Monday, December 17, 2012

Learning about Mental Illness

All of our heads are swimming, all of our hearts are broken as we try to navigate our way after what happened in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday morning.  Our family is wearing green and white today, we have plans with our homeschool group to walk on Friday morning at 9:30 am for 27 minutes...and yet it doesn't seem like enough.  I want to do more.
Newtown, CT flagpole

When Jason and I were first married we moved from New Jersey to Connecticut for Jason's job.  Our house in Connecticut was not far from Newtown.  As a teacher, I attended workshops in Sandy Hook--I remember because the town had the same name as one of the beaches in my homestate of New Jersey--but I just can't remember if it was that school.  Jason ended up changing jobs and working as the manager of a wholesale tree nursery in Newtown for several years before we decided to move back to New Jersey to be closer to family.

Here is what I can tell you about Newtown: it's picturesque.  It's like a quintessential Norman Rockwell New England village.  If you conjure a New England village in your mind, that is Newtown.  Old clapboard houses on tree-lined streets, white picket fences; cute shops lining Main Street.  Long country roads weaving up wooded hills to reveal clapboard farmhouses and saltbox houses with beautiful views of the Connecticut hills.  It's the kind of town where you want to raise a family.  It's the kind of town where you feel safe, where you know your kids will have great opportunities.  It's the kind of place many of us dream of living.
Newtown, CT 

If something as tragic and horrific as this can happen in Newtown---it can happen anywhere.

On Friday one of my blog friends said on social media that she knew some people would disagree, but she felt bad for the victims AND the shooter.   I did, too.  I felt bad for the shooter and I felt bad for his family.  I prayed for them, as well as for the victim's families.  What kind of pain and torment must someone be going through to do something like this?  Don't fool yourself to think it's pure evil, there is more...I don't believe anyone is pure evil; I believe everyone has some good qualities.

I read this article over the weekend and it was really eye-opening for me.  "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother".  I had no idea that parents lived in terror of their children, I believed there were centers for these people, I believed they were getting treatment, counseling, help.  Within minutes of posting a link to the article on facebook, several of my friends had stories, knew parents who dealt with different issues with their children and said it was true, there is little to no means of intervention until the person hurts someone else, until they are in the system and incarcerated.  They can be hospitalized for a certain period, but insurance doesn't want to cover an extended period.  Our prisons don't offer counseling.  How many innocent victims need to die before we start to get to the heart of the problem and tackle the issue of mental illness?  Yes, it will cost money.  Yes, it will take time.  No, nothing is perfect; I know nothing is 100%...but just waiting around until something happens, barricading our children in schools and arguing about our right to bear arms will not prevent this from happening again...because it didn't prevent it from happening this time.
Newtown, CT

Although we are healing, although it is difficult, although we want to hold tight to our anger...it's time we started trying to understand mental illness.  We have put all kinds of security in place and we can argue all day about gun control, but at the bottom of this, the real problem is that we don't understand mental illness, that there is a stigma attached to mental illness, not everyone has health care for mental illness and that there is little families can do when their child has violent tendencies.  We wait until these people hurt someone and then we incarcerate them.  Why wait until they hurt someone?  Why fill our prisons with people who are mentally ill?  Why not try to offer these individuals and their families help?  Why not spend more money on research?  The brain is very complicated, but we know about hormones and chemicals, we know about synapses and triggers...maybe we can figure out what is going on in the brain of a mentally ill person and help them, either through medication or counseling or some other form of treatment.

I don't have the answers.  But in order to get answers, you need to start with questions.  Sometimes I wonder if we have become too politically correct in our society to ask the questions.  Parents who have children with extreme violent tendencies should be able to seek help and not worry that someone will judge them as not loving their child.  There should be something in place for those parents and their children.  I don't know what it is...but it's time we started trying to figure it out.