News Article Details

Since You Asked: Mental health and businesses

Appeal-Democrat - 8/6/2018

Aug. 06--Mental illness isn't always visible. One person could be suffering silently, while another exhibits apparent signs.

For a business owner, addressing someone with an apparent mental illness can present a challenge. Do you call the police or do you handle it yourself?

One reader wrote in asking the Appeal-Democrat that very question. Shannon Secrist, deputy director of behavioral health/clinical services for Sutter-Yuba Behavioral Health, said it really just depends on the situation.

Q: What should an owner/employee do if someone with an apparent mental health issue comes into their business?

A: Secrist said people with mental illness can lead normal lives. Sometimes, those who experience a mental illness may talk to themselves, respond to unseen others or react to visual hallucinations. She said while the general public cannot see or hear the same things as the person going through the episode, they are very real to the person experiencing them.

"If the individual is not causing any problem in the business, it is best to treat them as you would anyone coming into the business. If they are creating a commotion -- perhaps yelling or physically reacting to unseen things -- it is important to give them space," Secrist said.

The best way to handle the situation, she said, is to ask the person if there is anything that can be done to help in a kind manner. If the person doesn't respond or responds with an answer that doesn't make sense, the next best thing is to call law enforcement for assistance.

"Law enforcement can determine if the individual needs to be placed on a hold and brought into the emergency department or psychiatric emergency services for further assessment. While someone experiencing an untreated mental health issue or a psychiatric emergency may appear scary, it is important to remember that those with mental illness are no more of a risk to the community than someone who doesn't have mental illness," Secrist said.

Q: What are some telltale signs that someone is experiencing mental health issues?

A: Secrist said there are many different signs and symptoms, all of which are dependent on things like diagnosis, the age of the person and their current living environment.

"Sometimes the general public is fearful of seeing someone who is responding to auditory hallucinations, they may be yelling or mumbling or to visual hallucinations where they may be swatting at something they can see but others cannot. These signs don't make someone dangerous. Confused thinking, bizarre thoughts, delusions, changing behavior quickly without an identifiable trigger -- for example, someone who is calm and collected one moment and suddenly becomes angry and agitated -- and disorganized speech are all signs that someone may be suffering from mental health issues," she said.

Many of the same symptoms evident in someone with mental health issues can look like someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which can make it difficult to identify, she said. If the person exhibiting the signs seems to be managing OK and is not posing an immediate threat, the best thing to do is let them go about their business, Secrist said.

"However, if they appear disorganized, create a disturbance and don't leave when asked, or are asking for help, reach out to law enforcement. Often times, a smile and a kind word is all that is needed, but if those don't work and the individual becomes increasingly agitated getting them to help via law enforcement is the best route," she said.

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(c)2018 the Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, Calif.)

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