Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Newton, Connecticut; How about disease control instead of gun control?

     As soon as I heard the shocking news from Newtown, Connecticut, many of my thoughts turned to my great-nephew, Kai (Kaien) This beautiful child, whom I love dearly, is just a few years younger than the 20 victims in this mass killing. As the story unfolded from Sandy Hook elementary School, I, like many others, became overwhelmed with empathy for the parents that had sent their kids off to school that morning; and would now, instead of planning a celebration of Christmas,  began the process of planning their funeral's. No one can understand their grief.  I noticed many of my friends who have young children, finding comfort by hugging them and being grateful for what they have.  
     Since the victims were so young, this will have a lasting impact on psych of this country and will command calls for fundamental change. Sadly, the changes called for will be the ones that are politically expedient not ones that will create a significant transformation. If history is any indication, and it usually is, after several months of political posturing and exploitation, little meaningful changes will result from this atrocity.
     One common thread that is prevalent about the perpetrator of this carnage, 20 year old Adam Lanza, is that he was mentally unstable. Though all the facts are not currently known, it stands to reason that he had some mental health issues as clear minded people simply do not snap and go on mass killing sprees. Though it is still speculation, it is being reported that the mother of this young man, was in the process of having him committed for psychiatric treatment. Certainly all the hallmarks of a disorder were there, and in the coming months, we will get a better grasp of what was occurring in his life that led to this outcome.
      However, what needs to be examined is the current mental health system in Connecticut. This will allow us a clearer picture of what families face in acquiring treatment and proper care for their loved ones.
     As we delve into Connecticut's mental health system, some particularly ominous signs of an outdated and discriminatory structure emerge. This is not saying that this position directly caused this massacre, but again, it illuminates the many problems with the lack of readily available treatment programs that have contributed to many other tragedies.
     According to the Mental Illness Policy. Org, Connecticut is one of only six states that do not incorporate the court and mental health system with regards to civil commitment and compulsory treatment. Specifically, it refuses to allow the courts to mandate that mentally ill individuals, who have a history of violence, must stay in treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Since these individuals will eventually be released into society, this contributes to higher recidivism rates at a cost to the taxpayer. Additionally, it handcuffs the capacity for family members to compel their delusional loved ones into treatment. Once again, this archaic thinking is in dire need of updating.
     Additionally,  this report spotlighted that Connecticut is 850 mental health beds short of the minimum required to provide adequate treatment for its citizens. This in spite of the knowledge that the average household income in that state of $69,243, is over 30% higher than the rest of the country. It is shocking that the political leaders in that state do not realize that the cost of not treating people, means higher incarceration rates, which is ultimately where individuals will receive treatment. Again, this added burden is borne by the taxpayers.
     One indicator of a troubling system is the prevalence of depression, compared with the suicide rate. Though no one has examined this since this massacre, it invites exploration. Though Connecticut ranks 38th in  the volume of Clinical Depression,  shockingly, it has the 8th highest suicide rate. With the distance between these two figures, it is as if both are outliers of each other, rather than running more parallel. This is another indicator of a system in need of substantial changes as it is clear that there is inadequate treatment. However, the Democratically controlled legislature has not shown the courage to address these shortcomings.
     As an example, earlier this year, the Legislature, proposed to reform the civil commitment laws and ultimately change the "assisted outpatient treatment" program. This would allow the courts and family members the latitude needed to drive treatment and make civil commitments much easier. This time, the ultra liberal organization, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), became a powerful roadblock to this legislation, describing it as a violation of one's freedoms. This group believes that individuals have a right to walk around in a delusional state, identical to the way recent mass killers have done. For some unexplained reason, they refuse to understand that this illness damages the ability for one to make rational decisions, and the afflicted does not even realize that they are sick! With that opposition, the needed updates were never implemented, and the bill expired.
     During the last seven years, we have witnessed horrific attacks in Red Lake Minnesota, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech, Tucson Arizona, Aurora Colorado, and now Newton Connecticut.  Collectively, ninety people were murdered in these shootings, and dozens more wounded. In each case, we hear calls for political leaders to implement solutions to prevent these tragedies. Instead, we find only pointing fingers of blame and exploitation the resulting actions. Once the story gets stale in the minds of the citizenry; the politicians and media transfer on to other stories, with no significant change occurring.
