Rampage puts spotlight on issue of mental illness
The Kansas City Star
A week after the horrific gun rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some Americans have shown their spiritual grit by going shopping. For guns and ammo.
As graves were being dug for tiny coffins in Newtown, Conn., bidding on eBay for four Glock handgun ammunition magazines — identical to those carried by Adam Lanza when he took those children’s lives — rose to nearly $120 from their usual $45. Elsewhere, people flocked to stores to snatch up whatever semi-automatic weaponry remained in stock.
That’s how these shootings always play out. One side says, “At long last, it’s time to control guns.” The other side says, “Stock up while you can.”
Easy access to lethal firepower is an issue we have to resolve, but it’s not the only problem made plain by these mass-murder attacks. Another is the state of mental health care.
Countless people face problems such as raising a bipolar child, or managing depression and their job, or finding affordable long-term cognitive therapy that can help them develop coping skills and thus keep them from reaching for alcohol or drugs. Coping with mental illness is a struggle and a burden very few can bear on their own. They need help.
One in four people will suffer from a mental health issue in their lifetime.
Last week, a brave blog post made the rounds with the provocative headline “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” Liza Long wrote of life with her 13-year-old child: “I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.” She told how he repeatedly threatens to kill her or his siblings.
It stirred attention and compassion, but relatively few concrete suggestions of what we can do to help parents and children caught in this situation.
The anguish mental illness brings upon people’s lives is more preventable today than it has ever been, thanks to prescription medications, research on the brain and its chemistry, and better diagnosis and treatment programs. Yet mental health is simply not the type of problem that people rally around.
That’s too bad because public funding of mental health care has been hard hit by the recession and budget cutting. The budgets for some public systems are nearly 40 percent smaller than four years ago, even though demand for services continues to rise.
Here is how the budget cuts are playing out across America: States are cutting staff, closing state hospitals, restricting the numbers served, shifting to for-profit managed care systems and reducing crisis treatment. Particularly hard hit is programming meant to be easily accessible within communities.
Here is how we “care” for people struggling with mental health in America: They are our homeless. They are emergency room patients. Prisons are stuffed with them. More than half of the nation’s prisoners have or have had a mental disorder.
Fold in societal stigmas and harmful mischaracterizations that link mental illness with evil and it shouldn’t shock that so many people don’t benefit from appropriate care.
Mental illness is complicated, and our hesitations to deal with it are multiple. Legal quandaries exist when the patient is an adult unwilling to seek care. Still-developing children are difficult to diagnose, as are people with multiple problems such as a mental disorder combined with alcoholism.
Adam Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, but no form of mental illness. Yet his actions seemingly would indicate a mental state that was anything but healthy; a sane son does not pump four bullets into his mother and then go on a rampage against schoolchildren and their teachers.
A series of “what ifs” certainly come to mind. What if he’d had a caseworker? A mental health assessment of the 20-year-old would probably have revealed that he was suicidal, and that would have raised the question of whether there are guns in the home. Timely intervention might have prevented this tragedy.
The well armed of America have the National Rifle Association working for them, and far too many weak-willed members of Congress. But who do the mentally ill have? Who do those who care for them have to make sure they are not forgotten in between tragedies such as Newtown?
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to email@example.com.