Being “Disappeared” into CPEP (Part IV)

It is wholly unacceptable for a person, who is not competent to make decisions, to be sucked into the psychiatric system without representation by a competent adult.  It is equally unacceptable for families to be broken apart by government edict. 

For the complete story go to:

  1. “SPD > CPEP > [Disappeared] (Part I)”
  2. “Being ‘Disappeared’ into CPEP (Part II)”
  3. “Being “Disappeared’ into CPEP (Part III)”

Thomas, with a lifelong history of acting crazy, possibly consequent to missing part of a chromosome, was taken by the Syracuse Police Department from his home to CPEP, the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program.  At the time he was taken, he appeared incompetent; he didn’t even know his own name.  His wife Barbara, brother Terry and sister Stephanie are trying to find him but CPEP will not tell them if he is there or has been transferred.

Acting as an advocate for the family, I have contacted—

(a)  Legal Aid of Central New York, which says that they will only take a complaint if it is filed by Thomas, who is not competent to do it. 

(b)  Mental Hygiene Legal Service, which says they will find him but not tell anybody where he is.

(c)  CPEP, which not only will not reveal Thomas whereabouts, but also states that its policy, under the law, is to triage, treat and transfer without making any attempt to notify next of kin or the courts.

Now Terry is sitting in my living room.  He looks at me with shock and says, “Let me see if I’ve got this right.  If I’m walking down the street and get hit by lightning or for some other reason have a complete psychotic breakdown, I can be taken to CPEP and nobody will ever know?”

Yep, I say.  That’s the size of it.  If you go crazy then the government takes you and your relatives have no right to find you.

We sit there and stare at each other in silence, then Terry gives himself a shake and says that on a recent phone call to CPEP his sister was told by an employee that the employee could not tell her anything regarding the whereabouts of Tom but could tell her that she always has the right to call St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Bingo, I shout to myself!  A CPEP employee, driven by some compassion and sense of rectitude, has just given us the clue to Tom’s whereabouts without actually saying where he is.  I advise Terry to go with his sister and knock on the locked door of St. Joe’s inpatient psychiatric unit and say, “We’ve come to visit our brother Tom.”  Unless Tom explicitly has stated that he doesn’t want to see them, they will be admitted to the unit.

Later that day, Mary Bishop, executive director of CPEP, calls me back to say that Terry has left his office; I give her his cell phone number.

After work, Terry and Stephanie go to Unit 3-6 and find their brother.  He is still in such a disordered state of mind that he cannot take care of his own business.  The family begins to sort out the various problems and come up with solutions. 

The next day, as promised, attorney Maureen Kissane from the Mental Hygiene Legal Service calls me back.  I ask her if she knows where Tom is.  She gets mad and says she can’t tell me.  “I’m not asking you to tell me where he is; I am asking if you know where he is.”  She hangs up on me.  Had she answered “yes” then my next question would have been:  Does Tom know that he has the legal right to request your assistance?  Did Maureen meet Tom face-to-face and talk to him, or did she just look at computer screens and make phone calls to hospital employees?  Does Tom yet know that there is help available to him outside the psychiatric system?

My next conversation is with Terry, who assures me that they’ve got everything under control.  My intervention as an advocate is no longer needed.  It’s a family matter.

Now, let’s talk about how this should have gone.

First, law officers should carry a pamphlet with information about CPEP, Legal Aid, Mental Hygiene Legal Services, PAIMI (Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness), the NYS Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, and other government agencies that have authority in the psychiatric system.  These pamphlets should be given to involved parties at the scene where the mentally ill person is picked up.

Second, when CPEP admits a person who is clinically incompetent then, within 24 hours, they must notify next of kin.  The notification must be direct, not by letter, email or leaving a telephone message.

Third, if no competent relative steps up to represent the patient’s interests then, within 72 hours, CPEP must apply to the court for the patient to be declared temporarily legally incompetent and have a law guardian appointed.

And attorney Maureen Kissane should be fired and replaced with someone intelligent enough to know the difference between “knowing” and “telling,” and who listens to a reasonable adult instead of slamming the phone down.  The power belongs to the people, not the government employee.

Some questions need to be answered:

Why won’t Legal Aid’s PAIMI attorney take a complaint from a relative on behalf of a patient in the psychiatric system?

What laws, regulations and rules need to be changed, and who can do it?

Who hired Maureen Kissane?

The psychiatric system is neither compassionate nor benign.  It can give people damaging drugs, tie them down by the wrists and ankles, and administer even more damaging electroshock “treatment.” 

It is wholly unacceptable for a person, who is not competent to make decisions, to be sucked into the psychiatric system without representation by a competent adult.  It is equally unacceptable for families to be broken apart by government edict.  A civilized society would not do this; America does it.

In the preceding story, all the identifying information about private citizens has been changed.  All the information about the words and actions of government employees is true and accurate to the best of my ability to report.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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3 Responses to Being “Disappeared” into CPEP (Part IV)

  1. bjcirceleb says:

    I can assure you what you have written about does happen in most if not ALL developed countries. Within Australia, where I live the mental health system can remove a child from the parents custody, because they deem the child to be mentally ill. The parents can be refused access to visit the child, and child protection is not bought in. All it takes is a psychiatrist to declare a person mentally incompetent and then psychiatry can do as they wish to the person.

    Are there times when people are not able to make informed decisions, absolutely, but when it comes to mental health it is not relevant. If you suffer a heart attack and cannot give consent to treatment, the doctors MUST get consent from your next of kin, and every developed country has laws in regards to how that is worked out. Most have some way in which people can appoint medial attornies or something of that nature. I am not aware of any country in the world in which a legally appointed medical power of attorny can make mental health decisions for a person. The whole reason we have mental health legislation is to allow psychiatrists to treat people without there consent. It is done on the basis that they cannot make informed decisions. Yet the reason we need that legislation is because they say that pscyhiatrists should not have to follow the same laws that other doctors have to work under and that is to get consent from the next of kin and/or apply to the court for a guardian to be appointed. In a civilised society mental health legislation would not be needed, for the simple fact that they would allow these problems to be treated in the same way as other health problems are treated.

