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He could be your son; he could be my son

Posted Jan 11 2011 12:00am
I was planning not to post about the recent tragedy in Arizona in which a disturbed young man killed and injured a number of people at a political rally.

I decided to say something in support of people like you and me who believe that there is another way. We will be shouted down by people who believe that mental illness is a brain disease in need of lifelong medication and that if only this young man had been on medication (properly "treated") then this all would have been avoided. The biochemical group will be vocal, but not as influential as the gun lobby, which will make a better ($$) case that "guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Anybody who has a son or daughter sliding into mental illness knows what paranoia is. It is scary and unpleasant to witness. People who are exhibiting signs of paranoia are racist, suspicious, and abnormally interested in the current gods of mythology, e.g. political figures, the CIA, the KGB (if you are Russian), the Stasi (if you were East German), movie stars, and religious figures. This preoccupation goes with the territory of paranoia. There is nothing abnormal about the accused in this regard when you compare him to thousands of others of the same age (22) and sex (male) who are also exhibiting signs of paranoia.

Here I'm going to get shouted down by readers when I say that chances are, if this young man's problems had been recognized and treated sooner, had he been on medication, chances are this scene could have been avoided.

I'll start with the "had he been on medication." Sure, had he been on medication, he would have been considerably slowed down, his paranoia may have subsided to a dull grumbling sound, and he would have been home on the couch or in bed, not toting a gun to a rally. But, my concern is for what happens after this. Millions of other young men are being forced, through government policies, insurance companies, lobby groups, pharmaceutical companies and doctors, to sacrifice the rest of their lives to medication for the deeds of one of their own: a young man with the same problems that the health care system won't properly treat.

The mental health care system, such as it exists in most of the Western world, refuses to address a young man's mental health crisis holistically. It has constructed a fortress of terror in the mind of the public that so-called mental illness is a chemically driven urge that can be fixed by dumping more chemicals on top of more chemicals. Despite the fact that there is no genetic marker, no scientifically proven test for "diseased brains," it has convinced a gullible public that mental illness is virtually untreatable without these drugs. Once you are sucked into these drugs, such as our sons have been, the pressure is on to continue to medicate. The health care system in most jurisdictions pays for medication but not lengthy therapy. And yet the National Alliance on Mental Illness is puzzled why 80% of people with a mental health diagnosis are unemployed. It's hard to hold down a job if you haven't really addressed the underlying problems of your life.

This young man's crisis could be sorted out eventually if he has access to a better way -- support, sympathy, understanding, recognition that good mental health is a journey. "Eventually" means it takes time. It takes effort. It takes understanding of what paranoia is. Your son and my son are lucky it never got this far. This young man'sconfused mind can be healed, but the trauma of what he did will never go away. That's punishment enough, in my opinion. Considerably less evolved members of the public will want to sort out his problems through life imprisonment or the death penalty.

So, yes, as a mother, I have a great deal of sympathy for this young man, which is no less than what I feel for the families of the people he killed.
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