Monday, January 28, 2013

The Other Half of the Equation

After Sandy Hook, a national dialog opened up about guns. That's good.  And some states have made some first steps... some in positive, some in negative directions, when it comes to gun control.

But the second half of the conversation is missing.

Many of these new gun laws focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.  There seems to be nothing in the works to help the mentally ill become less ill.

Recently a teenage boy shot and killed his siblings and parents with the family guns.  This has lead to a push to change gun laws here in New Mexico, and mentions the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.  There is no indication at this point that the young shooter was mentally ill, or had ever been diagnosed with or treated for emotional or psychiatric issues.

Another recent event in Albuquerque involved a young man, a knife, and a dual diagnosis of autism and schizophrenia.   The young man's mother had to call police when her son was behaving violently and brandishing a knife.  Rather than taking the young man to the psych emergency ward, the police hauled him off to jail.  The mother in the case pleaded with the judge to order testing and treatment, but the judge refused saying it was up to the mother to procure treatment for her son, and that the boy would stay in jail.

We'd like to think that treatment for the mentally ill has improved over the years.  That there are no longer warehouse-like institutions where the ill are removed from society, but have no independence, no chance at self improvement, no normal relationships with well persons, and no freedom.  We'd like to think that there are plenty of places for the mentally ill to go, to live, and to work, because we're that kind of society.  But we're not.  We're still warehousing the mentally ill, but we're doing it in prisons instead of hospitals.  Instead of being with other ill persons and a psychiatric staff, they're with felons and wardens.

We continue to deal with individuals with neurobiological disorders in a way totally different from other health disorders:  by sweeping them under the rug, by warehousing them in prisons and ignoring their health issues, by dehumanizing and criminalizing them.

It's wrong.  We need to start addressing these issues as a nation.  We need to take mental illness as seriously as we take cancer and Downs and MS and any other debilitating disorder of the body.  We need to have research and treatment and marches and telethons.  We need to have awareness and compassion.

We need to start talking about it publicly.  NOW.