It seems rather obscene to write about anything other than the Sandy Hook tragedy right now. As much pain as infidelity is, God, there are worse things. Much worse. And losing a child, especially to violence, has got to be about the most gruesome, gutting kind of pain there is. I hope I never know. I hope you never know.
I’ve read and posted many gun control articles on my personal FaceBook page, but two things I read today, really stand out and I wanted to take a moment on my bully pulpit here to share. They’re both on mental illness. As much as we need gun reform here, and a hard conversation about our sicko violent culture, I think we need an even harder conversation about mental illness.
The first article, “Thinking the Unthinkable,” is a beautiful essay written by a mother whose 13 year old son struggles with mental illness. He’s violent and manipulative, and she loves him, and she’s terrified of him. Frankly, reading it, I can’t help but wonder if her son is a sociopath and what the emerging science is saying is true — this is a wiring issue. It’s clear that she’s deep in over her head and she needs help. The sort of help that Adam Lanza’s mother probably needed too. You wonder why she never had anyone over, or why her marriage fell apart. You wonder what toll it would take on a person to live with an Adam Lanza.
The other story was this week’s New York Time’s Modern Love — on providing comfort for a mentally ill family member, when there is no cure. It’s a sister writing about her brother, and my heart goes out to her too. And her brother, who while not violent, is delusional and scary. And desperately wants a normal life. Reading her struggle to get her brother mental health care brought back my own memories of attempting to get my first husband mental health care. We both had good jobs, but mental illness wasn’t on our health plans, just some counseling. Got an anxiety disorder? You’re on your own. Your appendix goes, fine that’s covered. If your brain is unwell (and 15 years ago the health world didn’t really see it that way yet), you were fucked. Still are, not much has changed.
Mental illness is a subject that’s been close to me for a long time. And not just my first marriage, either. Like many people, my family has been touched by mental illness. My cousin is bipolar and last year the family went through the nightmare of trying to get him help when he locked himself in his apartment for three months and wouldn’t come out. (He ordered groceries over the phone.) When his parents showed up, he shrieked at them that they were dead to him, he had no parents. And when the cops showed up, they couldn’t do anything, because he wasn’t a “danger” to himself.
Lawyers were consulted, he couldn’t be forcibly committed. It wasn’t until my cousin threatened an acquaintance of his over the phone, saying he’d come after him with a hammer, that the family could act. The police came and found a hammer in his apartment (who doesn’t have a hammer? But any excuse will do), and got him forcibly committed. Which was the best thing in the world for him, because he got help and medication — things he was unwilling to do when he was ill and delusional and had “choice.” Now he’s got a job and gets treatment.
It’s a fucked up world when it takes death threats to get a person the help they need. Personally, and call me a freak, I think people should be institutionalized, and I think the threshold should be a lot lower to get people help. We’d save a shitload of money too, because it cost the states more when these people wind up in the criminal justice system.
And as the Sandy Hook tragedy so clearly illustrates, there are unspeakable costs when a mentally ill person goes off the rails. I wonder if things would’ve been different if Adam Lanza’s mother could’ve gotten him committed to a hospital, or receiving some other kind of mental health care years ago.
The guns are a problem absolutely. But equally dangerous, in my opinion, is untreated mental illness.