Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What Has Gotten Lost - The Sad State of Mental Illness Awareness in America

The more that comes out about the Tucson shooter, the more disturbing the story becomes.  It seems pretty obvious that Jared is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  A horrible disease that takes over your life.  You hear voices that paint a picture of a world that is out to get to you.  You become convinced that some obscure and bizarre thing or person is out to get to you and then become fixated on it.  Sadly, in about 10% of cases that are left untreated have a violent end.

The reality is that only a small percentage of people suffering from untreated mental illness become violent, but when they do it is sometimes done on a large scale.  Three recent examples being Tucson, VA Tech, and LI Railroad.  All killed multiple people with a gun and all gave out plenty of red flags.  While no one can say for sure if medical intervention would have stopped it, the chances for these occurrences certainly would have decreased. 

This is especially true of both the VA Tech and Tucson shooters.  Virginia and Arizona both have laws on the books that allow medical intervention to occur.  In both cases, the shooters were allowed to fall between the cracks.  While it is true that Cho didn't seem to exhibit the same symptoms of schizophrenia, he was diagnosed with anxiety disorders and was evaluated by the mental health services at Virginia Tech after his roommate reported that he was talking about suicide.  The mental health clinic didn't follow up properly when he would miss appointments, even though they had the legal right to do so.

Back in the 1960's a movement by civil rights advocates took afoot in this country with the goal of stopping the forced institutalization of people in mental health wards.  Most of these wards were barely better than a prison cell and some of the patients could have easily functioned in the outside world with outpatient care.  The laws were all skewed towards keeping the patient in the hospital, even if it was against their will (did you see the move girl interrupted?).  Many patients were given shock treatments and suffered horrible treatment.  Advocates wanted this treatment to stop.  The problem has become that we swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.  The usual unintended consequences of government intervention. 

There are no easy answers to these problems.  There are no cures for many mental illnesses, just courses of treatment with medication.  There will be some mentally ill that will not stay on a course of medication unless you force it upon them.  Many of these medications have severe side effects that can be very unpleasant.  Since schizophrenics usually hear voices, those voices become almost friends and the patient is reluctant to have them stop, as carrying on regular relationships are at best difficult.  So those voices become almost like a comfort to them. 

Studies show that approximately 40% of the homeless suffer from mental illness.  How many times have you seen a homeless person on the street that is talking to themselves?  Ask yourself how much money we spend on food and shelter to address the homeless population.  A 2007 study by the U.S. Justice Department found that 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of local jail inmates suffer from mental illnesses.  How much money are spending to keep these people imprisoned?  With percentages this high it must run into the billions.  Wouldn't this money be more wisely spent on treating these people?  While it is likely that some of these people will commit crimes anyway, but if you could cut it down by even 50%, that is a huge money savings.  Think about if we can get most of these people treated and they become self sufficient citizens, it would only improve our society. 

I don't think anyone is advocating going back to the practices of the 50's and 60's, but something needs to be done.  One of the things that we can do quite easily to educate ourselves about the topic of mental illness and discuss it openly.  There is still a stigma attached to the mentally ill.  This may be one of the reasons that Jared's Parents did not get the help their child so obviously needed. 

In less than four years two major shootings have occurred.  38 people are dead.  While this is a very tiny number in a country as vast in size of America, these are just two examples that got national news, how many others have occurred that we don't hear about?  In both of these cases the localities have been let down by the people who are in charge of protecting the communities.  There is no way to say that either of these shootings wouldn't have occurred had medical intervention been done, but we can say with 100% certainty that without it they most definitely did occur.  I am more than a little heartsick that this isn't the discussion that our nation is having instead of the political bashing that instead has taken over, mental illness has no political leanings. It happens to people from all cultures, all political persuasions, it can happen to any family.  While I am sure that the left and right will disagree on how to tackle this problem, but shouldn't we at least be talking about this instead of blaming/defending Gov. Palin?  She seems to be perfectly capable of defending herself. 

Crossposted at PotLuck


Opus #6 said...

The rules for confronting the mentally ill are strict over here on the west coast. Merely talking about suicide is not enough to cause a person to be put on a 72-hour hold. They must have a plan. Same goes for being a danger to others. There must be a plan that is being set into motion.

So basically the person gets one free shot at it, and only after that they can get locked up.

Just a conservative girl said...

Sadly, that is true in most states. What is really upseting about this shooting is that Arizona is not among them. They have the most lenient laws in the country. There are people in Arizona that have serious questions to answer. They hold some accountability for this shooting. While it was still the shooter who did it, that school had the right to force him to see a doctor. It may not have helped, but maybe it would have. When the congresswoman recovers, I hope she takes this issue up.

Republican Redefined said...

Love the site. Just wanted to drop in and tell you what I fine job you have done here. My site has a bit of trouble with blogger URL's, but I will make every effort to link you wherever I can. Keep up the good work as the cause of Liberty is just and desirable. Thank you for your contributions to that cause.

Many thanks

T Christopher

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Google Analytics Alternative