Man Thrown in Psych Hospital for Giving Money to Strangers

Yes, it seems to be true, though the facts are a little confusing (as this bhhbkbrttz
TV story suggests)
:  A man named Richard Wright was giving out money to strangers and telling them to “Thank God!” if they actually needed the cash, or pass it along if they didn’t. For this he seems to have been scooped up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and taken against his will to a psych ward for evaluation:

Even though Wright is being held in the psych ward of Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, Pierre Bourdages, spokesman for the Halifax Regional Police, confirmed that Wright has not broken any laws. This only adds to the frustration felt by members of the public who want to see Wright released immediately.

Somehow this reminds me of my favorite movie from childhood, Miracle on 34th Street, where Santa is carted away for being…Santa. It also reminds me of a column article I wrote for the NY Sun upon the death of the Larry Stewart, the man who gave strangers $100 bills just for the joy of helping others. I tried the same thing for a day (with twenties) and it was exhilarating. In fact, it was SO fun that I promised myself I’d do it annually and…haven’t.

So “crazy” Richard Wright is reminding me to be crazy, too. – L

What kind of crazy person is NICE to strangers?

What kind of crazy person is NICE to strangers?

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22 Responses to Man Thrown in Psych Hospital for Giving Money to Strangers

  1. Steve March 27, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    What does this tell us about our society?

    Notice there is NO report saying mobs of people have stormed the police station demanding his release. Where is the overwhelming outrage?

  2. BL March 27, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Oh, Nurse Ratched, we have a new patient …

  3. Papilio March 27, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    It reads like the intro to a House MD episode! Of course the guy used to be a total scrooge so maybe he has developed a brain tumor in the frontal lobe…

  4. Hels March 27, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    Of course, in modern times it is only acceptable to mooch off strangers. It cannot possibly go the other way!

  5. EricS March 27, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Not breaking any laws, and being charitable lands this guy (against his will) in a psyche hospital? I smell a lawsuit. He can use the money to be charitable again. That would be irony. lol Hope this guy gets out, and the RCMP gets reprimanded.

  6. John March 27, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    It wouldn’t surprise me that the “telling them to thank God” part is what got him thrown into the psych ward.

  7. Mark Roulo March 27, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    Also, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

  8. Trs March 27, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    He could be a known Bi Polar that is off his meds. Could be a danger to himself by becoming penniless during a manic phase.

  9. SOA March 27, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    SMH is about all I have to say about this

  10. Donna March 27, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

    @Trs – Having a bi polar friend who does develop serious money issues when she is in her manic phases, I would agree except that his own family doesn’t think that the giving away of money is a problem. If his children aren’t concerned that this is a sign of impending problems, it seems odd that the government would insist that it is.

  11. Lola March 27, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    There was also that sociological experiment where they hung money from trees on the street. There was a kind message written on every bill (sort of “have a nice day”, or “smell the roses!”, I recall).
    It turned out that grumpy, stressed people just went by, not noticing their “good fortunes” hanging right there. Happy people did notice, and surprisingly took just one bill each after reading the message.

  12. amanda March 27, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    I think this is a very cavalier approach to something that could be quite serious for this person and his family. If he is manic or delusional, he could be causing great financial harm to himself or his family.

  13. Gina March 27, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    I guess if I ever win the Powerball I’m headed to the loony bin.

  14. J.T. Wenting March 28, 2014 at 4:59 am #

    felony giving people money?

    Wouldn’t surprise me at all if soon they invent that in order to make it illegal to be charitable, depriving the government of people who’re dependent on them…

  15. Helen March 28, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    Lots of people with mental health issues are nice to others in a way they wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for their mental illness. It is a dangerous stereotype to think the actions of mentally ill people must be harmful to others.

    That the family seem to think he’s fine does, on the face of it, make it sound like the police overreacted to someone being a bit eccentric. But it doesn’t mean that the police have acted outrageously. Family can often be in denial about mental deterioration and police have a duty of care towards those who are mentally ill. They will almost certainly have spoken to him first and decided from that that he seemed not to have full capacity, not just taken him in simply because he gave away money. But they aren’t experts and even if they had good reason to be concerned, they may still be incorrect, hence the need for an evaluation by someone who is qualified.

    Societies have a long history of labling people who do things differently as “mentally ill”, and there are many tragic stories of how such abuse has destroyed lives. But equally there are people who are a danger to themselves and others and leaving them to get on with sprialling downhill is also tragic. There isn’t the information here to know whether this case is a matter of a bad decision by police, whether a caring action that will help prevent tragedy, or a reasonable decision that happens to be wrong.