    I also suspect that if you read your states mental health act you would not find any reference to children having any seperate rights to an adult. They rarely do and if they do you can count yourself lucky that they are at least allowing parents to raise there children, unless child protection is called in and the child is removed for real reasons with court involvement.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Please stop using “developed” and “civilized” interchangably; they are two different things.
      It sounds like you’ve been put through the wringer in your country. Have we made any progress since they called us witches and morons and tied us up in the basement?
      We are human beings, struggling.
      Keep working on your country’s problems, as I will keep working on mine. We are not alone; we have each other.

  2. Debra says:


    You should be hired and paid big bucks to be an advocate for these wounded folks that you write about. Your efforts are courageous and tenacious. Your analyses are cogent and spot on. Your writings about these events is –as ever- informative, heartfelt, succinct and decisive. Seemingly, our world is being run by allegedly “credentialed” human beings. While they have “attained” the credentials for employment (i.e.a college degree or degrees, mandated training etc. etc.)– since integrity, commonsense, experience and empathy can not be tested or measured, these same qualities are sorely lacking in the very human beings (employees) who should have the most of it to be of any benefit to the wounded individuals in our midst.

    Needless to say, I was somewhat relieved that Thomas was found where he was. I had nightmares that he was in some solitary confinement cell at some jailhouse for attacking the policemen. But he must have been blessed with having some decent cops upon the scene. But whether Thomas will indeed be helped or further damaged remains to be seen.
    It is my personal opinon, that he was laying on that sofa willing himself to die. What hope does he really have in light of his past life experiences? He must be feeling so helpless that he is unable to be a better provider for his wife and children. And yes,the unfortunate side casualties to this scenario are his children and his wife and his extended family. The wife has all she can do to survive at her measly jobs trying to support this situation and her children. So much suffering! This is really a no win situation as the root cause of his behaviour may be a genetic abnormality for which there may be no known effective treatment. Thus he is just a guinea pig while this med or that med is tried. I say my prayers for Thomas and his family. May Thomas’s care be put into the hands of a truly empathetic caregiver. Has anyone tried cognitive behaviour therapy and/ or Empathic therapy with him? Or is the only option for him the use of damaging medications that do little more than chemically lobotomize him? Unless his family educates themselves through reading Peter Breggin’s works and such other works as “Mad in America”, their efforts to help him may be of little help.

    When I was unlawfully, immorally and illegally detained in the University of Michigan’s psychiatric unit, I used the term “the human condition” in a conversation with a psychiatric physician resident who then proceeded to ask me what “the human condition” was. “What did I mean by that?” I asked him if he was serious? Did he really not know what “the human condition” was? When he responded that he did not know, I realized that any further conversation with this individual was of no purpose. I advised him to look it up and further his education. And that any further conversation would be pointless as he and I were operating on very different levels in our understanding of the world. As I was a “mere” patient, being charged an horrendous amount of daily fees for the “alleged expertise” at this psycho ward, the last thing that I felt I needed to be doing was educating the “alleged” professionals!”

    And while my gut instincts at the time were to avoid taking the medications that I was instinctively certain would cause a chemical lobotomy, I was left with no other choice than to agree to take the chemical lobotomizers so I could get the hell out of there and wean myself off of them ASAP. I had felt I was in a very dangerous place from the get-go. But when I learned from several of the patients that I became friendly with that they were being “forced” to undergo ECT, my inner panic and fear was so intense that it was all I could do to AVOID a complete emotional melt down. Once I learned that ECT was being performed at the University of Michigan psychiatric ward, I play-acted to get my being(a**) out of there. I deserve an Academy Award for the act that I put on to get away from that dangerous place. Acting everyday to convince everyone (the employees) what a great job they were doing, while knowing full well that ECT treatments and chemical lobotomies were criminal and unhealing acts upon very fragile and the most vulnerable amongst us. And since my illegal stay ot the University of Michigan’s psychiatric ward was “engineered” to shut up a sexual assault victim(at the hands of a physician while under anaesthesia, no less), I knew that the smallest reason would and could be used to perform ECT Treatments on me.
    My rage, enduring gut-wrenching fear and horror, and resentment for my situation and for those of whom you write, Anne, is ongoing. Thank you for being such a lucid voice “crying out in the wilderness.” I am no longer interested or capable in expending the energy it takes to fight such overwhelming illegality, idiocy and ignorance and sheer unmitigated meanness as I have experienced.

    Anne, I give you full kudos for your tenacity and drive. We all have our breaking points. But when the ignorant and corrupted “system” that allegedly exists to help the wounded and broken amongst us, becomes part and parcel of the efforts to further drive one well beyond the initial breaking point, it is too criminal to imagine let alone live through.
    I am in the middle of reading “Mad in America” and now knowing the prehistory of the current psychiatric system, it is no wonder that the system is as ignorant, flawed,dangerous, damaging, wounding and psychotic as it is.
    The only folks with any modicum of “hope” to having a positive, healing mental health experience are those who can afford to pay out of pocket to stay at the few private places who use a wholistic approach to healing the emotionally wounded amongst us. At a “mere” tune of $30,000-$40,000 a month. And even the few “wholistic” places I have researched on-line still seem to advocate for medication usage.

    So the 99% of us are screwed— otherwise known as SNAFU!! “Occupy Wallstreet” could be easily extended to “Occupy Psychiatric Atrocities. “

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