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Helpful Hints: Psychotic Disorders

Bruce Ridgers

Because of the psychotic’s confusion, bizarre behavior, and capacity for violence, police officers are often the first to be called when a mentally disturbed person displays signs of psychosis. Officers’ ability to handle the psychotic person appropriately is important not only for their own safety and the safety of others, but it is also important to the psychotic person, who is probably experiencing tremendous fear. In addition, the ability of officers to form a trusting relationship with this person may be very important in determining the outcome of further treatment efforts.

The mental confusion, distortions of thought content, and disturbances of perception increase the possibility that psychotics will distrust everyone, even those attempting to help. They may then react with violence.

It is important for officers to remember to approach psychotics in the most non-threatening manner possible. Any display of force, including guns and restraints, should be avoided, unless officers suspect that their own safety or that of others is threatened.

The psychotics’ sensory awareness is heightened. Consequently, it is important for officers to reduce sensory input in order to reduce psychotics’ fear. This might include removing all nonessential people from the environment, speaking in a slow, soft voice, and reducing other sensory stimuli, such as police radios, bullhorns, and other equipment. By reducing sensory stimuli, officers help psychotic individuals gain control of themselves, making them more approachable.

Persons suffering from depression are frequently in an ambivalent mental state, unable to make decisions, vacillating between pros and cons. Consequently they may argue the opposite of whatever officers suggest. For example, should officers suggest hospitalization, psychotically depressed persons may immediately resist the suggestion, saying that they don’t need to be in the hospital and offering all kinds of reasons why they can’t go. Officers should stick firmly to their decision, regardless of the depressives’ pleas.

Therefore, it is important for officers to make up their own minds as to what must be done before revealing the decision to the person concerned. Once officers state their decision, they must act as if there is no alternative. Surprisingly, officers will find that their firmness is reassuring and that in response, the person may stop debating and arguing and instead follow their dictates.

The officers’ approach to persons who demonstrate delusional thinking is also important. They should neither argue with the delusions nor agree with them. Rather, they should listen and hear out the person’s concerns. They can then suggest that there are others who would like to help the person. Mention of going to a hospital or a clinic may disturb some people, but they are more likely to go along with officers who handle the situation in a tactful and firm manner.

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