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December 16, 2012

"I Live With A Son Who Is Mentally Ill. I Love My Son. But He Terrifies Me "

This is a chilling story of a mother desperate to prevent her son from becoming a danger to others.

Here's an excerpt but really, just read the whole thing.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

...

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

...

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

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. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2006/09/05/us-number-mentally-ill-prisons-quadrupled)

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 (http://www.npr.org/2011/09/04/140167676/nations-jails-struggle-with-mentally-ill-prisoners)

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

I used to do some work for a state corrections officer union and heard countless stories about how most of their work and most of their problems involves mentally ill inmates. Despite the prevalence of mentally ill inmates, these guys aren't really trained to deal with mental patients and a prison isn't designed either physically or through its daily routine to deal treat the severely mentally ill.

Keep in mind I'm not talking about people who had a tough childhood are addicts or people who are just overwhelmed by life. I'm talking about people like Jared Lochner who are simply wired wrong.

These aren't people who just snap. There's usually a long trail of behavioral problems, psych evaluations and other signs. Parents, teachers, neighbors know who they are. They take step to protect their own children from them as best they can. It's not a mystery who these kids are.

There's no therapy, no drug, no suck it up treatment. These are people who are simply living in their own world. We need to find a humane way to remove these people from society for our own good and theirs as well. Until we figure that out, guns is simply a sideshow.

Added thought: "Mentally ill" is a very broad term. We need to be clear that not every person with a mental illness is a potential threat. But we can focus on the extremely troubled people. There's no magic answer to this and there's always going to be evil acts in the world but if we start with the big, obvious systemic problems (de-institutionalization) we'd be a lot further along the right path.


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posted by DrewM. at 10:31 AM

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