Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories


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We are all shaken by the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. It is unfathomable to most people that anyone in a peaceful society could walk into a school–an elementary school, no less–and start killing.

But are we such a peaceful society? I am troubled enormously as I read the comments on any online news site, for nearly any story, anonymous opinions that I always suspect reveal the true opinions of their writers. Blame: a mental illness is to blame, a divorce is to blame, a gun is to blame. Truth: tragedy from many aspects,  resulting in the loss of so many innocent lives. Tragedy to be the family of any of the victims, including the shooter himself.

Liza Long wrote her own response to the shootings in the Blue Review. It is a brave account of what it is to be the mother of a child with mental illness. It is a brave piece, or perhaps a foolish one, as Long will no doubt know years from now, as her son grows, as her name (and his) continue to be attached to the article she wrote.

To allow oneself to be identified as a parent of a child with a mental illness requires a certain faith in the world: faith that others will be understanding and accepting, that they believe in recovery and in the safety that will remain in the community even when people with mental illnesses live within it. Even when we know that they live within it. Events like the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, only reinforce the notion that we indeed are not safe. The question is why.

The truth is that even within medical communities, mental illness is treated differently, stigmatized, separated. It is not unusual in the hospitals I visit that the staff from the main hospital do not even know the staff from the locked psychiatric units that are beneath the same roof.

Mental illness attracts our attention, and our fear.

Our fear stands in the way of reaching out, too often. We resent the effort it takes to understand, much less to accept.

Our fear leads to cruelty, I fear–the sort of cruelty that then creates even more barriers to treatment. If treatment is hell, after all, a person is best off staying clear of it…

I do not know why Adam Lanza chose to kill 26 innocent people, 20 children. I shudder to imagine the mind that envisions such horror and enacts it. Maybe I never want to understand. I can imagine that understanding was needed perhaps years ago.

I do know about the many families that live in constant fear that a loved one will finally break down completely, that the Psychiatric Emergency Services were wrong when they determined that the loved one is not a threat to him/herself or others, that the 72-hour stay is over, that the family will soon become victims, that the said loved one will wrap a car around a tree or jump off a bridge or become a heroin addict or steal or harm or God forbid kill someone. I do know about the families that I see too often, families who watch as the chaos takes over while the violins play in the background, families who believe they are a guardianship away from effective treatment.. sometimes. Assuming there actually is effective treatment.

I wish I could point to the advances that come to mind: the Rosie D. case in Massachusetts, which resulted in the creation of the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative. To mental health parity. To increased awareness in general.

But sadly, from my weary place here in Massachusetts, I see still more restrictions, everywhere: CBHI only for MassHealth consumers. Mental health providers woefully low in numbers, and for those direct staff, so often underpaid, so often inexperienced if initially enthusiastic, so often burned out. Inefficient procedures for hospitalization. Near-impossible eligibility for DMH services. Some great champions in mental health, yessir. But too few. And too much harm already done to erase the fear of those with mental illnesses who have sought treatment, and found instead a prison, real or under the guise of healthcare.

I have not even mentioned the weapons. Oh dear God, those weapons. Why? Who needs assault machinery in a suburban neighborhood? Who needs to arm an army from the basement of a home? Why do we make it so easy to buy something that has no other use at all but to kill?

Like most people, I imagine, I felt sick at the thought of the parents, their nightmare. I wish I had answers, quick solutions, a magic wand. But where would I even point it? I know that we cannot build the supports necessary to prevent these sorts of tragedies without a great deal of work–early work, before things happen (call it prevention)–belief, training, money. And will.

I hope we will. I hope we can.


Written by Only Anecdotal

17 Dec 2012 at 8:33pm

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