     It is not only these high profile tragedies that we witness and this area was not immune to the failures of the system. Locally, two police officers, Jason West of Avon, and James Kerstetter of Elyria were gunned by mentally ill individuals who could be poster children for the overburdened mental health system. Add to these alarming statistics is that we have recently witnessed suicides in Vermillion, Avon Lake, Wakeman, Elyria, Medina and Amherst, to name a few. Many were teenagers, and this again, is ample evidence of a system falling under the consequence of severe budget cuts.
    After the killings in Tucson, the Tea Party and Sarah Palin became the media's convenient scapegoats.  In fact, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown was one of many that berated groups such as these for inciting violence! In time, as the facts became known, the perpetrator of that act, Jared Lee Loughner, was found to be mentally ill with no political agenda. He was one that the ACLU believed had a right to walk around in a psychotic state. With that, he became a graduate of the failed mental health system with Senator Brown a willing witness of its destruction.
     In the past year, I have contacted Senator Brown's office several times to find out what he has done to deal with correcting these failing underfunded programs, and open a dialogue on mental illness. The answer I received on each occasion is that they would contact me in two weeks. To date, his staff has not responded in any way, and with his recent re-election, it is unlikely they ever will.
     With this tragedy in Connecticut, the national spotlight is focusing on an organization that many believe is at fault, the National Riflemen's Association (NRA). Now groups are saying it is guns, and that the NRA advocates violence. In fact, there is a left wing organization, CREDO Mobile that marched on the NRA office in Washington to draw attention to this very issue. It must be pointed out that if these misguided individuals want to witness violence being advocated, they should read the lyrics to many rap songs, or view many violent movies coming out of Hollywood. However, that falls outside the realm of their political motives.
     To draw a comparison, on the same day of this horrific killing spree, Chicago, which boasts one of the nation's toughest gun control laws, reported ten shootings, including four teenagers. In this calendar year alone, Chicago's homicide rate will likely top 500.  Armed with this information, I think it may be more prudent for these marchers to rally in front of the homes of the drug dealers, and gang leaders in Chicago who are committing these atrocities. With that, they can demand that they disarm, and see what response they receive. It bears adding, like the perpetrators in all the other recent mass killings, none of the triggermen belonged to the NRA. 
     Michael Moore, a political exploiter chimed in with the most vile comments, "The NRA hates freedom. They don't want you to have the freedom to send your children to school and expect to come home alive." He forgets that NRA members are good hardworking, taxpaying, family members. Never fret, Michael Moore will create something that he will refer to as a documentary, twist facts,  and make millions of dollars off this massacre. After which, he will rile against the capitalistic pigs who seem to concern themselves with nothing more than profiteering at the expense of others.
     People are entitled to their views, and that is what makes this countries freedoms second to none. However, we spend time labeling people with empty comments, which hinders the nation's  ability to develop solutions to complex problems. In the past, because of my advocacy for treatment and suicide prevention, I have been described as a left wing lunatic. At other times, as I spell out that guns are not the cause of tragedies, nor is the Tea Party to blame for any recent solar flare activity, I  become known as a right wing fanatic.
     After the murders in Tucson, there were calls for a "National Dialogue on Mental Illness,"  to find solutions to all the direct and indirect deaths, and to prevent them from reoccurring. I have not witnessed one member of the national media reminding the world of this and ask political leaders why this public debate never occurred. Perhaps, if we had this conversation, the leadership in Connecticut would have decided that it is time to bring their system from the 19th century thinking into the 21st!
     The disgusting actions of the national media, their reluctance to connect these tragedies with  mental health deficiencies, and the insults from idiots like Michael Moore do not bring prevention. They just cover up failures and deflect actions that may injure their political agenda. Because of that, real solutions will continue to elude us as more suicides and tragedies such as this one will repeat themselves.
     So many people fail to understand, or choose not too, is that no one can legislate human behavior. What must be done is that we need to treat the disorders that control its target, which a sick mind. The only way to do that is to begin to renovate this nations laws on civil commitment, make treatment available, and for political leaders to stop making false scapegoats.  In other words, let us begin that national dialogue! Are you listening Senator Brown?    

