BY MICHAEL HAYNE
As the media swarm the small community of Newtown, Connecticut and as the right-wing engages in its typical “guns don’t kill people, people do” juvenile tantrums to justify unbridled gun ownership, conspicuously absent (or at least substantively) from this pundidiot orgy is a meaningful discussion on the woeful state of mental health care. But that deadening chasm of a void instantly changed following a poignant and highly personal letter written by a mother who has a young child suffering from debilitating mental illness.
Her name is Lisa Long and she’s a writer based in Boise. Talking about guns is like talking about the weather; everybody does it but nobody does anything about it.
But while it’s easy to talk about guns, it’s not as easy to talk about mental illness. But Lisa hopes to change this complete and utter lack of conversation.
From an article republished from The Blue Review:
Three days before 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.
“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”
“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day.
Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
Lisa goes on to discuss how she fears for her son’s future as he soon becomes an adult. Moreover, she decries and lambasted how in America we essentially stigmatize people with mental disorders. Case in point, if you tell someone that you’re an alcoholic or you have cancer you’ll get a whole slew of sympathy. But, and as someone who has lived with mental disorders my whole life, tell someone that you have bi-polar disorder or OCD/Depression and you might as well have a swastika carved in your forehead; you’re typically looked upon with either suspicion or disdain. You know, it’s like “what the F is wrong with you and just take a pill, pills are good!”
Indeed, in our pill-popping culture, Kindergartners are shot full of Ritalin and Adderall, but tax-paying and law-abiding adults can’t light up a natural and unadulterated herb without fear of being locked up. Meanwhile alcoholics, who sometimes willingly abuse themselves over and over again and who aren’t lucky enough to be Reality TV Stars or whatever the hell Lindsey Lohan does, readily get access to tax-payer funded rehabilitation programs. But for those suffering with mental health disorders, they have to jump through a gazillion bureaucratic hoops and hire an army of attorneys either on contingency (they get a percentage of your Disability if you win), or out-of-pocket at a high hourly rate in order to get SSI benefits for their debilitating mental disorders that prevent them from sustaining employment in the workforce.
Lisa is in no way trying to identify a correlation between mental health disorders and gun massacres. After all, an estimated 2.3 million Americans are living with Bi-polar disorder and they aren’t blasting away kids and teachers. Rather, Lisa was attempting to show how a judgmental society combined with a dearth in substantive mental health programs, can potentially lead to violent behavior. She’s not saying with authority that if Adam Lanza’s mother brought her kid to therapy instead of say a shooting range would’ve prevented the heinous shootings, but that we can all benefit from a reevaluation on how we deal and treat individuals with mental disorders.
Lisa buttressing her commentary on how mental health is often treated with prison time to the benefit of our greedy private-prison industrial complex:
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise - in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill - Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011. (Huffington Post)
Michael Hayne is a comedian/VO artist/Columnist who co-wrote an award-nominated comedy, produces a chapter of Laughing Liberally, wrote for NY Times Laugh Lines, guest-blogged for Joe Biden, and writes a column for MSNBC.com affiliated Cagle Media. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook