Local advocate shares his story
By Amanda Bradford, Staff Writer
Published in the Greer Citizen on November 6th, 2013
Two weeks ago, the Greer Police Department attended Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) where they heard Paton Blough’s story about his struggle with bipolar disorder that led to him being arrested six times.
It’s because of his experience with arrests resulting from his bipolar episodes that Blough believes it’s important for officers to be trained how to properly deal individuals with mental illness, which is the purpose of CIT. According to Blough, South Carolina only requires four hours of training specifically addressing mental illness, but through a free 40-hour CIT course departments can become better equipped to handle these situations, which Blough believes saves lives.
“We feel that although it is not mandatory training, it should be mandatory training because you deal with all sorts of people while you’re out on the street — you know victims of crime or people that are breaking the law,” Lt. Jim Holcombe said. “So you want to make sure you understand and can kind of pick up on some clues of people that might have a mental illness or are having some sort of problem in their life at that time. We try to ensure that every one of our officers go through that mental illness training.”
The Greer Police Department regularly handles situations involving the mentally ill, according to Holcombe. In the training, participants have three days of classroom training including speakers, such as Blough, sharing their stories and role-playing to teach the best ways to handle situations involving the mentally ill.
Prior to his first bipolar episode in 2002, Blough had never been arrested and he worked in the tree service and storm recovery business for 18 years.
“In 2002, I had my first experience with bipolar disorder, and I did OK for a few years, but I was going through a divorce and different things, a lot of personal trauma but I was doing OK business-wise. I was keeping my life together,” he said.
Shortly after helping with cleanup following Hurricane Katrina, Blough had what he calls the “mother-of-all manic episodes.”
“I basically got very paranoid,” he said.
Blough began accusing local officials in Mississippi of fraud, and in 2005 he ended up being arrested and for the first time was put in a mental hospital in Alabama. Over the next several years, Blough continued to struggle with his disorder and he ended up in and out of hospitals and jails.
“I would become extremely paranoid of police in particular, that they were part of a grander conspiracy,” he said. Although Blough’s delusions would begin small, they would escalate. His paranoia reached to the extent that he doubted the police officers were with the police department, but rather the KGB or the Nazis.
“What happens is you eventually think that half the world is good and half the world is evil, and in that state of mind you believe that you’re the one combating the evil — or at least that was my experience.”
With the assistance of his now wife and the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), Blough was able to begin his recovery process, battle legal issues and become an advocate for people with mental illness. Today, Blough takes part in the CIT by sharing his experiences with police officers so they can understand how to best approach and handle individuals with mental illness.
“[NAMI] really helped save my life quite frankly. But after I retained a little bit of stability in my life, about three and a half years ago I believe it was here in Greer, I was able to tell my story as part of the Crisis Intervention Training for the first time,” he said.
Though never officially diagnosed, Blough believes he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his arrest experiences, which sometimes involved tasers, pepper spray, and three of which placed him in hospitals.
“Out of the six arrests three went fairly well, and I don’t think the difference was me so much as the way the officers handled me in that crisis,” he said.
One good experience Blough shares when he speaks is when he was at Applebee’s and became paranoid people sitting at the bar were undercover and watching him. After he said some things to them, the manager called the police and Mike Ford, a Greenville City police officer, responded. When Blough challenged Ford to call his brother and he did, and he waited with Blough until his brother showed up with his medication. When Blough was paranoid the water Ford gave him was drugged, Ford took a sip from the water to show him it was OK to drink.
“I mean that’s kind of outside the box, but that’s the kind of patience and the time he was willing to take,” he said.
“Not everybody with a mental illness is a danger. There’s a small percent that are, but somebody with a mental illness is four times more likely to be a victim of a crime than commit a crime, but unfortunately these things don’t always reach the news and that adds to stigma,” he said.
For more information about NAMI or Blough’s story, visit nami.org.
Article published originally in the Greer Citizen.
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