Going to court can be a stressful experience, but imagine how tough it is for those with a psychological issue. Here in Connecticut, the people who keep our local courts safe are getting their own special education on helping people in the system who face mental health problems.
October 6-12, 2013 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, an effort by Congress to educate the public about those among us who may be suffering. On Wednesday, a group of judicial marshals had voices pumped into their heads through an MP3 player and headphones, as part of training on how to handle people who hear actually voices in their head when they come to court.
“If they seem to be confused over some directions or something like that, step back a little bit and give it to them step by step,” said Michael West, a Judicial Marshal in Hartford.
For the 7 million people who come through the Connecticut court system each year, the judicial marshals are their first point of contact, with the court system on the whole referring 14,000 of them for psychological treatment, according to the Judicial Marshal Academy. Said Diane Hatfield, Deputy Director of Judicial Marshal Services, “The trend has been in the last ten to fifteen years to really recognize the mental health issues that are out there that we all face daily. And we have a responsibility to recognize that there are things going on and to take that time and give that service to the person, to provide that integrity to treat them fairly not because they are different but because they need a little more from us.”
The voices coming from the MP3 player during the training range from whispering to insulting to demonic. And the voices go in and out, as the marshals try to complete some everyday tasks, like getting medical help, going to the store, and generally keeping track of things. And just like with those who actually have psychological issues, the results are often not good. Said one of the coordinators of Wednesday’s training to West, “you seem to be a bit disoriented.”
West says the training will help him and his colleagues better deal with those who need extra help, making the screening process better for everyone and our state courts as safe as possible. “People have their own issues and we have our responsibilities and we can find a way to get both of them done,” said West.
Out of Connecticut’s population of around 3.5 million, the Judicial Marshal Academy says 150,000 people have been diagnosed with serious mental illness.
But the Academy expects that number is much higher because mental health issues too often go undiagnosed. The training program has been around for 2 years. For more information, visit: www.jud.ct.gov/ADA