One of the challenges facing the inmates of the Carroll County Detention Center is mental illness.
In order to make sure the inmates are able to get the services and treatments they need, the detention center hired a mental health coordinator, or gatekeeper, Warden George Hardinger said.
Joyce Schaum, the mental health coordinator, works with inmates to make sure they are getting the proper treatment for their mental health, including assessing their mental health once they are placed at the Detention Center and making sure they are seen by a psychiatrist.
About a third to a half of the inmate population at the Detention Center are on some type of mental health medication, Schaum said.
Schaum took some time to speak with the Carroll County Times about her job and the mental health issues that face inmates.
Q: Can you describe your position?
A: My position at the jail, I'm the mental health coordinator. I am responsible for making sure that inmates that have mental health issues are seen by me and the psychiatrist, to coordinate all of that. Also, I work, of course, since medication is involved, I work really closely with [the] medical [staff] to make sure that medications are appropriate and all that.
Q: Why is it important that the jail has a position like yours?
A: A large portion of the inmates have mental health issues and sometimes their crimes have been caused by their mental health issues, and so they need to be addressed. So what I try to do is explain to the inmates [that] we don't want to have to see you come back here. We want you to continue your mental health treatment when you get out of jail.
Q: I know one of the stigmas surrounding mental health is that if you have a mental illness, you are more violent. Do you think that's a fair stigma?
A: No because so many people have depression or anxiety that never get to jail. So, you can't generalize that I don't think. There are certain diagnoses, like intermittent explosive disorder and things like that where you could say there's more violence involved, but I don't think it's a fair generalization to say that anyone with a mental health diagnosis tends to be more violent.
Q: What was one of the more surprising things you've learned from having the position?
A: How substance abuse and mental illness go hand in hand. I mean, so many people I see that are addicted to substances have mental health issues and it's easier to get substances than go to the doctors and do the appropriate treatment. That's a huge relevation. Also, in my intake with inmates, one of the questions I have is, when did you first start using anything, and the average age that I'm seeing is between 9 and 13, which is crazy. So you know whoever is educating children about substances, it needs to be in elementary school. It doesn't need to be targeted in middle school and definitely, it's too far gone for high school.
Q: The idea that they are self-medicating to handle mental health issues, what do you think needs to be done to make it so people aren't afraid to seek treatment or can easily seek treatment?
A: For the population I see in the jail, a lot of it is finances. They don't have the money. They don't have insurance. Some are homeless. Plus, some say, "I don't do the doctor thing." And maybe some of it is the stigma and some is it's easier to get drugs on the street. Plus lack of education about mental health and depending on their family's lifestyle, their parents, their grandparents — did their parents get help with their issues? Then they are more apt to.
Q: Now in terms of when you do your intakes and you're talking to people, are people pretty open with "oh, yeah I have this?"
A: I'm so surprised by how open they are about their substance abuse. That's one thing that really surprised me. Of course, all the information is health-related information that goes in their medical file and it's protected information so it doesn't go anywhere. I mean, other staff members other than medical don't see it. It's all private. But even without them realizing all that, they are pretty open about it. One question I have to ask is have you been hospitalized for mental health reasons in the past and if so how many times. Generally they're pretty open about that and I, of course, have to go into family history of substance abuse and any suicides or suicide attempts in the family, and they're pretty open about that. Any other mental health issues in the family. And of course, I have to ask them about if they have ever thought about suicide or if they have had any attempts, and surprisingly, most of the people I talk to are honest with me, whether they haven't had any attempts or they have had 10. And if they have had multiple, I have to document how and how many times.
Q: What is one thing you want the general public and people who are not in the jail world to know about mental health and incarceration?
A: That these people, the inmates and the inmates with mental illness are still people and a lot of them just didn't have a chance to go straight. And I'm surprised by all the trauma I see that these people have gone through. I really appreciate our adminstration because they stress everybody to be respectful of each other. Our staff to be respectful of the inmates, which is huge. I get inmates who have been at different jails who say, "I have never really experienced this before." Our jail is a well-run jail and that is because of the administration, from the warden down to the majors and captains. Everybody works well together there.