Society ignores the mentally ill. Everyone suffers.

As the shooting of Gabriell Giffords in Tuscon shows, a mentally disturbed person who is left to fall between the cracks can end up going totally insane and in some cases harm other people. Futhermore, the afflicted person also suffers from the mental illness since their thinking becomes tortured by obsessions, fears, and delusions. They are left untreated. They suffer. And sometimes society suffers.

In the case of Jared Loughner, his mental illness was evident to many yet that mental illness was given the right to rule his mind and degenerate. An article in the Washington Post, January 9, 2011, by David A. Fahrenthold, Sari Horwitz and Amy Gardner illustrates this point. According to that article, Loughner was attending classes at Tucson’s Pima Community College. School administrators ignored warnings of his fellow students and his teachers that his behavior was threatening. According the article, the administrators were reported to have said, “He hasn’t taken any action to hurt anyone. He hasn’t provoked anybody. He hasn’t brought any weapons to class…. We’ll just wait until he takes that next step.”.

But what can a school do? Should school administrators reject a student just because he manifests quirky behavior or some fellow student makes a complaint? To answer that question, we needto realize the the issue is much larger than what happens in schools. Consider the case of the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007 . Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people, had been diagnosed with mental illness long before enrolling at Virginia Tech. Yet, due to federal privacy laws, Virginia Tech was not informed of Seung-Hui Cho’s diagnosis at the time he enrolled!

On a daily basis, in Los Angeles, police officers do not detain or transport mentally ill people to a hosptial even when they have been reported to be making threats unless they are deemed “a danger to themselves or others or severely disabled”. The bar for arresting disturbed people or for placing them in treatment is very high. Often, after being reported to police, a mentally ill person who was harassing someone will simply be taken to some other part of town and dropped off. Or taken to an emergency room where they will be given some pills then turned loose.

It goes from bad to absurd. Some scientologists have been known to try to convince mentally ill people to not take antipsychotic medicine.

In my opinion, when a mentally ill person has gotten to the the point they are delusional and making threats, there needs to be a fair judicial process, with due process, that requires the afflicted person to take medication, involuntarily if necessary. That may sound harsh. But, in fact, it is more humane than letting the mental illness dominate the life of the afflicted person and people the afflicted person comes in contact with on a daily basis.

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7 Responses to Society ignores the mentally ill. Everyone suffers.

  1. I am not seeing enough discussion in the media of how reform of our laws dealing with mental illness are needed so that incidents like this one in Tuscon become less likely and those with mental illness are given the help they need rather than kept at arms length and further alienated from society.

  2. Jane Doe says:

    At present, and for the last three months one of my neighbors who is bi-polar has gone after harassing neighbor by neighbor. The police have been to my apartment complex over 100 times and not once have they taken her to mental health for a evaluation. Now this person has run the gamet and is stalking and harassing me. Today for the first time I had to call the police because he/she threated to “beat [me] up” and “go psyco on [me]” when I went to take my walk. The police officer would not give me a report number. He explained she is mentally ill, which I already know. I informed him that I have rights too and would like a report number so when if and when I need too will get a stay-away order. He denied my simple request, said to call again, and left.

    I believe this mentally ill person knows right from wrong and is using their illness to harass me and the other neighbors on purpose. Perhaps negative attention is better than no attention? Still the police do nothing and everyone waits until she is legally evicted.

    On my behalf I would like to say I understand mentally ill people have rights. My brother is mentally ill and I have sympathy in regards to his situation. Yet, he doesn’t lash out on others and doesn’t speak of violence.

    My question open up for debate is: How many times do the police have to be called on a mentally ill person before something is done?

  3. Karen says:

    I just had an encounter with my bother last night which is how I found your blog, who sounds identical to yours. We(my family) have been dealing with him for almost 17 years now(he’s 36), and have made little headway. For now he has his own apt, and with financial help from my dad and I( and ssi) he is somewhat self sufficient. Hes been off meds for about a year now and appeared in my back yard around midnight this morning drunk and asking if he could sleep in my car. I was tired and angry and didnt want my husband to wake up. I threw him out and hoped he would go sleep in the boat, but I didnt mention it and he didnt think of it. He said he lost his keys to his place but could hardly speak for being drunk. I dont know where he slept but he wasnt anywhere this morning. I know it sounds heartless but I had taken the morning off work yesterday to be with him in court (giving false info to a cop, incorrect operation of a bike and resisting of some sort that led to him being hit in the face). I could not handle a night of him stumbling around our house drunk. I have so much guilt and sadness for him and walk a tight rope between our normal home and his nightmare life. I help him when I can and dont when I cant, he would move in and bleed us dry if I didnt set boundries. This is our/his life. I see no hope, he doesnt know hes ill and thinks he gets assaulted and raped everyday. We have tried so many of the things you mention. The cops are no help(one told me after a suicide threat that “there is no law against being crazy” and he didnt seem to think the suicide voicemail was cause for concern, didnt even want to hear it. My dad and I are are finally joining a sup[port group for families, I went once before but it was depressing. A bunch of tired sad parents and very little hope. Were going to try again at a different group. There must be something to it, because I find myself needing to talk to people who understand and dont just tell me all he needs is a job or why cant you just take him in and get him on meds, its so complicated. maybe we can make changes if we network and share the burden even if its just talking. I’m so discouraged, I want to blame the gov. God, him. I want to believe that there is a reason for his being alive but I see none. He is alone and suffering and thats why I help. Hes a human, my brother, we used to be close and sometimes still are. Thats why I know he will comeback, So many conflicting feelings. I want him out of my life but I cant completely abandon him when I know he is just sick and cant help himself. If we give up he will suffer cruelly until he dies and I cant deny him what little attention and care I am able to give. I think I need to share so I dont feel like such a failure, to know that it is an impossible task and no human no matter how devoted can fix this.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story about your brother.

