Monday’s article about mental illness and how we have and have not been dealing with it seems to have hit a nerve with a lot of people, as it has been shared and read well over 400 times by people in 5 countries. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with most people sensing that I sought to initiate a tough conversation that needs to be had in order to protect the general public, as well as the more dangerously mentally ill. I’ve seen lots of the comments and discussions and not one called for any sort of witch hunt. Everything that I’ve read was about people expressing care for the plight that this issue poses for the person with the illness, the parents and family, and the general public.
Then I get a scathing comment from an aspiring attorney so I checked out her blog…and her wisdom regarding her unemployment…and how she would appoint her dream office, so that I could get a feel for my detractor. Her comment blasts me with what I have come to expect from the vast number of would-be experts and professionals who have never spent one hour, let alone months at a time, in a full-time setting with kids who have serious behavioral issues stemming from mental illness. Here is what my ersatz Ally McBeal had to say: “This is ridiculous, if not downright frightening and sick. It’s not time for a discussion about locking people up and separating them from society “for their own good.” It’s not time for a discussion about “humanely” denying people their due process rights and fundamental rights to freedom. It is time for a discussion about how people VIEW the mentally ill, how to treat them in such a way that they actually WANT to seek treatment (here’s a hint: locking them up isn’t going to make ANYONE seek help), and providing them with treatment that fits their particular circumstances.”
I’m glad that Ms. McBeal took it upon herself to straighten me out. It never occurred to me that the problem was how I viewed the mentally ill when I had to restrain a student that was throwing D-cell batteries as hard as he could at a female college student summer staff who might have weighed 105 pounds and was one of the kindest, gentlest women I have ever met. I also should have taken the time to treat the student who was trying to molest another student in such a way the he would want treatment and not just separate him from the group by putting him in his own tent for the remainder of the course. In fact, because of Ms. McBeal’s comment, I am going to have to contact every mentally ill student that I have ever stopped from committing felonious assault, attempted murder, and any number of sex offenses and let them know that I am sorry for violating their basic rights to due process and freedom.
You see there are some problems with the assumption that I have some draconian attitude towards those with mental illness. I can still remember cleaning defecation off a student in a river in Pisgah National Forest because he was having an episode, had soiled himself, and could not take care of his own needs. At the time I was 4 days and 9 miles of hiking from my next shower. Oh, and there was that time that I worked 60 days straight with no time off on a course with 8 students because my staff partner flaked-out and left the group for 6 days and I felt that it would be unsafe for the kids if I took more than an hour away from the group. This suspicion was later confirmed when said staff partner had one of our students committed the day after I left on vacation, so when I got back I had her removed from the course and returned the student to the group. I could go on, but that would merely be self-serving ego-stroking. Simply put, I am an advocate for getting caring, appropriate, and effective treatment for the mentally ill.
Still, I’m glad the pre-bar exam McBeal made her comment. It gave me the perfect illustration of one of the two most irritating problems with getting people with mental illness the help they need without endangering others. My personal opinion (see how I did that to exempt me from litigation) is that there are way too many attorneys who want to project this idealistic notion of protecting the rights of the mentally ill before they hurt another individual…and then they want to sue them and their families into oblivion when one of these people hurts another person. Everyone spends so much time with forms and audits and protocols and hearings that it is a very long time before the person with the dangerous mental illness gets any mandated treatment. In actuality it is often several incidents into a problem before anyone can get the ball rolling on removing a dangerous person from the general populace because everyone is so busy covering their buttocks from litigation.
The other vexing problem is the parent with the checkbook; no real time for their child, no patience for the hassle, and definitely no concern for the safety of other children. These lovely individuals merely write the checks that clean up the messy situations that their child creates. They are essentially the same as a lot of bad parents, only their child has a dangerous mental illness and needs their time, love, and attention way more than anything else they can provide. Yet these folks spend their time discounting the opinions of professionals, ignoring advice from doctors, and generally keeping their kids in the mainstream which is a danger to both themselves and others.
I’m going to keep hammering this nail and many others until people start paying attention. This country has run off the rails in so many ways and until we start fixing some problems, we are going to continue to see the sort of destruction that we saw last week in Connecticut. This is not about demonizing the mentally ill. It is about completely changing the system to protect everyone…especially the patient. In fact, the one person who keeps me in check when my life runs off the rails in someone who has been institutionalized with mental illness. We all need someone to step in and take the reigns when we are out of control. Why should we not afford the same kindness to the dangerously mentally ill?