Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Well I have had such a strong response to my last post about Fred. And spent so much time crafting responses to each of the thoughtful comments I received that I have decided to "cheat" a bit and make my responses to your comments my next post.

Lisa said...

I pulled up this comment box and then just had to sit here for a moment to absorb your post. First off, I want to applaud you for your efforts to help a portion of the population that is so often neglected. I think the story of Fred points out so many problems we have in our society. Not the least of which is an inability to truly recognize the needs of the mentally ill. If we were willing to pay better wages to the people that care for these individuals, perhaps people like the one that Greg contacted would not be what we got stuck with. So sad.

Hi Lisa,
It is so hard to comprehend, hard to absorb. Thank you for your recognition of the work we do, it is cheering to be recognised.
We do indeed have many problems in our societies and we let so many people down very badly. I think wages and conditions are part of the problem, but sometimes there are simply the wrong people staffing some of these teams. Some people who are in these jobs should go and work sorting paperclips or something, anything other than stuff it up for other people.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

I usually lurk but I had to post, too. What a sad story this is. The mentally ill get treated like garbage everywhere-- they are difficult to understand, expensive to treat, and easily forgotten. Thank you for sticking your neck out to help this poor man. Mother Theresa said, "Every day I see Jesus in all his distressing disguises."

I'm not too religious but that quote has always stuck with me. You are doing the work of Mother Theresa. It's hard, joyful, difficult and rewarding work.

Hi Christy,
Thanks for coming out of the shadows (you wicked lurker you). Fred’s story is a real tragedy. The really sad thing is that it is not uncommon for people in his position to be deserted by the system.
Thank you for your kind words. I don’t see myself as a mother Theresa figure, I’m far too worldly for that, but thanks for the sentiment anyway.
You are absolutely right in your last sentence. This work is so hard I wouldn’t do it except for the absolute buzz I get when I can help someone like Fred long enough to make a difference in their life. Day to day the reward is when someone who is as low as you can get says "thanks you make a difference for me".

Amanda said...

O wow. That is so heartbreaking. Sometimes I am amazed at the ineptness of some people in their line of work. And I applaud you and your co-workers efforts. I hope Fred is ok and somehow someway gets the help he needs.

And I love your Echidnas photo. It is realy adorable.

Hi Amanda,
Heartbreaking is right. Staff in these organisations can become very jaded, but it is also a management issue. If staff were properly trained and supported they would be more likely to care about their jobs and the impact their decisions have on other people.
Aren’t Echidnas just adorable. I have met them so many times in the bush and they just make me smile every time.

Wendy R said...

Al - Like everyone here I was moved and distressed by your post in equal proportions. And angry.
Thank you for sharing it with us. You show such generosity of spirit to Fred, and to your co workers. You need to take care of yourself too, to be there again for them and for other people like Fred, who I am sure, will come along.

You restored the balance with your photo of the Echidnas. Ironic that you say 'they don't seem to have an aggressive bone in their bodies', given the content of your early post.

Congratulations on your steady head in these things.


Dear Wendy,
Thanks for your sentiments, I really appreciate them.
I get very angry at times as well. I have been working in the community sector in mental health and related services for many years now. My experience is that, with most people, a small amount of regular support is enough to help them keep things ticking over for themselves.
For a few, like Fred, it is significant support applied in a holistic way for moths or years that is needed. Then if (or more likely when) their condition improves support can be scaled back, but the key is someone like Fred should never be cut adrift. It is too easy for the Freds of this world to become isolated.
But this is an ideal. The reality in a welfare and health system provided by Economic Rationalist policy makers the real cost of neglecting people is never considered and that is what makes me angry. (I’ve just realised you might not know the term economic rationalism, it is an Oz term for something like Thatcherism)
Thank you for you concern for my wellbeing. I have a very simple philosophy when it comes to this sort of thing and that is: “You can’t help anyone else, if you don’t look after yourself first.”
I always push this line with my teams in this type of work. Burnout rates are terrible in any form of welfare work. What makes the difference is cultivating a team ethic that is about supporting one another. But also ensuring individuals (including me) have strategies in place to deal with such stresses. By the way my writing is one of those strategies.
I very deliberately chose to pick up echidnas again exactly because of their lack of aggression (and they are damn cute). I have seen many in the bush and handled quite a number (probably unfair but I just can’t help myself). They are quite small (around cat sized) but immensely powerful, they can break into termite mounds that I couldn’t open without a well swung pick. Yet their defence strategy is absolutely passive, they make no effort to turn those claws on an idiot like me who won’t leave them alone.

Kathleen Jones said...

I felt really sad, Al - these things shouldn't happen, but they do here too. We have this fictional thing called 'care in the community', which means that people are simply tossed out into the street without any support or back up and they have to commit a crime to be absorbed back into the system again. I'm full of admiration for what you (and your team) do. And I hope things turn out better for Fred.

Dear Kathleen,
It is so saddening that we let the Freds of this world down so badly. We have similar strategies to “care in the community” in Oz. There are some programs that are funded well and do wonderful work supporting people. I’ve even worked for a couple in the past. But the reality is the vast majority of people do not get anything like the support they need and what support is provided is so often insubstantial and short term.
Unfortunately your assessment about crime is true. Sometimes the results of the justice system becoming involved are positive and people end up with meaningful support. Unfortunately it sometimes becomes a situation where rather than receiving treatment and support people are incarcerated. I don’t know about the stats in the UK but the reality is a huge proportion of people in jails in Oz have a mental illness. That they are there is an indictment of our mental health system.

Thank You all for your wonderful responses. I am humbled by your understanding.

As to Fred unfortunately he is still on the street.
We have not seen him again, but he is still around the city.
He has been to another community service over the weekend. That service were aware of what had happened because some of our other fellows also go there. The police were called. However, presumably because Fred is very frightened and agitated, he left before they arrived.
We can only hope that somehow Fred gets the support he needs.

Next: From Spring Back to Winter


C. Pinheiro said...

I'm crossing my fingers for you! I hope you find Fred.

Lisa said...

I'm so hoping that Fred is found and safely taken to someplace where he can receive the care he so badly needs.