Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mental Illness: U.S.Needs to Wake Up

A few posts about the Virginia Tech tragedy have grabbed my attention and stayed with me since I first read them.

One is from a professor at Virginia Tech who posted at Daily Kos shortly after the shootings. He was justifiably upset about the way conserative writer Dinesh D'Souza had smacked down the people in our society (and at Virginia Tech) who do not profess a belief in God. The professor's response is a must-read. It was eloquently written and not at all offensive to his fellow citizens who are believers. All he asks is understanding.

D'Souza had written that according to atheists,
..the main characteristic of the universe is pitiless indifference … What this tells me is that if it's difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil simply do not exist … Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way: molecules acting upon molecules.
In his response to such unfair judgment, the professor, who is an atheist, said,

I believe this young man was both sick and vicious, that his actions were both heinous and the result of a phenomenon that we must try to understand precisely so that we can prevent it in future. I have no sympathy for him. Given what he has done, I am not particularly sorry he has spared the world his continued existence; there was no possibility of redemption for him. You think we atheists have difficulty with the concept of evil. Quite the contrary. We can accept a description of this man as evil. We just don’t think that is an explanation. That is why we are exasperated at your mindless demonology.

I responded as follows:

Allow me to add something about D'Souza's "evil" (14+ / 0-)

There is a mental health issue that I believe should arise front and center here and replace the religion-loaded word "evil." Too often, a troubled person's deep psychological scars may seem to have healed over, but the root of a that person's torturous inner life remains living and boiling underneath. Without regular and easily-accessible professional intervention, we can expect anything to happen - from an individual's withdrawl from society to the lashing out with violence that some people - like Dinesh D'Souza - would all too easily classify as "evil" and put away on a shelf.

We can't put this on a shelf.

This will happen again.
No matter how much we pray.

We all have a responsibility to the community in which we live, study, and work. Sometimes we just don't feel that we have time to care, but we must understand that there are people living in our communities who are not faring psychologically well. There are signs that might easily tell you someone's troubled - yet with others it may be only the person's family and closest friends (if they have any) who may know.

In the richest nation on this earth, there is no excuse for having a mental health treatment system that is not easily accessible and affordable to all citizens, and one of which all citizens are encouraged and educated to seek help rather than to be stigmatized for it.

I work in a program in which the curriculum teaches nonviolent conflict resolution skills and emotional literacy to our children in grades 2-8. If this type of program cound be implemented in all schools, I'm not saying that a tragedy such as this one could have been prevented, but it can only help our society to give all of its children the tools they need to be self-aware and to make sound and healthy decisions towards others. I've never met an "evil" child, but I surely have seen some who need psychological help desperately.


The other diary was written by poster named poligirl at the John Edwards 2008 blog. She was brave, in my opinion, to share some very private and personal information in order to drive home the point that America needs to wake up and realize that doing more as a society to understand mental illness will help prevent many tragedies that take place today.

We need to do more as a society to understand mental illness. We need to do more as a society to give treatment for mental illness parity with regular health care. We need to pour more research into this treatment; one of the biggest complaints is that some of the medications have such unbearable side effects that many times, people quit taking them and go back to whatever substance had become their crutch. We need to not treat mental illness as something shameful; that shame alone prevents so many people from seeking help as well as stops possibly concerned friends and family members, co-workers, fellow students and teachers from broaching the subject with the person or their family. We need to learn the signs so we can be a source of support for those we know who might be going through it; they need to know that it's ok, they're not alone, there is help. We need to stop using words such as "psycho" and "deranged" about people suffering with mental illness - they only serve to feed the stigma. Mental illness is not crazy; it's just another illness like all the rest. We need to wake up America, and realize that there is something we can do to help prevent many tragedies that take place today.


There is one more op-ed that I read in my local paper (Syracuse Post Standard) titled 'Evil' or mental illness? by Joyce Gramza that makes a similar point about the words we (and the media) use to distance ourselves from the reality of mental illness:

I'm yelling whenever the talking heads call the gunman angry, hostile, cold-blooded, evil. Or a strange, weird loner who "snapped."

These words are so easy to confuse with mental illness, but be advised, they are most likely useless for describing the world, emotions or experience of the delusional gunman.

I agree with my spouse that these words are distancers, and that when the media uses them, it contributes to society's fear and collective distancing of ourselves from the insanity that can strike any of us, so we prefer to ignore it in our midst until and unless it can't be ignored.

I hope you will take some time out of your busy day and read these op-eds and diaries. The writers, in my opinion, have something very important to tell us.