  16. Steve March 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    It’s disturbing to see comments here sanctioning the police action because if you honestly think this kind of behavior MIGHT be a “dangerous” mental condition, you can’t complain when they arrest YOU for anything you do. In the past, when the Rule of Law was in force, we didn’t arrest people who had broken no laws.

    I could make a good case for sending anybody off for psychiatric observation, no matter what they say or do. Totalitarian governments do this all the time. Think about it. If suspicion is all it takes, who is safe?

  17. bmommyx2 March 28, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

    sad, I always tell myself that if I won the lottery I would do that

  18. Helen Quine March 29, 2014 at 2:34 am #

    Steve – it is a hard balance and societies, totalitarian and otherwise, have got it wrong a lot. But the alternative to not having suspicion lead to observation is to not treat mental illness. You can’t diagnose without observing.

  19. Donna March 29, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    Actually, Helen, the ONLY duty of police is PUBLIC SAFETY. It is absolutely not their job to help people who are not a physical danger to themselves or others. No danger was posed in this situation so he should have been left alone.

    People seem to have some desire to police others for their own good, but you don’t get to do that. People are allowed to be mentally ill and go untreated unless they pose a physical danger to themselves or others. Only then do you get to interfere.

  20. Lyons March 30, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    I have been a psychiatric nurse for over 10 years. It is impossible to make an informed opinion about this situation without knowing all of the details. Impulsive spending and giving away money could certainly be a symptom of bipolar disorder or another mental illness. It’s quite well known that people who are planning to commit suicide give away their possessions prior to completing the act, and giving away money could also be a symptom of mania. I am not familiar with the laws in Canada, so I can’t speak to that aspect of things. However I can say that in the US, the laws about involuntary hospitalization vary depending on the state. In Virginia where I live, if this situation were to occur, the person would not have been arrested. He would have been taken into police custody temporarily. He would have been evaluated by a mental health professional who is trained to evaluate whether someone is a danger to him/herself or others or is unable to take care of him/her self due to a mental illness. In Virginia the laws do indicate that the risk of someone spending all their money or doing other potentially detrimental, albeit not fatal, things can be classified as a harm to self. So our police officers certainly do have the responsibility to uphold these laws. If the person is determined to meet the criteria by the evaluator, a temporary hold is requested from the magistrate, and the person can be held in a psychiatric unit against their will for 72 hours. WIthin that timeframe they must be seen by a judge in a court hearing in which they will be represented by an attorney, and the judge determines whether they can be further held involuntarily. This is all based on laws that have been written by publicly elected officials.

    I am obviously not addressing any potential issues of bias, corruption, larger political problems, etc. I understand that those factors can all call into question the reliability of the processes that are in place. However, generally most modern societies agree on some level that people with mental illnesses should be treated against their will in some circumstances. Whether you personally agree or disagree with that is another issue. And yes, some symptoms of mental illness can be culturally driven or based on erroneous assumptions. But we all have to just do the best we can with the classification systems and information that we have. The majority of people who work in the field have decent intentions and don’t want to throw people into the hospital for no reason. In the posted example, who knows, maybe the man was held temporarily and determined to have no mental illness and then released. Let’s use some critical thinking and not jump to conclusions without having all the facts.

  21. ifsogirl March 31, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Lyons – That sounds very much how it works in my part of Canada. I do understand the police taking him into custody and having a psyc eval done. Who knows maybe he had planned how much cash he was giving away and just wanted to spread some joy that day. Maybe he does need psychiatric care. But would it not be better to have that evaluated by a professional instead of a family that smiles and says “Oh that’s just Richard. He does some wacky things sometimes.”

  22. ifsogirl March 31, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Another quick thought, I’m not agreeing with the arrest at all but maybe initially they picked him up in case he got mugged?

    I know we’re considered friendly and polite here but some opourtunist finds out there is a guy with a was of $100 bills. The economy in Nova Scotia is hard in the winter, a lot of fishermen and farmers, not a lot of jobs, high drug use rate.

    Also near my town we had a guy dressed as a freaking clown hitchhiking. The cops picked him up and dropped him off in his own town. No arrest, no psych eval, just a ride home.

    Personally clowns terrify me and I’m pretty sire if I had seen him I’d have crashed my car and then been convinced it was all a plan so he could get a victim. I’d like to add that our prison for the criminally insane is also in the area he was so yeah scary.