    Yes, when they say “there is no law against being crazy”, one could respond that there should not be a law against being crazy, but there should be laws that require them to take their meds and funding to assist them so that the burden does not have to fall on their families and loved ones.

    You have done everything you could do. In the case of my brother, I had to use tough love and simply not let him back in my life. The result was that he became homeless for periods of time and then got into trouble with the law (vandalism and verbal threats to people – he never harmed anyone). The times he was arrested have come as a relief to those who know him since at least he then has a roof over his head, food, and medical care. And, as part of the legal process, they are able force him to take meds as part of “restoring him to competency to stand trial”. As a result, on meds, he snaps back into being a very intelligent functioning person.

    At the moment, he is facing charges on felony vandalism which would, in California law, be a second strike and result in many years of prison. However, the public defender and the deputy district attorney are in agreement to lower the charge and make a deal where he stays in a psychiatric treatment hospital for a year followed by ten years of probation, during which time he must take his meds as part of the agreement. My brother accepts that. The only remaining hurdle is for the lead District Attorney to agree to the deal. I am hopeful that the overcrowding in California prisons, not to mention the fact that my brother is not a criminal but just a mentally ill person who is now aware of his illness and willing to accept treatment will sway the DA to go along with the agreement.

    So, Karen, I can only say that you have done what you could but you are right to draw a firm line in the sand for your brother. He has to hit bottom. It seems to be the only way for something positive to finally happen in our society.

  5. AMC says:

    I know I am commenting SO long after the fact, and it is unlikely that you read this anymore, but I agree with you 100% – except in your disbelief that Cho’s mental illness diagnosis was not disclosed to his university. Speaking from the position of a very afflicted, yet highly functional individual with a mental illness, I thank god that there are very few circumstances in which I am legally required to disclose my diagnosis.

    My illness does NOT make me inherently dangerous. The VAST majority of people with mental health diagnoses are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

    In the college application process, what would disclosure of these diagnoses do? Considering the competitive nature of prestigious university program admission: would mandated disclosure be more likely to prevent violence, or more likely to further marginalize the mentally ill? How would mandated disclosure affect the ability of very functional people (like me) to compete for positions at top-tier universities? What does my mental illness have to do with my right to obtain an education? How are we supposed to effectively address the social problem of mental illnesses if those who experience them are barred from participation in the institutions wherein they are addressed?

    I have been tremendously touched by everything you’ve written about your brother. I very, very much admire your advocacy on his behalf. I grew up in a home where a similar situation existed; I both sympathize, and empathize with you. But I also think that, when seeking practical solutions to the damage that mental illness can do, it is imperative not to construct the mentally ill as inherently deviant.

  6. You raise very good points about rights of privacy. There is a question of where to draw a line between keeping all information private and allowing some information to be available if it can help a future diagnosis. There is of course also a need for advocacy for any persons rights. But, for example, should those rights to privacy enable a person who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia to buy fire arms? What do you think?

    That being said, I also believe that someone who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia should never have to pay for anti-psychotic medication or doctors visits and have access to free counseling and job placement. Will some people take advantage of that? Yes. Is it worth it to society? Yes.

  7. Tony Allard says:

    I am Dennis’ brother, Tony. As I had been encarcerated at Twin Towers in LA fighting my case when this blog was initiated, I was unable to follow and participate in the discussion. All I have to say about what I’ve read so far is that there are a few factual errors that should be corrected:

    1. I am not schizophrenic. Although I was once diagnosed as such back in 1988, upon further analysis by various doctors (I’ve had approximately 150 different psychiatrists take a stab at my diagnosis since) I have been reclassified as, in chronological order, psychotic disorder nos, schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, bipolar disorder with schizoaffective episodes, and currently carry a diagnosis of bipolar disorder type I (manic). If you’ve ever heard of the expression “it was like watching a bunch of monkeys fuck a football”, well, sometimes I’ve felt like the foot ball. Psychiatry has as many different doctrines as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddism, and Hinduism combined, which is to say that in my opinion it should be viewed more as a religion than a science.

    2. Felony vandalism is not a strikable offends under CA law. I was charged in addition to that with criminal threats and witness intimidation as well, which are both strikable because they are classified as violent crimes againstp a person. I do not believe violence against property is strikable unless it endangers a person or persons with physical harm. And as far as being forced to take psych meds, I believe there is no law on the books, other than PC 1026 (not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI)), where you are interned in a state hospital till restored to sanity to force ingestion of psych medications. However, a condition of parole can require that you receive treatment. In such cases, if you go off your meds, that could result in a violation of your parole and reincarceration. So although you would not be forced to take meds, the conditions of parole provide a strong incentive to take your meds.

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