Tuesday, March 17, 2015

People with Mental Illness Should Get What They Deserve

What if we treated cancer like we treat serious mental illness?
And what they—and we--deserve is treatment before tragedy.

You’re sitting in your family doctor’s office with your child, waiting. Your child fidgets, trying not to bite his fingernails. Your stomach is tight with worry, and you can’t meet each other’s eyes.

“Do you think it’s serious?” your baby finally asks. “I’m trying, Mom. I’m really trying.”

The door opens. Instead of the expected reassuring doctor in a white coat, you see a police officer, holding out a pair of shiny steel handcuffs.

“I’m sorry to tell you this,” the police officer says. “But your child has leukemia. We are going to need to take him into custody.”

What if we treated cancer like we treat serious mental illness?

Like many people who become mental health advocates, I arrived in this role entirely by accident. When my second son’s increasingly erratic and even dangerous behavior was finally diagnosed as bipolar disorder, he had already been in juvenile detention four times, and he had three stays in an acute care mental hospital. He was only 13 years old.

I did not know how to help him then. But I did know one thing for sure: my son was not a bad kid. He had behavioral symptoms of a brain disorder that had been with him since birth.

As a result of those behavioral symptoms, my son and many other children are sent to jail.

As I fought for justice for my own child, I learned that we were not alone in our struggle. All across America, children and adults with serious mental illness were being sent to jail because of their illness.

What if we treated cancer like we treat serious mental illness?

Treated, my son is just like anyone else. And yet when a child who brought a gun to school in Montana was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated, he was denied re-entry to the public education system. This child is likely to join hundreds of thousands of other children with serious emotional disturbance diagnoses who have ended up in the school-to-prison pipeline.

Do you think that 12-year olds with serious mental illness should be tried as adults instead of receiving treatment? That is exactly what is happening right now in Wisconsin with the Slenderman case.

Do you think that people who clearly committed their "crimes" while in the throes of psychosis should be executed? In our society, we’ve practically made that an expectation.

The way we “manage” serious mental illness is both expensive and immoral. So why do we keep sending sick people to jail instead of providing them with life-changing treatment?

I’ve come to an uncomfortable conclusion about how our society continues to ignore the obvious problem of serious mental illness. At some level, the fact is that we think people with serious mental illness deserve to go to jail. We tell ourselves that they deserve solitary confinement. They deserve homelessness. They deserve to be shot and killed by police. And because they are getting what we think they deserve, it's okay for us to turn away.

I can’t help but come to this conclusion as states everywhere (including mine) slash their mental healthcare budgets and services while leaving law enforcement and the criminal justice system to clean up the awful mess.

How do you stigmatize a medical condition? Make it a crime.

I’m ashamed—not of my son and the millions of people like him who are courageously living the best lives they can despite significant challenges. I’m ashamed of the rest of us, who tell ourselves that “those people” got what they deserved. We don’t want those “weird kids” in our children’s classrooms. We don’t accept that with the right supports, people can manage their diagnoses and live successful, productive lives in their communities. For those who cannot meet this worthy goal because their illness is too severe, we do not provide quality medical care, preferring instead the cold, harsh reality of a jail cell and solitary confinement.

At some level, we are all accountable for our failure to extend compassion and care to the sickest among us. We are all Adam Lanza’s mother, unable to acknowledge that our sons and daughters need help, not blame and castigation.

To everyone reading this who would send a sick child to jail: shame on you,

To everyone reading this who lives in fear and ignorance of your brave friends and neighbors battling to live a “normal” life: shame on you.

We can do better. We must do better. Our children are depending on us as a society to provide treatment before tragedy. People with mental illness should finally get what they deserve: compassion, admiration, support, and hope.


Renee Teague said...

I'm a mom like you and I'm so thankful you gave voice to an atrocious violation of what our country is supposed to be for its citizens. Yes, my daughter is a citizen!!! Marijuana helps but it's illegal. Expensive pharmaceuticals kind of help. I fight tooth and nail for every speck of support. We deserve better.

Tricia Slavik said...

Prison in not the place for our kids. They need a safe secure and loving environment with teams of professionals that can help. Are there places like that?

Maybe if there were, our children's illness wouldn't escalate to the point where they hurt someone or someone else.

Suzanne said...

Several thoughts:

1. A kid being TEMPORARILY removed from school for having a mental illness that manifests in behavior that puts themselves/their classmates safety at risk CAN be appropriate. A kid with leukemia's symptoms do not manifest in a way that compromises their/classmates and, accordingly, does not warrant removal from school. The different treatment for DIFFERENT circumstances isn't AUTOMATICALLY the result of discrimination.

