Richard Ratledge

My name is Richard Ratledge but I have been called Dick since I was small. It works well (depending on inflection) for both those who like me and those who are mad at me. Some have a difficult time saying "Dick" and then I answer to Richard just fine. I don't answer to "Rich" though; I truly am not "rich." [smile]

I've been involved with the "system" since 1974, when I was 20. I spent 10 days locked up in a fairly decent public hospital with a mental ward in Medford, Oregon. I spent a good part of that 10 days in isolation. It was rather an eye opening experience as I didn't believe they could legally treat people the way they treated me. Of course later I found out that I had received "good" service. HA! Anyway, they labeled me "acute undifferentiated schizophrenic" and loaded me up on Thorazine. So much Thorazine in fact that the pharmacist wouldn't fill the prescription because he thought the dosage had to be wrong. Vegged out on the drugs (which got changed to Haldol when I got home) for a few years and finally stopped them when I discovered I could not snow ski with them on board.

Ended back up in Medford in '78. 14 days this time. Not enough Haldol available to bring me down. Forget what finally slowed me down. Maybe the isolation, maybe some injected meds. More appropriate diagnosis, manic-depression. They started the Lithium there. I've continued it pretty much since. Another long period of vegging out. Spent 2 years in a Board and Care in Chico that was actually about as enjoyable a time as I could have had anywhere. Did a bit of community college, learning to be an auto-mechanic; worst job possible for someone who doesn't handle stress well. Would have thought Dept. of Rehab would have figured that out before I got so deep. Anyway ended up doing 2 years of Pest Control and felt like I was doing pretty well.

This was 1987. Got my county MH counselor to support my doing a trial without meds. Slowly weaned off of the lithium and did pretty well for several months. Things escalated. Counselor went on vacation. Multiple stressors, some uncontrollable, some created on my own. Some major incidents and embarassments. Ended up in the Butte County PHF. Lots of stories around that period. Experienced the difference between CA - county and OR - public hosp. Family help with lawyer, got me out and helped with legal problems. Stabilized but depressed for a couple of years. Maintain depressed state for fear of escalating and ...

1989 my best friend is having ongoing problem with stability and ends up not receiving any services from the MH system, not voluntarily or even when presented by the State Police. He is killed by the cops for brandishing swords on a Redding street. Investigation is conducted by PAI and they decide not to even mention the MH system involvement in his death. Their "agenda" is to promote more training for police. I am majorly pissed off. The Executive Director of PAI disses me completely (he later dies, karma?). The anger threatens to tear me apart. Finally have to let the whole issue rest or I will be destroyed. I still hold a grudge against the MH System for not protecting my friend and PAI for not revealing the involvement MH had in his death. Strangely, I have no animosity toward the police. My friend should not have been on the street that night. Maybe the cops should have acted differently, but heck, that isn't really their job. If they had wanted to be social workers, they would have gone to SW school, not cop classes.

I come away committed to two things.
1) the system has to get people in for treatment when they are willing to accept it. Prevention and proper intervention!
2) properly trained mental health crisis workers must be available to assist police when somebody is in crisis and acting out.

Pretty much devoted most of my life (outside taking care of myself and family first) to figuring out how I can impact the system to have it serve people better. It is a long, difficult and often tedious task. Amazing how small the steps we are able to take actually are.

I run lists, I watch and I comment. I used to participate in the local Mental Health Board but that became more difficult than the (lack of) accomplishment warranted. I am currently evaluating where I can make the greatest difference. I am looking at the clients movement and trying to figure out why there were never more than 100 people on the client list when there are over 300,000 Medi-Cal folks receiving MH treatment in California. Are almost all of them so deliriously satisfied with the service they are receiving that they don't complain? I find that hard to believe, I have seen what the system is doing to people! The people are NOT happy. I think they are just not informed.

The internet is the best information tool we have. I believe we need to work that tool as much as we possibly can. Actively providing information and encouraging action will do more than anything else to improve the treatment people receive when they walk into their local MH office. It won't directly affect treatment but I already see a lot of people being empowered with information and making a difference in their own communities. We need to foster this grassroots change. The system will zealously protect itself. It is only by shining the light on what the system is doing and being actively involved with changing the system that it will finally start to meet the needs of the people it is supposed to be serving. The system is HUGE. It will take many, many people all over the state and country to effect the necessary changes. There is a lot of work ahead and we need as many people as possible working in a coordinated manner to make that change happen. I think I will work on that for a while. :-)

July 2000

* Note * This was written as an introduction to a list for mental health clients and is intended to be illuminative rather than comprehensive.