Sunday, December 30, 2012

For Shame: Mental Illness, Violence and Discrimination

When some toll the bells for the deaths at Newtown, they ring them 26 times for the poor dead children and their educators. They do not ring the bell for Nancy Lanza, shot four times in the head while she slept. It's true, she violated a basic tenet by keeping guns ... lots of incredibly dangerous guns ... in a lock box in her house while she had a clearly emotionally disturbed son at home. I don't understand that. But I do know that Nancy Lanza didn't get the help she needed to deal with a situation that turned out to be vastly more dangerous than any speculative future she was armed for.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on Dec. 19 that Nancy Lanza may have been trying to get her son into treatment against his will.  The article notes:

Mothers are the highest percentage of people murdered by mentally ill young men, (Professor Liza) Gold (of Georgetown University) said. "The (young men) are usually living at home because they are dysfunctional ... The moms don't bail. These are their children.  They hang in with them, they try to get them help. And they're the ones that get killed."  

Sometimes they are just the first ones.

The NRA ... an organization that seems to exhibit its own mental health problems on a regular basis  ... has responded to Newtown by demanding more guns in schools and a national database of the mentally ill.  NAMI and other organizations ... like anyone with sense, really ... has condemned this.

Law already exists, it points out, to report the names of people "adjudicated as mentally defective" to the National Instant Background Check System.  This has never been implemented correctly because of the terms "adjudicated" and "mentally defective."  No one knows what they mean, but they offend almost everyone.  NAMI is calling once again ... as it did after Virginia Tech ... for Congress to clean up this law by adopting standards for the system that are consistent with modern medical knowledge and clear legal procedures.

The discrimination against people with "mental illness" is overpowering, and the fact that less than one-third of people who have it get treatment is appalling.  What if less than one-third of the people with brain cancer, with epilepsy, with dementia ... got treatment?  All are brain diseases. Period.

People don't get help because of the discrimination. And the discrimination gets worse when someone with a mental illness starts shooting people.  It's a terrible cycle that needs to stop.

The facts are that the vast majority of people with mental illness ... or brain diseases ... are not violent. They are, in fact,  more likely to be the victims of violence ... shot by police, robbed, killed ... than you are.

But the system had to change to make it easier for families to get help when a person is dealing with an emerging psychosis. Often the young person is angry, scared, confused, paranoid. Families need a clear path to get help and support. They need the colleges they are paying to call them and tell them their concerns about their son. They need the schools and workplaces to call when they drop out. They need the therapist to call even when the child is a young adult. They need easy access to psychiatric help and medication ... not eight-month-long waiting lists.  They need to be able to allow the young person stay in a treatment facilities for more than three days when the meds don't start working for weeks.  Families need help, and because of the discrimination, they don't get it.

During the early days of the AIDS crisis, Dr. Don Francis asked a famous question at a meeting with the American Red Cross and other blood bankers who continued to deny that AIDS was a blood-borne illness: How many dead hemophiliacs will it take? "Tell us a number you need.  If we have 20, 40, 100 cases ... will you believe it then?"  I'm beginning to wonder how many of these terrible events will take place before families finally get help.