2. There CAN be a valid, non-spiteful reason to refuse to let a mentally ill kid whose symptoms are NOW controlled back into the school where they hurt their classmates. Even if the hurt was a manifestation of their illness. All kids deserve to feel safe in class!

In third grade, my eldest was stabbed by classmate "C", with a protractor, badly enough to require six stitches -- she declined his (repeated) offers of help on a math worksheet, he insisted she was doing it was wrong (she was) and stabbed her in sheer frustration (ugh). C was remorseful, my girl forgave him and I insisted the boy be moved to another classroom.

C has autism & Tourette's, has been my girl's classmate since kindy and is generally a pretty sweet kid, albeit with impulse control issues + low frustration tolerance


I still get periodic, heartbreaking calls from C's mom, inquiring why my girlie declines her son's playdate invites. I require my kid to be polite to C (& everyone else, as it stops the world from descending into anarchy) but will not, CANNOT, make her want to see him outside of school. Too much water under the bridge (though I'd be happy to have C come over if my kid wanted him to).

Reverend Draco said...

It is BP, for sure. . . but not bi-polar.

Bad Parenting accounts for virtually every instance of bi-polar, ADD, ADHD in recorded history.

The "diagnosis" is simply a mealy-mouthed way of avoiding telling a parent that they suck balls.

Deal with it.

Daniel said...

Title 42 Chapter 114 Section 10801 of the Federal Civil Law PROTECTION AND ADVOCACY SYSTEMS. (a) The Congress finds that—
(1) individuals with mental illness are vulnerable to abuse and serious injury;
(2) family members of individuals with mental illness play a crucial role in being advocates for the rights of individuals with mental illness where the individuals are minors, the individuals are legally competent and choose to involve the family members, and the individuals are legally incompetent and the legal guardians, conservators, or other legal representatives are members of the family;
(3) individuals with mental illness are subject to neglect, including lack of treatment, adequate nutrition, clothing, health care, and adequate discharge planning; and
(4) State systems for monitoring compliance with respect to the rights of individuals with mental illness vary widely and are frequently inadequate.

Despite it being written into law in so many places, in practice, Government simply ignores laws and destroys families who are at first being preventive and later responsive...but government neglects citizens and abandons families until it is time to arrest the very individual we begged for so long to be helped.

Duane Sherry said...

What if we addressed the *root causes* of "mental illness" ? -


Duane Sherry, MS
Retired Counselor

Ed said...

Is the collective "we" and "us" that you speak of anarchists or assholes? I ask because the majority of anarchists that I know aren't real big on throwing the mentally ill in jail.

Frank Sit said...

It is not just the mental health system that has to change, but the education system. Children who have experienced both Trauma or trauma, are referred to mental health because of their behavior in school. Treatment is to meet the educators' needs, not the child or the family. Many hands get tied that way. If medication is postponed with therapy only, and the behavior doesn't improve quickly enough, the child is at risk of placement anyway.......Our major public institution where children spend most of their days, is not equipped to respond to symptoms that manifest as behaviors. Everything is labeled defiance and treated with punishment. It is a tragedy of epic proportion.

Monica said...

Im not a mom so i cannot speak to that but i completely understand and so does my twin sister. We both are dealing with mental illness that started with deep severe depression. That's are sentiment exactly. I get so upset because i'm struggling with getting help and completely not giving up on the fight to get better and back to stability. I had one good year and this year is kicking my butt working minimum wage jobs and no health insurance and of course like many others massive bills. It's hard especially for certain minority groups. One day in the near future, I hope to get my masters either in social work or psychology. Definitely in research for mental illness and bring awareness to minority communities who are underrepresented in mental health studies. I hope for stability for all suffering from mental illness. Bring Peace and not death or destruction. I pray for Peace and Stability for all... It's hard out here for people suffering from mental illness and in America we really could use advice from countries like
canada or the UK they seem to have a comprehensive plan with mental health.

Jason Ellis said...

Really its true and I agree with your thought that people who were suffering with mental illness should get the things they want and deserves.Such a nice post . Feeling good after reading your blog. Keep sharing more like this.I want to share an informative thing about cellulites. Cellulite become a big problem today which makes our body appearance ugly but with cellulite exercises you can remove it from your body very easily.

Kathy Mic said...


Kathy Mic said...

You are wrong, and uninformed

Lara Biggs said...

That's incredibly judgemental you should be ashamed, I'm not a believer Reverend, but your attitude is not what I'd call christian

Lara Biggs said...

That's incredibly judgemental you should be ashamed, I'm not a believer Reverend, but your attitude is not what I'd call christian