Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Too many rights, not enough care

   I have a confession to make: I think there are some disabled people who shouldn’t be living out in the community. At least temporarily.  
   This is really tough for me to say. Some years ago, one of my attendants remarked that she wished we were living in the 1950's, “when everything was simpler and less crazy.” I pointed out that if we were in the 1950's, I’d probably be living in a back room, if not in a large hospital. She said “oh” and shut up real fast.
   I used to love reading The Disability Rag, with its unabashed advocacy, championing disabled rights. It was really where I got the idea that disability is a societal problem, with society not being accessible enough and not providing enough services, rather than a problem with someone not able to do certain things.
   Mouth magazine was even better. I loved its homemade look and its hands-on, out-there, fiery vision of radical inclusion. Editor Lucy Gwin was full of terrific passion, which really kicked me in the butt and got me even more out there. But I couldn’t go along with her when she kept saying that the mentally ill should be allowed to not take their meditations. I wanted to be p.c and agree that, like me, the mentally ill should be able to live as they want, but I couldn’t.
   Never mind that many mentally ill people end up homeless, living lives of not-so-quiet desperation, cycling endlessly through hospitals and jails, often at fantastic public expense. This was before there was the steady stream of mass shootings that we now live with in the U.S, with the shooter almost always turning out to be mentally ill.
   Yes, there is a huge problem with how easy it is for people to get guns in this country, but the problem about mentally ill people getting guns is more than about how easy it is to get guns.
   After all, the southern state lawmaker who appeared on Sunday’s episode of 60 Minutes - I’m sorry I can’t remember his name and state - had his face scarred from when his mentally ill son attacked him with a knife. Soon after the attack, the son, who was reportedly sweet-natured and liked playing bluegrass music, shot himself. The congressman later read in his son’s diary that the son had the idea that he would go straight to heaven if he killed his father who was evil.
   The point is that not having a gun at the time didn’t stop grave, if not lethal harm, from being done. Guns are just handy and easier to use.
   The 60 Minutes segment, entitled “No Place to Go,” was about how family and friends have very limited options in getting help for their mentally ill loved ones. In the case of the congressman’s son, for instance, he was sent home after a hospital visit when the six hours to find a facility where he could stay and get care expired. The congressman has introduced legislation to extend this placement period to 24 hours in his state. In another interview during the segment, a mentally ill hospital patient explained that he hears voices telling him to kill himself or occasionally others and that “that’s not who I am.”
   This tragic, impossible situation will the mentally ill began in the 1980's when most of the large mental institutions were closed. The mentally ill were at last given rights, including regarding their care, giving them autonomy and dignity. This was great, but the problem was and is that no funding was provided to care for the mentally ill out in the community. Even more of a tragedy is that it’s not so much that money is not available - it’s that no one wants to talk about the mentally ill.
   Until this is resolved, until we can talk about the mentally ill and then decide to provide the care they need, there will be more of these shootings and other tragedies. Until then, in order to protect them and others, I’m sorry to say that more restrictions, if not also fewer rights, should be placed on the mentally ill.

1 comment:

  1. This subject is vital to why there is a stigma when there are one out of five who have depression and never turn to get help. The piece to the puzzle is the capacity to medicate and treat on a large scale of hospitalization, and if the community could come to grips with the disease of mental illness as a cause for treatment and less a label, there would be more voluntary commitment. The tragedy of the matter is the stigma and the funding as well as the reluctance to reach out for help. The persons who are treated can remain socially able. The persons who don't feel they need care are the danger to society. As long as we pursue an honest conversation and bring the discussion to seriously address mental illness we will have delusional and angry citizens harming themselves and others. Let's focus on not stigmatizing as a step and treatment funding as a concern there are thousands if not hundred thousand needs for the health of mentally ill, which should by the way , as the Congressman said, should not be looked at as mental. Illness is physical and should not categorize itself other than physical since the brain is part of the body.