BLAME VERSUS RESPONSIBILITY
Following the recent loss of several people in the shooting in Tucson, I have heard people blame Jared Loughner’s parents for the shootings. Others say: “He is just no good and he was born that way. He is bad.” At least one well-respected TV commentator called the perpetrator: “ a nut job.”
Some people blame the gun lobby. Everyone has an opinion. Some say he shouldn’t have had a gun that allowed him to shoot more than ten rounds. Ah, I suppose ten people are enough target for one days shooting. Now, who is insane?
Others blame the health care system or the health care workers. Most health care workers need to be commended, and not blamed when things go haywire. Often, tireless and unappreciated mental health care workers strive against all probability to do everything they can.
Does the blame remind you of anything? Does the Virginia Tech shootings come to mind? The exact same arguments came up then.
The leading doctor in the field of schizophrenia, renowned psychiatrist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey blames state governments. Pointing out that the system is not set up to see all the information on a person who is dangerous to themselves or others, Dr. Torrey said: “Ultimately, it is important to hold state officials responsible for not providing sufficient resources to treat those who suffer from serious mental illnesses. For almost two centuries, it has been an accepted function of state government to protect disabled persons and to protect the public from individuals who are potentially dangerous. State governments have been very effective in emptying the hospitals in an effort to save money but remarkably ineffective in providing treatment for seriously mentally ill individuals living in the community. We have completely failed these people.”
While Dr. Torrey makes a worthy point, I think we all need to look at ourselves, too. Our whole society has lacked the will and the commitment to solve this challenge. We feel helpless and want it hidden from our sight. Our country reflects our common values. How much do we value the mental health of all citizens?
It is said that people with mental illness do not commit more crimes than the rest of us. What if, because we handled it, no one with mental illness would commit a crime due to mental illness? That would cut down on crime enormously. Then we would have mass murder committed only by the sane. By any measure, can mass murder be sane?
This tragedy has been happening several times a year here and in many countries. It’s like the movie: Groundhog Day. We are the characters in the movie that keep forgetting what there is to learn from this. The lesson is that we need to get mentally ill people help, even if we don’t know which ones might ever kill. It seems our policy has been that since we cannot know for sure who will kill, we do not need to help any of them. What if we made sure they all got help? While we’re helping them, we would be helping ourselves. Not only would our world be safer, we would have a healthier, even happier, population of former sufferers of mental illness.
In coming months, when the six dead are long buried and the thirteen people wounded recover, we will likely forget. Could this incident in Tucson have been prevented if we all were interested enough?
While we cannot change what happened, how might we prevent the next tragedy? The next time it could be you. I invite you to join me in asking our congress members: “What programs will be put in place for sufferers of schizophrenia, such as Mr. Loughner? What is the state or federal plan that will prevent the next tragedy?” In case you don’t know your local congress members, here is the list of senators and representatives by state district: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/ Please call or write. It is very easy.
If we cannot care enough about the sufferers, then we need to care about ourselves. We live together with the mentally ill, whether we know it or not. We drink the same water and breathe the same air. We see schizophrenics on the street, often homeless. Instead of judging, let us ask ourselves what we can do to make this world work for them, as well as for us. Mental illness is a brain disorder. Mentally ill sufferers are not bad people. Because we do not have a solution to their problems, we wait until some of them do something unacceptable and then we condemn them, often to death. “It is conservatively estimated that 5-10% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness.” http://www.deathpenalty.org/article.php?id=53 That huge number might be prevented in the future, if we act today.
While improvements can me made in many areas such as the topic of mental health systems, mental health workers, guns and government programs and priorities, I want to focus away from blame and look at responsibility without fault.
Who is responsible for the sick among us?
We have hospitals for the physically ill. Happily, Rep. Gabrielle Gifford is in rehab, possibly for months. Like thousands of others in our country, most wounded people with medical insurance will be rehabilitated for as long as it takes. There’s no such facility for the mentally ill who are pushed out of a mental hospital in a few weeks, or less, no matter what their mental wounds.
While Jared Loughner does not engender sympathy, we have to acknowledge that he, and others like him, did not get help. I am not defending the shooter. I am pointing to the bigger picture. This message is about more than this one incident. It’s about all the past and future incidents exactly like this, except for the location and the victims involved.
Why do we ignore the needs of the most severely disturbed of the mentally ill? There are no visible scars. We pretend these people are normal. Then we judge them morally wrong when their thinking is totally unbalanced. We justify our scorn. It is understandable and normal to abhor the behavior that disrupts the world in any way. We assume that the mentally ill could manage their life better, or at least as well as we do.
