Friday, April 10, 2009

MGH Psychiatry explains bipolar disorder to probation officers

Caught committing a petty theft, a young woman is placed on probation. Her probation officer reviews her file and notices a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. At their first meeting, the probationer is jittery and fretful. The officer wonders, “Is the woman experiencing a manic episode, under the influence of drugs or simply nervous?”

Probation officers faced with untangling the complicated strands of information about a probationer’s mental health status can benefit from understanding the nature of bipolar disease. Those who have the condition may also suffer from additional issues, such as addictions, anxiety or attention deficit disorder.

To assist officers in addressing the mental health needs of probationers, experts from the MGH Department of Psychiatry recently presented an educational program to more than 140 probation officers at the Massachusetts Probation Service Training Center in Clinton. Attendees posed insightful questions to MGH physician-researchers about best practices and the latest scientific advances.

"This program is absolutely on-mission for us," says Gary S. Sachs, MD, co-director of the
Bipolar Clinic and Research Program at MGH. "Community service is central to the Department of Psychiatry’s mission."

Diane Richard, director of training for the Massachusetts Probation Service, was unsure how her request to the MGH Psychiatry staff to share their knowledge about biploar disorder would
be received. "I made a cold call to Dr. Sachs, and to my amazement, he responded."

In addition to Sachs, other MGH lecturers were Andrew A. Nierenberg, MD, co-director of the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program; Michael Ostacher, MD, MPH, associate medical director of the Bipolar Clinical and Research Program; and Rebecca Brendel, MD, JD, director of the Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship. The event was organized by Karen Blumenfeld, MSW, MBA, director of the Department of Psychiatry’s public education programming and the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Institute Resource Center.

The day-long event was provided by the MGH Psychiatry Department as a pro bono community service. For more information, contact Karen Blumenfeld.

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