I had originally planned on a nice Christmas related blog post for this week to make up for all my time away due to the publicity and such for Illusions, which, by the way, is doing very well! I had planned some more catch up, including discussion on my upcoming "Bayside Romance" series, of which my next book, Paramour, is the first book.
|The Cover Of My Upcoming Book, Paramour|
Unfortunately, the Connecticut shootings changed that. Friday, December 14th, was my birthday. It started out a great day and ultimately evolved into something sad and tragic. Even though I live in Florida, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary affected those where I worked.
Someone at our school is from the Newtown area, her mother teaches in one of the other schools in the area. She actually knew some of those killed. We had parents who were shocked and in tears over the tragedy, their fears for their own children’s safety magnified. I will always recall exactly where I was when I got the text about the shootings – in a room full of prekindergarten students. Nothing focuses you on your job more than knowing you have twelve lives in your hands.
For the next several days, of course, there was the inevitable media explosion, I don’t need to recap that, we were all there in one form or another. Of course, there was an anti-gun explosion prompting arguments on Facebook, fisticuffs in bars across the country and one actual shoot-out in a mall parking lot. There’s been much talk regarding gun control and death and for some it’s gotten to an overwhelming point. Interestingly, I find myself walking another path in the tidal wave of grief and shock that has stemmed from this horrible occurrence.
If you haven’t seen Liza Long’s blog yet, you need to. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html
I found this blog extremely interesting – it was actually the only to the point discussion that I found regarding mental illness coming from the media in regard to the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. This blog post quickly went viral, showing up all over Facebook and then certain news outlets picked it up, but, by and large, the mainstream media continued to focus on the fire arm aspects of the tragedy – they still are. A quick perusal of the major media outlets this morning revealed stories about the NRA being silent, the question of violent movies causing more violence and of, course, more gun control. There was only one article regarding mental illness and it was extremely small compared to the others. This concerns me.
Within the venues that run our country very little discussion seems to be going on regarding the real issue here – the shooter was obviously mentally ill and this country’s mental health system is wretchedly broken. Interestingly, the discussions regarding mental illness are going on in real time. It’s being discussed at length in many a work place and amidst friends or family. Social networks are ablaze with discussion regarding Adam Lanza’s mental state and the state of the mental health system in this country. Many people on the street, a lot of us who work in the helping professions, are discussing this part of the Newtown tragedy at length because there are some very obvious mental health issues within this situation. During one discussion someone stated that "nobody really had a right to say anything about Adam Lanza’s mental state because there had been no diagnosis mentioned”.
From where I stand, we do not need to see the nuts and bolts of this man’s diagnosis. A mentally stable person doesn’t go gunning down a school full of children the week before Christmas. The act alone tells us that there was some sort of mental illness involved. This was no ‘revenge’ shooting, Adam Lanza wasn’t fired or bullied by a bunch of five and six year olds. Something was wrong within this man’s brain.
As both a former minister’s wife and a social worker, I have far more experience with mental illness than most. I also have more personal experience with the subject than I’d like to as well. I grew up with an un-medicated mentally-ill mother that pretty much made my childhood hell. Much of what Liza Long wrote about in her blog post is not unfamiliar territory for me, sadly. The violent outbursts, the cruel and abusive behavior, the mood swings that have family members walking on eggshells a great deal of the time – it’s an uncomfortable and unsettling way to live, especially when the patient is the parent. As hard as the situation is for her, Mrs. Long, as the parent of the patient, has some limited control over her son given he is a minor.Adam Lanza’s mother didn’t have control over her son at all when it came to his mental health. He was twenty. Here is one of those ‘wrong’ parts regarding our current mental health situation and a reality that most people don’t even know about the system. Once a mentally ill child is an adult, all bets are off. In giving the mentally ill rights, Ronald Reagan gave them the right to say “no” and that includes them saying no to their medication. So, if Mr. Lanza was even actually prescribed medication he didn’t have to take it, nobody could force him.
