The horrifying tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, has triggered another endless debate about guns and their place in our society. But there is another issue that is beginning to be discussed: what to do about the dangerous mentally ill, like the murderer Adam Lanza, before they commit those horrifying acts.
Unfortunately, all too often those who know of relatives and acquaintances who are mentally ill or dangerous say nothing out of fear of embarrassment, enabling these psychotic threats to walk among us and threaten innocent targets. That is one topic that must be dealt with.
Another serious problem is the lack of a solution for those who have the courage not to be embarrassed and are willing to deal with the problem but can’t find an answer because of the lack of facilities other than prison for their under-age children.
In a moving piece titled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” a divorced mother of four, Liza Long, writes of her 13-year-old highly intelligent son, “Michael,” who vacillates from violent acts such as threatening his mother and himself with a knife after she asked him to return his library books to enjoying his snuggle animal collection and discussing Einstein’s physics.
The day of the knife incident, Long writes, after Michael’s 9- and 7-year-old siblings fled to the car and locked the door, three policemen and a paramedic were needed to force him onto a gurney to travel to the local emergency room, because the mental hospital didn’t have beds that day.
His mother writes that there have been numerous attempts to diagnose Michael, labeling him as a victim of autism spectrum, ADHD, or Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder; many different antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals have been tried, but none of them work.
Michael’s mother, who is an author and musician, halted her career so she could take a position with a local college simply to get health insurance. As she writes: “You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.”
In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness. According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
The only option left, one social worker told Long, was to get Michael charged with a crime and thrown into prison. She notes that prisons like Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois have the biggest treatment centers for the mentally-ill in the country.
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.