The Politics of Mental Health
I worked at a residency for mentally ill women who would otherwise be homeless. I would say ninety percent of the women were schizophrenic. I was a case manager for eight women. I administered their medication, I took them to appointments, I met with their intensive case managers and psychiatrists, I even cleaned soiled sheets. The job was by no means glamorous, but I loved the women. Yes, they talked to themselves, yes, they spoke of evil and the devil, and, yes, sometimes they had to be put in the hospital against their will because of being a threat to themselves or others. Why did I leave this job? It hit too close to home. I was reminded of my own illness everyday. I even had to take clients to a psych ward where I had previously been hospitalized. It was too much. I left the job on a Friday, and was hospitalized the following Monday.
Now I want to talk about Jared Lee Loughner. The twenty-two year old who is accused of trying to assassinate Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In his efforts to assassinate Rep. Giffords, he killed several people, including a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge. I am extremely upset that this has become an issue of politics. As soon as I read the news, I told my husband, Geoff, Loughner was schizophrenic. All the signs were there. He had demonstrated signs of mental illness starting in high school. Nothing was done. He then went to Pima Community College and after five incidences with the police, was suspended. He would laugh to himself, talk to himself, and threaten violence in the classroom. Students were afraid of him. He was only allowed to come back to school if he got a psychiatric evaluation. That never happened. H. Clark Romans of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Southern Arizona was on Democracy Now! discussing the behavioral health cuts in Arizona. Twenty-eight thousand people have been affected by these cuts. No case management, no brand name drugs, and so on. It is possible Loughner wouldn’t have even been able to get the help he needed anyway.
When this tragic story was revealed to the press, it immediately became an issue of Democrats versus Republicans. Rep. Giffords is a conservative democrat. I read Paul Krugman’s Op-Eds in the New York Times on a regular basis. His latest column, January 9, 2011,“Climate of Hate”, greatly disappointed me. He said, “It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.” As one of my psychiatric heros, E. Fuller-Torrey stated, “It’s not political thinking…It’s psychotic thinking”. I actually was right on when I told Geoff that Loughner was schizophrenic, and I know this because Torrey said there was a ninety-nine percent chance that he is. Krugman went on to say, “but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.” What I don’t like most about his assertion is calling the mentally ill “disturbed people”. I’m severely mentally ill. Does that make me one of those “disturbed people”? As I pointed out before, this has nothing, nothing to do with the political climate. It most likely has to do with the fact that more homicidal people with mental illness are untreated on the streets due to budget cuts. I am enraged. Or, even more bluntly, angry as hell.
So what happens to Jared Lee Loughner? I will end with another quote from E. Fuller-Torrey, schizophrenia researcher and expert: “The insanity defense , which may be tried in this case, is often unsuccessful, and one reason is that juries are afraid to send people to state hospitals, where they belong. They’d rather lock them up for longer, in prison.”