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Suicide touches Elyria Schools

     Recently, a tragedy occurred when a school board member in Elyria ended his life by his own hands.  Richard Kaplan, a family man, and successful business person died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, leaving behind a wife and three children. Sadly, he became part of an ever increasing group of people who end their lives with this method. People will wonder why, and though he and I never met, we did share a common bond which may be the true culprit, mental illness. I also must  include because he was honest about his struggle with depression, people should remember Mr. Kaplan as a generous man.
     In a conversation with Elyria School Board President Evelyn France, she describes Mr. Kaplan as an active member of the community, who did a vast deal of work for the schools long before he was elected as a  member of the board. She added that he was also an enterprising member of the business community and the local Rotary Club.
     Mrs. France also went on to say  "the Elyria School system is like a family, and they are mourning the loss of a family member."  She described Rich as a humble, straightforward, and honest person, who never looked for any praise. He was exceedingly giving to his community, and it was obvious she had the utmost respect for him.
    Because of the common affliction, I wish I would have met Mr. Kaplan. Currently, his family is grieving their loss, and my heart and prayers go out to them. Many people will ask an elementary question, specifically, why did he do this?  I cannot represent exactly what was the causation of this tragedy, but I can give the public a first person narrative as to what he faced because I also tried on several occasions to end my life.
     In over five hundred talks that I have given on this subject, I keep hearing the same questions. One that is the most common is, what caused me to decide to end my life? Just like the question, my answer is clear, but at the same time, very complex. I include in my response the one word that only people who suffer from one of these disorders can comprehend, "Pain!"
     The emotional pain that is the result of mental illness is the most grievous feeling that anyone can imagine. If a person has never felt it, he or she cannot understand the damage that is inflicted in someone's life from this invisible torment. When the symptoms are active, they define every aspect of the victims lives, and at times, it is as if the person is in a constant conflict with their disorder. Like many others, Mr. Kaplan had to wake up, accept that he has this disease, and fight either the demons or the ever present threat of their return.
     Like Mr. Kaplan, I served public office, three terms Brunswick City Council, I was on the board of the Local United Way, Jaycees and Kidney foundation, among other activities. During my life, I spent years hiding the malady out of fear that it would be discovered and others would think less of me. Also, I was in denial of my condition, and its life threatening capabilities. In time, it destroys a person's self-worth as it did mine. Because of its relentless nature, it pursues its prey until treated, or destroys its target either figuratively, or literally.
     In May of 2001, on the campus of Lorain County Community College in, ironically, Elyria, security personnel stumbled on me as I was found unresponsive from a suicide attempt. Though the actual act occurred on that day,  it was the beginning of the end of a long battle against the unyielding pain brought on by bipolar disorder. It was the culmination of ferocious psychological battering that ultimately consumed me. What no one knew is that, for many years, I struggled  with suicidal ideation. Additionally, I was in a constant battle with my sub-conscious, which was being monopolized with fatalistic thoughts. Plus, it reminded me that death was the only way to end my constant pain. With my self-worth at zero, I could never see beyond my symptoms and seek the appropriate treatment.
     On the day I took enough pills to kill me, and ran out of the house, it was almost a relief to know that my pain was now going to leave. I had no clue that the cause of my suffering was a treatable disease and that I could be free of the morbid thoughts with proper treatment. Also, I could not envision that once I defeated the illness, there could be a happy life ahead of me. If it had not been for two heroic police officers on the campus of LCCC, I would have never lived to see the life I love today.
     Whenever there is a tragedy such as this one, I hear some, not so witty comments from weak minded individuals. One is that a person chooses to end their life!. The other, it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem!
     First off, no one chooses to end their life! The public needs to understand that It is an illness  which is the basis for this current tragedy; he did not choose this course of action. No one truly wants to die, they just want the pain from their illness to end!  Also, we do not decide on a whim, to generate these disorders, anymore then someone who develops, cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. It is a deadly, misunderstood disease that enters a life uninvited! It is also one that comes with a dark stigma attached.    
