I’ve been annoyed these past weeks listening to the response to the shootings in Arizona. I’m annoyed because we’re missing the
It’s an interesting and compelling discussion, this topic of incivility in politics, but it’s not even the most pressing. But I get it. It’s the easier topic. I mean, who really wants to hear about the issue of mental illness and society’s response to it? I’m sure you know that it’s highly likely that Jared Lee Loughner is severely mentally ill. Certainly, like me you’ve heard this issue mentioned, but mostly as a side note, something like, “Yeah, he was probably very mentally disturbed, but let’s talk about what jerks the Republicans are and what whiners the Democrats are.” Some people might roll their eyes at the response, saying, “It’s just the usual politicking: capitalizing on tragedy to broadcast a message.” But as someone who sees the effect of mental illness every day, I am appalled that our leaders and journalists are missing an opportunity to discuss the appalling state of care for the mentally ill.
See, my mom is a lot like Jared Lee Loughner. She didn’t get along well with people, especially her mother. She thought my grandmother was a CIA operative who had killed her real mother and replaced her. After several years of trying to provide a safe place for her daughter to live my grandmother had to kick her out of her house after she threatened her with a knife. My mom’s been homeless ever since. Like so many people, my mom showed signs, but her family didn’t know what to do about them. Could she really be crazy? Maybe she’s just depressed or going through a phase? When she had her psychotic break it blindsided us. Twenty years later my sister and I do what we can to help her. We listen to her talk about blowing people’s heads off, uzzis, taking out a hit on the women who live in the shelter with her. We don’t take her seriously, because we know it’s just her way of feeling like she has some control over her situation and the voices in her head. But maybe we should. Certainly, someone should have taken Loughner seriously.
After Mom was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic my grandmother, in particular, worked day and night to try to get her the care she needed. She came up against road block after road block: cuts to the budget, insensitive police, embarrassed friends, and stigma throughout society stemming from the fact that mental illness scares us because we don’t understand it. It’s precisely during times like these that we have the opportunity to learn as a society and to develop empathy for those whose minds are not their own. But not if we’re just politicking.