Scream Dement

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But, although you can't blame staffers for disliking the clients, you can and should blame them for making that dislike so obvious. It's a miserable job, but nobody's forcing them to do it.

Some years ago, I told my Buddhist teacher that I felt guilty because I was repulsed by the homeless and mentally ill people I was working with. He said I shouldn't worry. "Compassion is in your actions, not your feelings or thoughts," he told me. "If people need help, it's not important how you feel about them. What's important is what you do to help them. Be repulsed by them--just don't treat them as though they're repulsive."

If people working with the mentally ill can't contain their revulsion and manufacture some compassion and respect, then they shouldn't be in the job.

How did a situation like this--such vulnerable people being so abused--come to be? Starting with $165 million to spend, how did ComCare end up in such a mess? Michael Balch's answer is simple and horrifying. "I could give you story after story of the shameful, disgusting way they throw lives away. $165 million can buy a lot of health care. They chose to pay top dollars to the upper management and hire untrained staff, pay them terrible wages and give them massive case loads they are not prepared to serve."

If you have no money of your own and you suffer from mental problems such as separation anxiety, inappropriate aggression or a tendency to throw yourself out of windows, there is a place in Phoenix where you will be taken seriously and treated with care and respect.

Trouble is, you have to be a dog. At Canine Behavior Services, Trisha Harper works with dogs and their owners to identify and treat behavioral problems. Sometimes she'll prescribe drugs for the dog--antidepressants, antipsychotics, antianxiety--but this is relatively rare. But, after listening to Harper's reasoned, thoughtful ideas as to why dogs have more problems now than they used to, it's clear that this is a county where middle-class dogs receive better treatment than mentally ill people without funds.


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Barry Graham