Wednesday, December 19, 2012

State of the Nation: In the Wake of Sandy Hook

No doubt most of you have been entrenched in the news about Sandy Hook Elementary and Adam Lanza. The case brings out a lot of anger and sorrow—and rightfully so. This is a situation where we have babies (yes, babies) between the ages of six and seven being slaughtered. Twenty of them lost their lives and we cannot nor must we ever forget that.

I want to talk about some things on the blog today because there have been some chats in newsrooms across the country that have put me on edge. They pertain to mental health issues which already carry the heavy cross of stigma.

We know two things: Adam Lanza was either mentally ill or evil. There is a difference between the two and let’s not forget it. Now, people have been batting around the idea of him having a personality disorder, Asperger’s, or autism. I hate to burst your bubble, media, but none of those conditions can fairly be held accountable for the actions of Lanza  in that elementary school.

I recently saw a post on Facebook with Lanza’s picture. The caption below read: “Like” this if you think he should burn in Hell. We’re seeing the fallout of a serious act of carnage and reacting viscerally. I don’t want to think of Adam Lanza in Hell because I don’t want to think of anyone in Hell. Lanza was once someone’s baby, someone’s son, and someone’s brother. But before you go accusing me of having “sympathy for the devil”, let me get to my main point.

My main point concerns a national dialogue that is beginning to spin out of control. People are wondering how we prevent tragedies like this and in the interim of their attention spans they are playing judge and jury with what should be done with the mentally ill. 

Just yesterday I saw a psychiatrist being interviewed. He was proposing ideas such as vigilance and monitoring suspicious behavior and actively reporting it to authorities. He listed things such as isolation, not being present in public situations, being shy, being aloof, and being pensive and inward looking. None of these things are mental illnesses. In fact, there are “normal” adults who prefer to spend a night at home, who get uncomfortable around other human beings, and accidentally say embarrassing things. Are these people, too, mentally ill? And exactly to whom are we going to report their behavior? The police? Or even worse: the government?

 How short are our memories? Do we not remember the massive stone buildings which now stand empty and silent that used to house people suffering from various ailments which one could conveniently slap the label of “mental illness” onto with the right degree? Have we forgotten the institutions, the suffering, and the permanently silencing of the “undesirables” by locking them up and throwing away the key? Do we really want to go back down that road again? 

My point is this: We had better think hard and we had better make darn sure that we know what we are doing as a society. If acting inappropriately can land you in a new institution then so can speaking inappropriately. Doesn’t that stand to reason? It’s an all too convenient way to do away with people that become obstacles in our daily lives. But is it right? Is this still going to be the land of the free twenty years or so down the line? This is just some food for thought.

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