     Secondly, the classic statement that it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, infuriates me. When I hear this, I want to shout out; the problems are not the causes, it is the disease that leads to someone's death. The  symptomology is what compels people to commit this act, not some ordinary disputes or concerns. This statement falls under the ignorance many display towards these afflictions
     Both of these visceral comments explain the lack of awareness and understanding of mental illness being the causation of suicide. It shows that, as a society, we have a long way to go in grasping the information needed to prevent tragedies such as this one. That is part of the reason why the number of situations like this are ever increasing.
     It is essential to point out one other issue, which is the stigma of being branded mentally ill. Many people like me and others stand in testimony to the idea that the stigma and its accompanying bigotry are significantly worse than the illness itself. After all, I speak from firsthand experience that it is not pleasant be known as being out of control and crazy, the way some people still describe me to this very day. This occurs in spite of my successes and the knowledge that I have been symptom free for eleven years. One characterization of mental illness is that many people spend an enormous amount of effort seeking external validation, but because of the  stigma, many times they fall short of that acceptance. It is only with a greater amount of knowledge and education that this dehumanizing practice can this be alleviated.
     Confucius once said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!" I  hope the Elyria school system pays homage to Mr. Kaplan by taking that first step in creating a means to create awareness, compassion and empathy for those similarly afflicted. Reach out to students, and others who are suffering and in need of intervention. Use this to help cut down the curtain of degradation of mental illness, just like this school board member attempted to accomplish with his openness. This can be a way to influence others out of the shadows of ostracism and let them know they are part of a family that cares! This can also open doors for people to seek treatment, and not feel any shame  nor a need to apologize for having one of these disorders.
    Mr. Kaplan faced his illness with openness, dignity, and candor, and he leaves an indelible mark on his community. He did not lose a battle it was an illness ended his life. He did not take an easy way out as some think suicide is, he fought a courageous battle against a silent killer. People like him pave the way for understanding of mental illness and his actions in life will help protect future sufferers. His family should be immensely proud of the way he lived, and no one has a right to question or judge his final actions. There is no greater adulation then to be helpful to others, and that is the greatest way to honor the memory of this good man. Once again, everyone's thoughts and prayers  should be to his family and friends.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mental illness, President Obama, and the politics of ignorance!

     As we close the door on the recent Presidential election, many commentators and political pundits will spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing how and why it ended the way it did. Many will point to “defining” moments and such, while ignoring other pertinent details. However, there was something that exemplified a double standard in the national media, half of which was exploited, while the most damaging aspect was ignored.
     Back in October, Conservative personality Ann Coulter raised the ire of mainstream media by calling The President a “retard”. The outcry was predictable, as she was deemed hateful, ignorant, and those were among the kindest descriptions. Though it was a poor choice of words, she never once used this term to demean a group of people in a discriminatory fashion. She, in fact, directed it at one single person. Additionally, I have heard harsher and more offensive words used on the national setting against Mitt Romney and Ann Coulter herself. However, that is a discussion for another time.
     What the public should find disturbing is the phony outrage that many members of the political left have when it comes to their selective condemnation, while ignoring their own hatred, and personal bias. A good example would be President Obama’s acceptance of exclusion of a particular segment of society, which was rooted with his comments largely ignored by the national media.  During one of the debates, the discussion predictably turned to gun control. President Obama said, “We have to…make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill.” This degrading comment is one that ignores the knowledge that those with mental illness are not more violent than the rest of society, but are more likely to be victims of criminal acts. More importantly, this was not just calling someone a name; it dehumanized and diminished over fifty million people who suffer one of these disorders.
     My question to the people who demonized Ann Coulter is straightforward; why no outrage at these comments from the President? He, against all evidence to the contrary, categorized a diverse group of people with violent felons. According to him, a woman with post-partum depression is comparable to a violent individual who robbed, assaulted or even killed another.  Add to it the soldiers coming home as heroes fighting wars, who suffer PTSD and in many cases will be given a lifetime sentence of treatment for mental health issues. Are they also to be categorized with the violent criminals?
