As Christmas is vastly approaching, the random smiles of strangers and funny conversations with people in the toy section of the department store are rife. Supposedly a time of showing good will to others has been marred over the weekend by the events that occurred at an elementary school in The States. For the families and friends of the 26 victims of the shooting, Christmas will forever remain a hopelessly sad time of year as they wonder why they were robbed of their children for as yet no apparent reason. Some will be eternally grateful for the heroic actions of Victoria Soto, a teacher who saved the lives of seven of her students by hiding them in a cupboard and then faced her own death.
Every time I hear about the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook, I shake a little from the shock that this could have happened, I fear for the lives of my own kids, and then cry for the woman who sacrificed her own life to save those of her class members. Of course this has sparked perhaps the most heated debate in history on America’s second amendment, and if no political change comes of it then maybe there is no hope for the citizens of the USA. Another war is raging in the states in the aftermath about the lack of recognition of the serious issue of mental illness. Liza Long, an author who is a single mum of four, has spoken out about her own son who has often threatened violence towards his mother, his siblings and himself. After the multiple diagnoses of ADHD, Autism, Oppositional Defiant and Intermittent Explosive Disorders, and many failed attempts to use medicated and behavioural therapies, the poor mum is at a complete loss of what to do. She was told (after a recent episode when she was threatened by her son for holding fast on a punishment for inappropriate language) by a social worker that she should press charges for someone to pay attention to her case. It would seem that some mental illness is grouped together with criminal acts in America and treated in the same manner. Surely there is something more that can be done, it is absolutely necessary in fact.
I recently watched a documentary by Louis Theroux called America’s Medicated Kids. Amazing. If you’ve never seen Louis in action, I highly recommend you do. He is an interviewer like no other who has a very subtle English way about him, finds subjects of very sensitive issues and explores them in a direct and polite manner, rarely joining the debate but instead makes gentle suggestions and indirect statements voicing his point of view. In the doco, he looks into the world of medicated kids who have diagnoses such as Long’s son above has, as well as cases of Anxiety, Depression and Asperger’s, the cases he looked at all had multiple diagnoses, and the youngest was just 6 years old. While my husband and I watched with horror at the readiness the health organisations and parents were to medicate these kids, at the same time the accounts of the mums and dads who believed their children’s lives were radically changed by popping pills had me thinking twice about my initial opinions. And now in light of recent events, not only do I not know what the answer is, but I don’t think I know what the question is anymore. I just know something has to be done to prevent the killing of innocent people and our children.
My sister works with some mildly mentally handicapped, and mostly emotionally handicapped kids in a ‘safe house’ because they have nowhere else to go other than juvenile detention. This is Australia we are talking about now, where I had always thought that mental illness was taken seriously. I know that it is, but there are very obvious holes in the net designed to keep all of us safe, children in the system included. She thinks that even though most of her charges have been raised in tumultuous environments and some have suffered tragedy and abuse, most of the delinquents have such a lack of respect for the world that first and foremost they need a strong sense of discipline as well as counselling to be imposed on them if there is any chance to ‘save’ them instead of locking them up. But even here it would seem that the easiest course of action is to sentence them instead of looking deeper into the situation.
At university I studied Psychology, and upon telling people what my studies were I was asked so many times: Oh, can you read my mind? As if studying the human mind is seen in the same light as having a sixth sense or talking to dead people with a Ouija board. A friend of mine is the Human Resource Manager in a very large and well-known company, and many of the older executives and other conservatively-minded employees believe that HR is a laughable and unnecessary department because it deals with (amongst many other areas) the sensitive and emotional side to employment. At least that’s what I assume they think. Even my worldly-minded husband is sceptical of the diagnosis of Depression, even though it has affected people in both his family and mine. I guess one question I have is this: Why is mental health disregarded so readily? In comparing to the physical health world, the events of Sandy Hook could almost be seen as a 20 year old man with a highly contagious and fatal disease walking into an Elementary school and infecting and therefore killing 26 people. He was sick, he was untreated, and tragedy ensued.
So, what happens now? Reformed gun laws in the US, punishing a lot of people whose hobby will never hurt anything more than a paper or clay target. Or a higher regard for mental illness, causing an overdose in diagnoses and prescriptions for pill-happy doctors, patients and parents. Perhaps pressure on parents to impose a stronger sense of discipline, which of course will go too far and result in increased child abuse. What do we do about this? Like I said, I don’t know that answer, but I do know that if we do nothing then there is no hope for our world.
Emma Eastman 2012