No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

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.

Read this eloquent and heart-breaking story from a mom whose 13 year old son is mentally ill. She writes:

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

mental health
Read this eloquent and heart-breaking story and then print a half-dozen copies, put them in envelopes and mail them to your Congress critters (three copies), your governor and state legislators (three copies).

In 1975, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (based on the 1962 novel) cast a glaring light on the state of mental institutions.

Then in 1980, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 (House vote, 277-15; Senate vote, 93-3).

It came on the heels of four years of hearings and a presidential task force benefiting from First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s active involvement. Philosophically it affirmed Pres. John F. Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Centers, an attempt to thwart hospitalizations. It fit into the safety-net values championed by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson with the passage of Medicaid and Medicare.

We began the journey to where we are today the very next year, with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 which repealed (pdf) Carter’s signature bill:

[I]n 1981 the Reagan administration orchestrated the repeal of the Mental Health Systems Act, consolidated the categorical mental health programs into a block grant, and cut spending on those programs about 25 percent.1 The vision of an organized, community-based, and dedicated mental health system ended.

If you’re old enough to remember the Reagan years, this may also ring a bell:

Reagan’s social policy is best seen as an abdication. Reagan’s economic policy was to adjust government regulation so that it favored business once again, and social policy was merely an outgrowth of this larger issue… As for the mentally ill, certain changes that their families and practitioners wanted were gained… All in all, business interests were served. Families and doctors were appeased. Patients were forgotten.

President George W Bush picked up the pieces, created a commission and pushed for reform.

Despite endorsement by the administration and many legislators, parity legislation has been stalled
for years, because the Republican chairmen of the relevant committees and the party’s congressional leadership have not pressed for its enactment. (New England Journal of Medicine, 2004, pdf)

Conservatives again refuse to talk about guns. Will they continue to also boycott discussions about mental health? Not if enough people raise hell.

So go raise some hell.

Flickr photo, Cover of a 1969 Mental Health magazine from the UK : used with Creative Commons License

I posted this on my Facebook past Saturday night. I should have posted it here then, too.

KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst
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ordinarysparrow
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ordinarysparrow
3 years 9 months ago
Kathy, you make some good points, but this issue is so very layered and complex…I sure hope that mental illness does not become the sole scapegoat for all of this…that is the cry from the ‘you are not going to put any kind of regulation on OUR guns’. It is so darn complex… it is said that the high percentage of these mass shooters are depressed and socially awkward, yet only a small small percentage of depressed and socially awkward children ever become violent. I do not think there are any simple answers such as lets just make sure that… Read more »
sheknows
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sheknows
3 years 9 months ago
I appreciate your article Kathy. It sheds light on perhaps some much needed social responsibility for our mentally ill. I too hope you are not consciously connecting the threads for the fabric of the NRA advocates, because it only will make a burial shroud for our children. We do have alot of problems in this nation with all sorts of conditions assailing us at every turn, contributing in a large part to our mental health issues. We do need more , no better legislation which addresses our need to be alert and vigilant as well as compassionate. Certainly I believe… Read more »
ordinarysparrow
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ordinarysparrow
3 years 9 months ago

There is already a Common Law Duty to Warn for mental health workers…If the mental health worker assess a real possibility of harm to the client through self injury or to others, the mental health worker is allowed and obligated to breach confidentiality and report…

Each State has different laws, but there is a Common Law Duty which out-weights the confidentiality between helping professionals and patient when violence is likely.

sheknows
Guest
sheknows
3 years 9 months ago
Thank you OS. Yes I am aware they can report dangerous patients now. I was just wondering what happened to the reporting process for the Batman killer by his psychiatrist. He was able to go online and purchase all kinds of weapons and equipment, and no one even knew he was off his rocker. Well, no one that could have intervened if he tried to purchase weapons, like maybe some authority. I know what I am saying sounds too Orwellian, and could be seen as a violation of rights, but would it hurt to put an “alert” out for local… Read more »
zephyr
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zephyr
3 years 9 months ago

Mental illness? Who cares. Guns? More! More! More! Guess what? The NRA had demonstrations going outside the White House within minutes of the Lanza shooting. Our country is horribly screwed up and has horrible priorities. How much worse will it need to get?

DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist
Editor
There are materials on the internet from Eric Harris’ and Dylan Klybold’s actual mothers in their voices. If you search, you may find also extensive testimony before Ken Salazar who was then top cop in Colo who held hearings about Columbine massacre. I was present for many of the hearings, and I cannot even begin to tell you how personal, how humble, how clearly all the witnesses and those involved spoke about the details without any gloss whatsoever. Ordinary Sparrow, thanks and also there are here where I live [I can literally see Columbine High School from my window], teachers,… Read more »
sheknows
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sheknows
3 years 9 months ago

Yes Dr. E, Exactly what I was talking about.

Barky
Guest
3 years 9 months ago
What scares me with the “mental health” approaches is the witch hunt aspect of it. This is just asking for abuse. By asking people to basically turn over anyone showing “symptoms” to hospitalization, well, that just scares me. As I said over dinner last night, “all elephants are mammals, but not all mammals are elephants.” So too with mental illness & mass shootings. By taking the “report symptoms” approach, you’re basically infringing on the rights of those who suffer from those symptoms, marking them forever. There are plenty of people with various conditions who live perfectly normal & safe lives… Read more »
ordinarysparrow
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ordinarysparrow
3 years 9 months ago
Kathy thanks for this post, for what you outline is totally on target…And when i read the woman’s story, i think a child such as her son is very high risk for violence…I too know parents with children that act out without conscious and the plight of the parents and children is sad and frustrating due to our many social inadequacies and failures. Almost impossible to navigate…I followed Dr.E’s suggestion to read up on Eric Harris and Dylan Klybolds parents and even after 12 years there are still strong voices that blaming the parents. One thing i have thought on… Read more »
KP
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KP
3 years 9 months ago
Great article, Kathy. I also found it compelling. As well, scary and incredibly frustrating for the mom. And, I feel badly for the young man in this case or any man or women who lives with such deep pain and discomfort. I have tried to imagine life on a day to day basis where the mental anguish is so great that I would consider killing myself, or others. I can’t. That must be a living hell. I have been distraught for periods of my life when in great physical pain or emotional pain from death in my family, but there… Read more »
zephyr
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zephyr
3 years 9 months ago

Sorry I didn’t make myself clear. My comment was about how low a priority mental illness is in this country (which is a shame) whereas the ability to own and carry dangerous weapons is held by a great many people in some kind of reverence. Twisted priorities and all.

KP
Guest
KP
3 years 9 months ago

Dr E, at the Columbine hearings, was there discussion by the mothers of Eric and Dylan about mental illness? I am wondering if the moms had any inclination that the boys were ill. Thank you in advance.

Barky
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

I heard this author speak on NPR a while ago. His book covers parents of children who are different than they are. Included is a section on the parents of criminals. I have not read the book yet, but it certainly seems interesting. I’d like to see a whole book devoted to the topic, not just one chapter. http://www.farfromthetree.com/

KP
Guest
KP
3 years 9 months ago

@Barky — Yes, Andrew Solomon is the author. I saw him on the TODAY show. Very interesting book that took a decade for him to research and write.

DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist
Editor

KP; both Dylan and Eric had been previously evaluated by mental health professionals. I believe that occurred when they were taken in to police station for riffling a van. Eric had been prescribed Luvox, as I recall, a powerful drug. All these years since then, I speculate given its side effects, if it was a factor in him losing all restraint. I think it is possible.

KP
Guest
KP
3 years 9 months ago

Dr E, that is what I was getting at. There is an increasing list of young adults and kids who are prescribed anti-depressents who become suicidal or harm others. Today, the drugs are prescribed relatively commonly and I wonder if they should be reserved so the sickest. Another one of those troubling medical grey areas I guess. Blood thinners prevent pulmonary embolism but can enable brain bleeds. High blood pressure meds help bring down dangerous BP but have numerous and uncomfortable side effects. Best to treat what we can when we can, nutritionally and with exercise. Simple, but not easy.

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