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A Madman and a Crack – Consequences of Ignoring Mental Illness
At the age when most people have their entire lives ahead of them, 22-year-old Jared Loughner is said to have fallen through the cracks of gun control laws that prohibit the mentally ill from purchasing a firearm. Although it would be convenient and perhaps even soothing for some to blame what happened in Arizona on a madman and a crack, the truth of the matter is, there wasn’t a crack for Jared to fall through.
At this point in the investigation, it appears that Jared, along with millions of others across the United States, had not been treated for any sort of mental disorder because he had yet to seek help and, likely, did not realize he was suffering from a mental disorder. There was no crack for Jared to fall through, because there was no available avenue for him at that time to help pave the way so he could lead a normal, healthy, stable life.
Who Can We Blame?
Do we blame the clip that held three dozen bullets, and the legislation that was allowed to expire prohibiting the sale of these types of clips? Do we blame the state of Arizona for being one of three states that allow people to carry loaded guns around wherever they please? Do we blame the media who sometimes communicate in crazy-speak to their viewers, knowing their viewers do not take a mental evaluation prior to turning on the tube? Or do we simply blame a madman and a crack?
It seems if we can point a finger at someone, one sole person, our country is better able to cope with this sort of tragedy that occurs far too often. It is much easier to shrug the matter off and move on when we can place blame on one individual.
Apparently, the majority of us have decided to blame the madman and a non-existent crack. And some of us are still bickering over who it is we should blame. We will put 22-year-old Jared Loughner behind bars or legally murder him, and we will soon forget, sit, and wait for the next madman to arrive, while Jared's parents try to cope with what their son has done as well as dealing with losing him as well.
Is it normal for people who suffer from a mental disorder to realize that they have a mental disorder?
If they do have this self-realization, is it normal for this to occur at 22 years old and at the early onset of mental illness?
I believe that the answer to both of these questions is no.
While Jared’s parents have yet to step forward and reveal how they perceived their son’s mental health, Jared’s friends did appear on 60 Minutes and openly admitted that they were aware of personality and behavioral changes that were strange and off-the-wall.
Should we, therefore, place the blame on his friends and family? We might have to address the social stigmas that surround mental illness if we found blame with his family and friends. It is completely plausible that they turned a blind eye and chose to deny the signs of mental illness because of society’s ignorant perception towards people with mental disorders.
And what about treatment? Did Jared and/or his parents have the means to pay for diagnosis and treatment of a mental illness if they were willing to accept that their son might be mentally unstable? If so, would Jared have received adequate and appropriate treatment, and in time to prevent the tragedy in Arizona?
- Mental illness will hit half in U.S., study says/Disorders often start in young people
A once-in-a-decade survey of the mental health of Americans has found that disabling mental illness is as common as such chronic diseases as heart disease and cancer -- but strikes people at a much
What the Data Suggests
A 2005 article in the SFGate outlines the prevalence of mental disorders based upon a five-year study. The study indicated that half of the population in the United States will meet the criteria for a mental disorder (i.e. post-partum depression, anxiety, mood disorders) at some point in their life and that the care for people who suffer from mental disorders is less than adequate. Furthermore, the study concluded that mental disorders often begin in childhood or adolescence.
Ronald Kessler, Harvard Medical School epidemiologist, states in the article, “Mental disorders are really the most important chronic conditions of youth in America. Sadly, these early onset disorders very seldom come to the attention of the treatment system unless they’re very severe.”
Ronald Kessler concluded that intervention and/or early treatment needed to focus on youth, and, additionally, that it sometimes takes decades for people to seek help.
This is disturbing information and not to be taken lightly nor should it be ignored.
Why do people wait so long to seek treatment? Perhaps it has something to do with how we have dealt with mental illness in the past.
How We Deal with the Mentally Ill - Past and Present
Virginia is credited with the first insane asylum in the United States in 1773. Virginia’s second asylum followed in 1802, with a third in 1870 for African Americans.
With little understood about mental disorders, it was easier at that time to deal with the mentally unstable by locking them up in institutions and forgetting about them.
Subject to abuse and treatment that included shock therapy and lobotomies, patients sometimes starved to death because of the severe lack of funding during times of war and economic turmoil. It wasn’t until the mid-1940s that asylums were exposed for inhumane treatment of their patients. And it wasn’t until 1950 that the first anti-psychotic drug was developed.
Through the years 1955-1968, the population of residents in asylums across the country dropped by 30%. One could reasonably surmise that this decrease was due to both the development of the anti-psychotic drug and the exposure of patient abuses.
Unfortunately, a large part of the rest of the world seems to lag behind the United States.
Eugene Richards, photographer for Newsweek Magazine, traveled the world photographing asylums. The pictures reflect images of patients lying on urine-stained floors, patients grouped together in small rooms or locked up individually in cages, and even a young boy who will spend his life in an asylum lying next to his mother deemed mentally ill, incurable and hopeless.
Not only are these images heartbreaking, but they likely represent what our asylums looked like well into the mid 1900s.
We’ve Come a Long Way. Haven’t We?
Today we have medications, therapy, and psychiatric hospitals. People are able to lead normal lives with proper treatment. Well, at least those who are able to afford what might be considered a luxury to others. For many people who are unable to achieve the financial means to seek treatment, the result is living on the streets.
People with mental illness, regardless of the severity, without available means of obtaining treatment, will often find it difficult to maintain a job.
And while there are social programs for our country’s homeless that assist with housing and job training, most of these programs across the country do not incorporate mental health services with temporary housing and job assistance due to lack of funding.
In 2008, a 25-city survey conducted by the US Conference of Mayors concluded that the three most common reasons for homelessness are:
- substance abuse
- lack of affordable housing
- mental illness
While many people may hold no sympathy for those who abuse drugs and as a result live on the streets, it is important to realize that substance abuse and mental illness often go hand in hand. Without treatment, it is not uncommon for many people to abuse alcohol and/or drugs as a means to self-medicate.
Long forgotten are the days of insane asylums. Today we allow people to wander the streets with no end in sight.
No, I don’t believe that we have come a long way.
Who Helped Jared?
So far, it seems as though the only person(s) who stepped forward to take any sort of initiative is the college that Jared attended; however, it seems the action taken was not out of concern for Jared’s well-being, but, instead, the action was taken on behalf of the numerous students who complained about Jared’s behavior. It was much easier to expel him and be done with him than it was to offer any assistance whatsoever. No counseling, no resources; just a letter saying see you later, you need to see a shrink.
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Accepting Mental Disorders and Mental Illness
Perhaps it is difficult for family members and friends to accept the possibility that a loved one may be suffering from a mental illness. However, if acceptance cannot be swallowed, especially at the first signs something might be wrong, the consequences could be dire, ranging from ruined relationships to death.
Awareness and Intervention for Mental Disorders and Mental Illnesses
The National Institute of Mental Health provides free publications for a wide variety of mental illnesses that list signs, symptoms and treatments for each. The publications can be viewed on the internet here. You can also order a free hardcopy publication here.
The National Institute of Mental Health also provides a link to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), link here. At SAMHSA you will also find free publications and a phone number (1-800-622-4357) that will assist you in locating free or low-cost mental health services in your area.
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