Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mental Illness in Society

I was at the Student Union and Recreation Center- The SURC- at school yesterday.  G and I often eat lunch together and then visit the coffee shop to look out the window and sip steaming beverages.  Sometimes we go for a walk and sit in the Japanese garden.  It's nice and peaceful and we know most of the people. I love routine, and I especially love healthy routines.

Yesterday during lunch, a young man stood on the second floor and began screaming about the end of the world, world war three and other such ideas and threatened to jump.  He was clearly having a break of some sort.  I felt bad for him. Two police officers tried to escort him out but he was clearly resistant. I would be too, if I were that scared and disoriented and suddenly being touched and having to do things against my will.  It would be worse if he'd been arrested before.  Probably he has been. In all, it took 6 officers to sort of gently get him to go with them.  I called my friend Joy who is a counselor on campus and she was waiting for a directive to go see him.

It's sad that in our country we have such little concern for mental illness. That the medicine he might need is out of reach because he doesn't have a job or insurance.  He can't get either of those things without medicine.  It's a cycle impossible to break without intervention.  At least 20% of prison inmates suffer from untreated mental illnesses.  We pretend mental illness is awful and stigmatize it or dismiss it so that we don't have to pay for it as a country.  Then we pay for the human cost and the violence and the inevitable incarceration.  It is not humane.

I don't excuse myself either.  I know people with mental illness. I love people who are regularly sick.  Their brains don't work as well or on the same track as others and they have to hide it and feel bad as though there is something unlovable about themselves.  This could so easily be me and in the early spring it is me, depressed at the end of winter and waiting for March to pass.

Every person is lovable and deserving of love and compassion. That young man in the SURC certainly is and if I don't have compassion for him, then perhaps I don't have enough compassion for myself either.

"Why don't they just tase him?" said a young woman.  Others nearby snickered.  He was making a bit of noise and people were nervous.  They just wanted him to go away.  I couldn't help myself.  "Why on God's green earth would you tase someone?  He's not violent."  "Well, it won't hurt him," she said.

Yes, it would hurt him.  When you are tased, even a healthy adult without a pacemaker on a low level, you lose control of your bowels and bladder and it's absolutely humiliating. This man is already being dragged out of a public place by the police. Why add to that?

As a society, we need to stop using violence as our go-to option.  Let's try reason, compassion and perhaps a little understanding.  The campus police were calm and as gentle as they could be, using only minimal force.  I know because I watched the whole time.  I'm glad they didn't hurt him.  He needs help instead.

I don't often moralize on this blog, but I hope today that you are good to yourself, that you show compassion to others, and think of kindness before violence.


  1. I sooooo agree with you. Sure wish I could wave a magic wand and the stigma of mental illness could go "pouf"!! I also wish thatnthe meds often needed didn't have bad side effects that cause many people not to take their meds. I think mental ilness frightens us because we don't understand it AND it's often hard for us, the general public, to distinguish the difference between those with mental illness and those who sometimes act out of hate, rather than illness. No simple solutions. Glad yesterdays situation was handled calmly and without incident.

  2. When we had a mentally ill student here sleeping in the lounge because she had no where to go my heart broke. Not just for her, but because of the awful, awful things the people that have families and homes to go to kept saying about her. It broke my heart. I know it was mostly out of fear, but sweet jebus people, have some compassion. One wrong knock to the head and that could be you.