Home Big Tech These Two Sentences By Police Officers May Be Life-Changing For Family Members of The Mentally Ill

These Two Sentences By Police Officers May Be Life-Changing For Family Members of The Mentally Ill

by Peter Rosenberger


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Recent surveys show a stark increase in calls to the police involving the mentally ill, and beleaguered law enforcement officers find themselves thrust into complex issues—many of which contain a lengthy history. Although an increasing number of police officers stand between the mentally ill and society, there remains one participant in the altercation or aftermath who seems rarely addressed.

Who Made the Calls?

For example, in the case of Nikolas Cruz, Broward County (FL) Sheriff’s deputies answered calls to the Cruz family home 39 times between 2010 and 2017.  One can’t help but wonder, who made those calls to law enforcement?

It appears many of those calls originated from the individual functioning as a family caregiver—his adoptive mother. While her son clearly suffered from significant issues, did she, as well?

It’s hard to imagine living in such a relationship without being overwhelmed and negatively affected. Was she emotionally clear enough to help provide leadership for this young man to obtain the help he needed? Since his horrific act occurred only three months following her death, was she all that stood in the way between him and the violence he ultimately unleashed?

A Secondary Call For Help

Caregivers often inadvertently adopt destructive behaviors as coping and survival mechanisms —specifically in cases of addiction and mental illness. These behaviors not only impede help for the impaired loved one, but can harm the caregiver, as well.  Calls to the authorities tend to be cries for help to control dysfunctional behavior of a loved one.  Yet the behavior and even well-being of the caregiver often goes largely ignored.

How can the caregiver help make healthy decisions or help a loved one if they themselves struggle with significant emotional and/or physical dysfunction?

Does the caregiver even know how much help they personally need?

The Unaddressed Need

Caring for someone suffering from mental illness or addiction creates a need for caregivers to seek help for themselves. That help consists of such things as visits to physicians, counseling, and support groups.  All of those help deal with the reality of their loved one’s impairment—as well acquired coping skills. All too many caregivers mistakenly focus on the objective of getting the impaired individual to stop “acting out” while failing to see their own desperate need.

This usually occurs due to the “Caregiver FOG” (Fear, Obligation, and Guilt). In the disorienting caregiver FOG, caregivers mistakenly feel guilty for even thinking of their own needs.  In addition, they easily lose themselves and their identity in the drama and chaos of their loved ones. When that happens, enabling often takes over.

In the case of Nikolas Cruz, whatever parental authority existed was clearly outmatched. It is unknown if she understood the importance for her to receive counseling and support for herself.

A Well-Lit Path to Safety

By addressing caregivers orbiting someone obviously out of control, police officers offer them a well-lit path to healthiness. Once caregivers obtains solid emotional (and sometimes physical) footing, they can better offer guidance and facilitate help for their loved one.

Although police officers carry no responsibility to speak to underlying issues, they can address a distraught caregiver (often on the scene) and acknowledge their difficulties. Speaking directly to the caregiver’s heart and needs—regardless of their loved one’s behavior, is a simple but effective way to help address this growing problem.

Two sentences in the aftermath of a chaotic scene might serve as a lifeline to that hand-wringing family caregiver.

“This seems to be taking a real toll on you.

Please give some serious thought to getting counseling and help for yourself—regardless of what happens with your loved one.”

In truth, the caregiver may disregard the suggestion.  Yet, that counsel at least provides caregivers with a fighting chance to address their own desperate needs.

While acknowledging the demands on police officers, this suggestion costs nothing. Furthermore, it takes only moments and will not interfere with controlling the scene. With just a few words, a law enforcement officer—an authority figure— points a distraught family caregiver to safety.  In doing so, they quite possibly enlist a healthier ally in addressing the growing numbers of impaired members of our society.

Writer of this article, Peter Rosenberger hosts the nationally syndicated radio program, HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER.

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