     If that is not enough evidence that these comments are a form of bigotry, how about adding to the mix, the challenges facing the local police. These first responders endure the daily threat of “Vicarious Trauma”, which is witnessing traumatic events on a daily basis over the course of time. With that, mental health issues come to light after many years of dealing with some of life’s most extraordinary tragedies. Since this can and does trigger some form of mental illness, are they now part of President Obama’s sub-culture that is categorized with violent criminals? Sadly, this issue is being met with the media’s self-imposed censorship.
     One person who did speak through the silence was a former Washington Post writer and mental health advocate, Pete Earley. This man, who authored the book, “Crazy, a Fathers Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness”, was one of the few critics of the Presidents repugnant comments. He brought up an intriguing correlation. Imagine the outcry from the left if we substituted the words mentally ill with, Blacks, Hispanics or Gays. Many of the same groups that condemned Ann Coulter would be up in arms against anyone who would demean these minority groups. However, the left identifies only selective bias!
     Instead of outrage from the side of “Inclusion” we discover deafening silence and sadly, this adds to the acceptance of intolerance of those with one of these conditions. No one from MSNBC, who is constantly railing against the so-called hatred of the conservative’s, ever said a word, except to anoint Obama as the savior of western civilization. Why did these people refuse to at least question this President’s need to humiliate people because of an illness? Here again, it appears that they practice nothing more than acceptable desecration.
     To enlighten people, let me introduce everyone to those that belong to this subculture of the mentally ill. They are your friends, your neighbors, loved ones, and yes, they are soldiers that are returning from war. Add to them teachers, police officers, firemen, writers, and yes, even Presidents of the United States! This “fraternities” membership is like everyone else; they wake up, work hard, and try and live a happy life. Since this President has shown disdain and ignorance, he should walk down any street and count four houses, because in one of them, there will be a family directly impacted by someone close who is battling a mental health affliction. People in this group have struggles that only members of this minority class and their loved ones can fully understand. When these individuals fall, it is their close circles of friends that are there to find help for them as they struggle to locate treatment.
     The left is always screaming diversity; well I have a lesson for them. The members of this fraternity are the most diverse congregation ever created. These diseases attack with relentless abandonment to every group. They are prevalent in Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Christians,Muslims, Jewish, Atheists, Conservatives and even Liberals! The diseases are non-discriminatory in nature, and they do not even differentiate the social economic standing of its targets.
    Not surprisingly, we do not hear a vast deal of the positive contributions to society by those with mental illness.  Many accomplish a great deal, but most good work usually goes unrecognized. However, when tragedy strikes, that opens the door for some exploitation that does nothing but undermine the opportunities people have for acceptance. 
     In Aurora, Colorado and Tucson, Arizona, mass killings took place by two individuals who suffer from severe mental illness. However, rather than examining the cause and finding a solution, the left once again, used it as an opportunity to utilize the “fictitious hate” of conservative groups. The Tea Party and Sarah Palin are always the two main targets for the left’s rant. Surprisingly, Ann Coulter was not blamed in these tragedies, but I am certain someone will now find a way to add some culpability on her part.
     What was ignored in those tragedies, specifically Tucson, is that our failing mental health system with archaic laws and ever diminishing readily available treatment are the main culprit. Not surprisingly, no one on the federal level has done anything significant to modernize these laws or open the door for better treatment. Yet, President Obama who was quick to condemn this segment of the population, has done nothing in correcting this form of discrimination. Based on his comments, it appears that he accepts this kind of bigotry, and is willing to sacrifice those vulnerable people for political gain, as members of the political left cheered his hateful comments.  
     To be fair, no one on the right side of the political spectrum spoke out against these deplorable comments. Conversely, not one of the liberal commentators defended people with mental illness, but they sure were ready to attack Ann Coulter for an ill advised name calling incident.   
     For many years now, advocates across the country have worked tirelessly to promote awareness that people with mental illness are not violent, or drains on society. This advocacy has and continues to be an uphill climb. With this acceptance by the national media of the Presidents discriminatory comments, that dream of inclusion will become just that much more challenging, and for some people, it may become impossible. In the meantime, people on the left should refrain from their phony outrage, because their silence on these comments, suggest that they are the true bigots. After all, while you were pointing your finger at Ann Coulter, how many were left pointing back at yourselves?