Often, even when we know someone’s behavior is caused by serious mental illness, we still want to deride him or her. They are not like us. We tend to think: “Why do they have to act that way? They shouldn’t be like that.”
According to Dr. Torrey, schizophrenia is at least one mental condition that Jared Loughner has. With severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, some behaviors are downright destructive, some highly dangerous, some merely annoying and some seemingly normal. Often, those suffering some mental illnesses can make it difficult for others to endure their company. For that reason, we naturally stay away. Since we never can be inside their disordered brain, we cannot know if we could control our behavior any better.
Our attitudes may block people getting help. Instead of experiencing shame for an illness they did not choose, what if the mentally ill were respected so much that they had no fear of getting help and they had no loss of self-respect? If they received help early their disease would not be as severe. Most mental illnesses can be successfully treated.
As a whole, it appears that our view of those suffering from mental illness is that they are less worthy than the rest of us. We do not consistently mock people with heart disease or cancer. Our first reaction is concern. Could we have concern for the health of a mentally ill person?
To learn more, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a fact sheet that I included at the end.
The consequence of ignoring another’s suffering was huge and painful this time in Tucson, as it was in Virginia Tech. There have been many tragedies throughout our history, both ancient and recent history and all time in between. So, unless our collective intention becomes compassionate toward the mentally ill, this horrible crime will show up again and again. According to Dr. Phil McGraw, it happens about three times a year. When it does not affect us directly, we go back to forgetfulness.
How responsible for their actions is a person with such a neurological disorder? While I grew up with family members with mental illness, I cannot give a definitive answer to that. Each incident and each person is different. I wish our society had such a support system for mentally ill people that no one would have to ask the question of responsibility. As citizens, we have some say in what goes on. To that extent, we are somehow responsible for the way the systems are run, or not run. We are not to blame. There is opportunity in knowing that we have power.
So, who will demand that mentally ill sufferers get help? I hope you will. How responsible for your world, do you want to be? We can go on blaming others for why things are they way they are, or we can take some action. If everyone took one action to heal this problem, the world would change.
For decades, Dr. E. Torrey Fuller has championed the needs of schizophrenics. Alone Dr. Torrey cannot do it all. I call upon you to keep the funding alive without costing you anything but a stamp.
Dr. Torrey frequently tells people who want to help that they should send a thank you note to Ted and Veda Stanley who fund his work. That is probably the #1 thing people can do to help his research: help preserve his funding.
People who want to thank the Stanley’s for funding Fuller’s research can write
TED & VEDA STANLEY
The Stanley Medical Research Institute
5430 Grosvenor Lane, Suite 200
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
If this is too much, please send a Thank You email to the Stanleys about Dr. Torrey’s brain research here: firstname.lastname@example.org
From http://www.schizophrenia.com/newsletter/398/398torrey.htm there are other ways to help:
“Please acknowledge your local mental health experts and doctors. Encourage them to begin participating in the brain research programs so we can find a cure for schizophrenia faster – this is something you can do today that could change the world for the 20 million+ people around the world suffering from schizophrenia. Support this effort today!
My understanding is that the Stanley Foundation and Dr. Torrey are already working with the organizations that can provide them the brains that are prepared in the way they need for their research. However, other research organizations also need brains for further research. One specific organization I recommend is the “Harvard Brain Bank” – for more information
visit their web site. — http://www.schizophrenia.com/newsletter/398/398torrey.htm ”
INFORMATION ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS
From NAMI’s fact sheet, here are some important facts about mental illness and recovery:
* Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.
* Mental illness falls along a continuum of severity. Even though mental illness is widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion-about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans-who live with a serious mental illness.
* The National Institute of Mental Health reports that One in four adults-approximately 57.7 million Americans-experience a mental health disorder in a given year
* The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school and with peers.
* The World Health Organization has reported that four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the US and other developed countries are mental disorders. By 2020, Major Depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.
* Mental illness usually strikes individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.
* Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives; The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.
* The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.
* With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.
* Early identification and treatment is of vital importance; By ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm related to the course of illness is minimized.
* Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.
So, besides joining me in questioning the plans of senators and representatives, thanking the Stanley Foundation and educating ourselves about mental illness, I invite you to get involved in local chapters of NAMI. Each of us has a contribution to society as a whole to make it work for everyone.
More about blaming:
To learn more about the Stanley Foundation go to: http://www.stanleyresearch.org/