I’ve been avoiding talking about this subject the entire time since the Connecticut tragedy. Everyone is focusing so much on the political aspects of it, it takes attention away from the horror of the situation. And that’s why I’ve been silent about the issues. Until now.
I read an article yesterday called “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”. My heart broke for the author while reading her story. I thought “this is wonderful. This is the kind of thing America should be reading right now.” And then I looked at some of the comments. People were grandstanding about their own issues. But what pissed me off, REALLY pissed me off, was that someone replied “Do you love your other children? If you do,” you have to get your son locked up. You have to give up on him. You have to treat him like a second-class citizen if you’re a “good” mom. You have to ignore your instincts, your love for that child, and the fact that he needs HELP if you love your other children. Meds don’t work, therapy is crap, just lock him away where he can’t hurt anyone.
I have never been this angry at a comment in my whole post-invention-of-facebook life.
I have Bipolar Disorder type 2. I have never once withheld that information. I mean, at first I felt special and unique. I was practically like “Hi, I’m Alicia and I’m Bipolar.” Then I realized that it kind of sucks. I will be on meds for the rest of my life. I don’t withhold it now, either. I have never personally encountered any kind of stigma from it. I live in a very progressive state and I have never felt uncomfortable talking about it. In fact, it made me a lightning rod for everyone who thought they might be ill themselves.
Then there are those I know who are painfully aware that the stigma is still out there. They don’t want anyone to know that they’re ill. I always kind of scoffed at that, thinking “it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be.” I mean, look at me. I’m out, I’m doing fine. It is with anger that I admit that my friends are right. Not angry that I was wrong, but that there are people out there in the world who make my friends right.
There is hope for people, even with the worst and most advanced mental illnesses. The research on them isn’t as well-funded as for cancer, but to say that the only solution is to shun the mentally ill from society is to dehumanize and devalue them. They are people too. Victims of their circumstances. There are many reasons for mental illness: thousands of types of trauma, chemical imbalances in the brain, genetic factors, etc. Some research suggests that perhaps Schizophrenia and Bipolar are caused by infections to which a fetus is exposed while in utero. Instead of shunning the mentally ill, we should be looking for cures. We should be finding new meds with fewer side effects. We should be encouraging counseling and developing new therapeutic techniques.
The author’s son could maybe benefit from Behavioral Therapy. He should find out what his triggers are and learn how to deal with them. He should find the right cocktail of medications to help him. We should be supporting him and his mother in their quest to find a treatment, not insulting his mother’s parenting. Not giving up on the 13-year old boy. Not condemning him or anyone like him. Not devolving into a society who put our “undesirables” away just because of the way they were born. Now, I don’t mean this following statement in such a way as to imply homosexuality and mental illness are the same. But it would be unspeakable to throw gay people into institutions because they’re gay. We find it abhorrent that the Nazis put Jewish people into concentration camps. True, mental institutions aren’t concentration camps. But if we keep locking up mentally ill people in institutions and prisons, how long will it take for those institutions to become like concentration camps? The mental health system is underfunded and overpopulated. The prison systems are overcrowded and dangerous.
I talked about this with Tom yesterday. He made a valid point that I would like to share. He said that throwing a 13-year old boy, or any mentally ill person, into the penal system would prevent them from getting better. Not because the care is so poor, but because prison is incredibly dangerous. Violence is everywhere. And the mentally ill would only learn more violence and criminal behavior. They would have to in order to survive in the system. Clearly, this is heading in the opposite direction. Institutions and prisons should be a last resort, not a solution.
So, instead of stigmatizing this boy and insulting his strong, brave, and loving mother, we should support them and stand by them. We should send good thoughts and/or prayers their way. We should stand up for what is right. And stigma and giving up are not what is right.
I have entitled my post intentionally with the word “we”. WE, the mentally ill, are humans. We are your doctors, lawyers, artists, politicians, actors, singers, legal assistants, bankers, waiters, clerks, cooks, truckers, family, and friends. WE deserve as much respect and care as would be given to any one of these people without mental illness.