Saying ‘no’ also includes removing any and all family members from official health paperwork – if there even is any. Thanks to HIPAA, once the mental patient removes a parent or guardian from their medical contact sheet, those people can no longer be privy to the patient’s condition or treatment. This practice alone is exceedingly dangerous and detrimental to the seriously mentally ill patient. Unscrupulous therapists can manipulate them, unconventional treatments can be used without the patient’s true consent and patients can eschew therapy or treatment all together without anybody being the wiser other than the doctor’s office.It should be pointed out that in most states that until a mentally ill person actually hurts themselves or others there is little most medical professionals will do and even then their definition of “hurting one’s self or others” is fairly narrow. Committal is rarely heard of any more because those hospitals barely exist anymore. What we have now are lock-down wings in hospitals where seventy-two hour holds take place for the most part. It’s rare for a mentally ill person to be held in the hospital for longer than a week, two at the most. The process for removing their rights is costly and time consuming – and many times only happens after a serious crime has been committed.
And those are just a few of the basics of what is wrong with our mental health system…keeping those in mind, let’s look at the Lanza situation going on in the myriad of discussions out there:
Yes, Adam Lanza’s mother kept many guns in her home and she probably didn’t store them properly. She knew her son had problems, yet she taught him to shoot anyway (hence the reason that I don’t hold a lot of sympathy for the woman). Teaching a mentally ill person to handle a gun is like passing them a stick of dynamite – it will explode and when it does it will not be pretty. Yes, the man killed way too many people with said guns, but, had Adam Lanza been locked up inside a mental institution, I wouldn’t be writing this article right now and the aforementioned blog poster, Liza Long, wouldn’t have to be scared to go to sleep at night because her son would be locked up in the juvenile ward of the same sort of institution.
This is the number one problem with the mental health system in the United States today. Not the lack of medication, not the lack of accessible care (although affordable care, of course, is still nowhere near on the horizon), not the lack of support resources available. The number one problem with our mental health system is the lack of storage space for human beings.
|Danvers - Horrible Asylum, Awesome Kirkbride|
Yet, at the same time, there are different levels of insanity, if you will. Mentally ill people with a history of violent behavior need to be handled and treated differently. It is not one size fits all in the mentally ill world. I understand that there will be those who do not agree with this statement but given what I’ve seen over the years – not to mention experienced – I believe the safest location for a mentally ill individual with violent tendencies is behind a locked door with no access to the outside world.
State hospitals were intended to house mentally ill people. The problem was, though, in the beginning, is that there was little to no differential assessment as to what was and what was not a mental illness. From the late 19th Century into the mid-20th Century, anybody and everybody who was slightly off kilter landed in the mental hospital, along with those who were indigent.
All of the major state hospitals in this country became warehouses for the unwanted of all forms. Revelations of all forms of abuse and neglect brought about their closures, which, at the time, seemed like a good idea. Had Ronald Reagan been able to foresee the ultimate outcome of that decision I think he would have tried to do things a little differently.
|Examples Of A Violently Mentally Ill Patient's "Work"|
That leaves us with, even though it’s not even out yet, hard cores of the DSM V – Schizophrenia, personality disorders that can cause major issues such as Narcissist Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder for example, severe forms of Bipolar disorder, ODD, rage disorders and certain dissociative disorders. Sociopaths could be added to this list as well if they’re found and diagnosed properly – might cut down on the serial killings around the country. Veterans with violent forms of PTSD such as what my late husband suffered from could also be considered on an as needed basis since the VA does next to nothing to help them when they’re having a psychotic break. These are people who have little to no control over their mental condition. There is something broken within their brain, end of story. We either eliminate them or we house them as we used to.
|An Old Cage Bed - Used In 19th Century Mental Hospitals|
In giving the mentally ill ‘rights’ Reagan did those who are seriously mentally ill a great disservice. A large chunk of seriously mentally ill patients from the big close downs of the 80’s went right out into the streets because they had nowhere else to go. Just as large an amount ended up in group homes, which they quickly took off from. You cannot provide somebody options when they’re not mentally capable of considering them. It’s like handing a three year old a lollipop right before they know they’re going to eat lunch and saying “here, you want this?”. You know they’re going to say yes.
Bear in mind I’m not talking about somebody who ‘goes postal’ because of stress. That is NOT a mental illness, it’s a brief mental state whereby if they kill somebody they deserve to go to jail. I’m talking about people with real mental illness track records who cannot hold jobs, cannot keep themselves clean, cannot even eat sometimes because the voices in their head tell them not to and have a track record for violent behavior. Just as an example, within a properly run facility a Schizophrenic could actually have a productive albeit somewhat limited life. Left to their own devices they almost always get into trouble.
Just a couple of examples: I was once a family support facilitator for mental health support group. We had an extremely violent Schizophrenic young man whose mother was just positive that his medications were going to cure him. She came to a meeting on a Monday all excited about how great he was doing and by Friday he’d stabbed her to death. He was prescribed the meds but nobody could force him to take them. A writer colleague who writes for one of the major television crime shows has written her own experience with mental illness into that particular show by having one of the characters explain how her fiancé, an aspiring attorney, fell to his Schizophrenia and ended up homeless. Another episode showcased how that same man went on a major crime spree, killing several innocent people and kidnapping a little boy because he thought the child was his son. She couldn’t help him, his family couldn’t help him, nobody could force him to take his medications so he was left to do what he wanted which, obviously, was not a good idea.
Now, before I receive a plethora of hate mail, yes, there are Schizophrenics who take their medications and they manage to function – that is because there is somebody right there hanging over their every move and they are willing to cooperate and take their medications. An overwhelming majority do not and an alarming amount of Schizophrenics are either homeless or incarcerated.
Which is, ultimately, where a large amount of our mentally ill population is being housed these days: in prison. To be blunt, this pisses me off. Prisons are for criminals, not the mentally ill – but when a family has nowhere else to turn, they’ve exhausted all other options, many don’t even fight to try to get their loved one off if they end up committing a crime. Behind bars they’ll be “safe”. They’re no more safe behind bars than they are living on the street. Our prisons are overcrowded as it is. Take the mentally ill population out of the prisons and we’ll have more room for actual prisoners.
I can hear somebody saying “well where would we put the mentally ill that need to be locked up?”. As I said before, it’s time this country revisit the notion of reopening the mental institution. I’m sure that conjures up pictures of American Horror Story for some but the reality is that, if run properly such locations could provide safe haven for those who must be “kept” for no other reason than their brain makes them a violent individual. I’m not saying build a Kirkbride and go backwards in time, I’m saying take a hospital already in existence, bar the windows, provide all the amenities of home only have solitary rooms for outbursts and medication schedules that they aren't allowed to deny.
Training for employees would be paramount, paying those employees properly to deal with the violence and pain they would see every day would be required as well. Medication regimens would be necessary and patients would be required to follow them. Care plans would be created, developed and followed with state oversight the same way preschools around the country are watched over. Budgets would need to be strict, no research should be allowed on site (it’s long been determined that lobotomies are now unnecessary…) and treatments such as ECT (electro shock therapy) would be closely monitored instead of ‘at will’. There could be therapists on site but therapy would not be required because, frankly, there’s no point for some of these types of patients, they cannot be reprogrammed. Those that can be redirected properly could be allowed supervised visitations. Birth control would be provided because forced sterilization is never a good idea. These are just a few basic ideas of how a hospital such as this could be implemented in the 21st Century. The seriously mentally ill could still function within its walls but they couldn’t hurt anybody except possibly themselves or a caretaker that lets their guard down.
Personally? As the child of a violently mentally ill person I would have rather grown up knowing my mother was in the hospital. It would have been far easier to go visit her on holidays knowing she was medicated and ‘happy’ as opposed to living with her free range where her mood was never stable, her anger issues legendary and I was made to pay for her mental illness by family members and so-called friends alike. This brings up a valid point regarding the stigma of mental illness that shadows all mentally ill people. No family member is ever to blame for their mentally ill family member’s issues. EVER. The father and brother left behind in the Lanza family aren’t to blame for the shooter’s mental state. People don’t cause true mental illness – a broken brain causes true mental illness.
|A Particularly Disturbing Piece Of Artwork|
By A Seriously Mentally Ill Patient
In the days and weeks to come, as the gun debates loom and grow longer, remember this blog. Remember the heart of the matter and the brain of the killer – neither of which had anything to do with fire power and everything to do with being so severely ill that being locked up was the only way to truly protect society from him.
|The Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims|
In conclusion, I was just notified of this story on FOX News - who I don't follow but if it's true, my point is proven.
Fix the system before it's too late for anybody else.