The National Conversation We Need to Have: Mental Health

After a young man who reportedly had autism spectrum disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) and a personality disorder shot his mother and a Connecticut school full of five-to-ten year old children, their teachers and their principle, voices are being heard all over demanding stricter gun laws. This is understandable: we prefer easy answers to difficult, complex ones, and guns are the easier target. They would just require banning a few “assault weapons” and we can all feel better. A few people are making the harder, but better, call: we *must* fix this country’s abysmal failure to deal with mental illness.

An anonymous blogger who calls herself The Anarchist Soccer Mom has blow the lid off of our little national conspiracy to ignore mental illness. As she points out, the mental health institutions that gave rise to horror stories in the middle of the 20th century are mostly shut down. We’ve turned to drugs, short-term hospitalization, and “community care” to treat mentally ill people. When those don’t work — when somebody who is violently mentally ill remains unstable and a threat to others — his or her family members must often turn to the legal system and imprisonment of the mentally ill person for their own safety. The simple fact is that they often have no better options.

THIS. IS. NOT. RIGHT. :( There are less painful, less punitive, and more effective methods than prison for protecting families and society from people who have violent mental illnesses that cannot be controlled by medication or other outpatient methods. These methods require that appropriate laws be passed and facilities built to provide safe facilities for controlled living environments and inpatient treatment of people who cannot live with their families or in society without endangering others.

Perhaps some of these mental illnesses will be completely treatable once we learn the causes. We *desperately* need to put more resources into research into the causes of violent mental illness and personality disorders. But until we have answers, we also need to provide somewhere for people who are afflicted with these conditions to live safely and with dignity where they will not pose a threat to the lives and safety of their families and communities. Putting the entire burden on the families is both unjust and a horrifying risk to innocent people.

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