're going to be, no?) Almost reflexively I blurted out a loud “Duh!” followed by “…and not a single mental health clinician in sight I’ll bet” (which of course was the case). My husband asked how I knew that no mental health clinicians were there and I replied because the police were.

When the police do a “welfare check” they’re doing a cursory look-see for a “danger to self and/or others” – the line that either keeps or breaks your right to confidentiality and the line that either allows you to go on doing what you’re doing or being carted away in restraints against your will.

Considering the kid went as ballistic as he later did, my husband asked why his You Tube posts couldn’t be used as evidence against him. Well, until he gets specific (identifies someone, a time, place and means of harm) he’s “exercising his constitutional right to free speech” – he didn’t commit a crime against anyone yet so it’s not terroristic threatening and the police decided there was no imminent harm so there was nothing they could do.

What makes me crazy about the Santa Barbara case is how no one seems to ever learn from past mistakes. After what happened in the Jaycee Dugard case, dontcha think police would be a little more thorough considering why they’ve been called out there in the first place? The Santa Barbara killer even commented about the welfare check in his diary expressing his relief at police not entering that day because if they had, it would’ve been all over for him. Beyond that what’s even more maddening is why police are even doing welfare checks to begin with! Dontcha think in cases where mental health is an issue that a clinician should be doing the check and if it’s a substance abuse related call that a CSAC (Certified Substance Abuse Counselor) should be responding?

In “therapy school” I was taught the reasons why “referring out” (declining a case) was so important; beyond the ethical issues of practicing beyond an area of one’s expertise are the practical repercussions – if you don’t know what you’re doing because you haven’t been adequately trained or lack the required skill set, what do you think is going to happen – success or treatment failure?

Practicing beyond an area of one’s expertise is dangerous stuff – when will everyone realize that? Take the little girl with arthritis: my husband could identify all the problems she might be experiencing why? Because of his training; on the other hand, all I saw was a sweet little girl and if she wasn’t being interviewed for arthritis, I would never know she’s afflicted with it – why? Because I don’t have medical training. And the same holds for the Santa Barbara case: my husband was aghast asking how could something like that happen while I’m rolling my eyes going “Here we go again”. My husband’s an intelligent man, but God help us if he tried to do what I do and God help everyone if I got it in my head to do what he does!

Our careers make this example obvious in its ridiculousness, but what about attorneys who act as custody evaluators, social workers who act as “law enforcement”, judges who act as mediators and police who are standing in place of mental health practitioners? How many people have to die and suffer needlessly because a professional is doing a job beyond his/her expertise or other then what they’ve been intensively trained to do?

“How are we supposed to stop this then?” my husband asked. As if on cue, Richard Martinez – father of murder victim, Chris Martinez – began his comments to the press (attached You Tube video). “That’s a start”, I said pointing to the TV. The thing about Mr. Martinez’s comments to the press is that you could substitute any evil in place of gun violence (think domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, etc.) and his message is as strong and spot on.

Clearly Mr. Martinez is in unimaginable pain and suffering so he aimed some of his anguish towards the politicians and the NRA but the violence and abuse problem in this country isn’t exclusively their responsibility – it belongs to each and every one of us and we all have to do our individual part.

Tragically instead of caring more, we’ve become a society where we “could care less”. Not only do we need to be honest with each other and responsible about the problems we see and experience (ie: if you see something say something) we need to be honest with ourselves about the role we play in combatting these problems: are we each doing our little share, are we bystanders looking the other way pretending not to see or the hardest one – are we a part of the problem?

What you allow is what will continue. Unknown

Holidays like today – Memorial Day – call our attention back to the past and the past is rich with lessons for us to learn from. Many brave souls lost their lives to bring us those lessons so lets honor their memory by learning from them and making our country one where there is peace and justice for all.

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