In North America, unless you’ve been under a rock you’ve been inundated with news about the tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. As is common after these tragedies people try to find a reason, they attempt to make sense of the insensible.
There are talks of gun restrictions (the Bushmaster .223 assault rifle, used in the shooting is a commercial model of the military M-16). However, any time someone begins to mention gun control they get a backlash of “don’t politicize the tragedy!” and if someone does voice a pro-gun stance they get the same backlash. As a result, the NRA and their proponents are sensibly silent at the moment, but there is still the undercurrent of the right to bear arms in the US that is very hard to shake.
And while the second amendment isn’t something that is likely to be dealt with soon, there is another issue to deal with, mental illness. A former co-worker posted this heartbreaking article. Just as my mind repels from the idea of losing a child, like two magnets whose poles repel each other, I find it equally unfathomable to have a mentally ill child.
The description in this article of the mother dealing with an episode, chills me to the bone. ”His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to.” I cannot imagine what it would be like growing up with a sibling like that, or what it must be like to live in a situation where you would even have to have a safety plan like that.
I can’t imagine the fear and worry the mother must go through. Every time one of these tragedies happens she sees a possibility of what her child could become. She must worry about who will take care of her child when she is no longer able to (I think all parents probably worry about that even after their kids are grown up). But she also clearly loves her son. “When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out.”
Mental health has to become part of national discourse, even more than gun control. Just as our bodies get sick, our minds can as well. Too much of one brain chemical or not enough of another and the delicate of the wiring of our brains goes askew. But we don’t talk about it.
Never is it okay to say, “I think my brain is sick.” Do that, and you are stigmatized for life. But it makes sense that our minds can sometimes get unbalanced, produce too much of one chemical or another. Most of the time we are supposed to tough it out, or occasionally get a therapist. But what about people like the Michael in the article. What is a mother to do when she already identifies her son as being a danger?
Mother Jones concurs, “No less than 80 percent of the perpetrators in these 61 cases [most recent mass murders in the U.S.] obtained their weapons legally. Acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them, with at least 35 of the killers committing suicide on or near the scene.”
I used to live near CAMH a hospital for people with addiction and mental health issues. So frequently these two things go together. Whether it is self-medication to deal with the illness or the illness caused by the drugs, I don’t know…probably both. But I do know that there is a correlation between crime and addiction, and through addiction mental illness and crime go hand in hand. This sad correlation results in jails that struggle to deal with the mentally ill, which is not where they belong.
There is no consolation that I can give the grieving families, no pearls of wisdom or insight, like I wrote I can’t even begin to fathom the depths of their loss. All I can offer is the suggestion that we take this opportunity to begin a discussion on how to help people with mental illness before they hurt themselves or others.