Monday, December 17, 2012

The Conversation in the Aftermath

It’s a weird thing to cry for people you’ve never met and will likely never meet.  But I did.  I cried for those parents of slain children on Friday.  I made it through the weekend a bit like I always do, spending time with my family, driving around looking at Christmas lights, running errands, cooking and cleaning, enjoying frozen yogurt with the boys.  I was sick and in bed with the cold that is making the rounds most of the day Sunday, but I was allowed to sleep by my very considerate husband and his effective shushing of the children, so I feel better now.


But how did the parents of those 20 babies make it through the weekend?  How in the world would I if someone were to kill one of my children?  It’s a terrifying thought, one that I have been pushing out of my head as soon as it enters because it doesn’t do to borrow trouble.


Over the weekend, I read two articles that I think you should read.  This one appeared in our local paper and this one appeared all over the internet.  Both, I think, highlight a problem that doesn’t get nearly as much press as gun control.  There will always be a way to procure illegal firearms, just as there is always a way to procure illegal drugs.  But at least we talk about those problems.  At least we talk about the hows and whys of getting guns and drugs and the myriad ways in which terrible people have access to those things.


But what about the mental health conversation?  In my hometown, the jail that was built for 88 inmates houses, on average, over 200 inmates each day.  There is no more room.  No more room for someone to be locked up to “cool down” from a mental episode.  No more room for someone with a mental illness and substance abuse problems to detox while authorities figure out the best way to deal with him or her.  That’s a problem, and it puts all of us in danger.  When the mental health ward at the local hospital runs out of room, how does someone going through a mental health crisis get help?  Where can he or she be put to keep themselves and others around them safe?


But public and private resources for restraint, diagnosis, and treatment are only part of the problem.  The other part is removing the taboo against acknowledgement of mental health problems.


Imagine that your son or daughter is exhibiting signs of sociopathic behavior.  They might be mild signs, such as not showing remorse when he or she hurts someone.  The child is manipulative and has poor impulse control.  The child is five years old, so you ignore this and wait for it to change.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if the sociopathic behavior gets worse?  At what point does a parent think, “time to get some help”?  My guess is, not often enough.  Because, quite frankly, it’s tough enough to be the parent of an autistic child in our society, for example, but it’s downright social suicide to be the parent of a sociopath. 


When so many mental illnesses can be treated, the reason so many kids don’t get the help they need is because we willfully ignore that anything is wrong.  In each of the school/theater/mall shootings of the past several years, people after the fact have come forward to say that “something was wrong with him.”  Something was wrong, but nobody did anything. 


And maybe that begs a better question: whom do you tell?  If you are not the parent, but maybe the classmate or coworker of someone who appears to have serious problems that are being ignored, whom do you tell?  Whom should be notified?  How can a person affect an intervention into someone else’s mental health situation?


I don’t know the answers, at all, but I do think these are all things we should be talking about.

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